A one-day conference sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will be held in New York this week to discuss how to reverse the damage done to Liberia’s education system as the West African country seeks to rebuild after a devastating 14-year civil war that killed almost 150,000 people and sent 850,000 more fleeing across its borders.
UNICEF is hosting the 16 February meeting on behalf of the Liberian Government and expects the participants – representatives from bilateral foundations civil society groups and other education advocates – to underscore the key role education plays in Liberia’s national reconstruction and development.
The conflict devastated Liberia’s infrastructure, and in the realm of education, girls have been disproportionately impacted. The schooling of almost half a million children, or half the Liberian student population, has been interrupted by the war and thus they are too old for their school grades. Almost three-quarters of boys and more than half of all girls are enrolled in primary school, and this rate plummets at the secondary school level where only 22 per cent of boys and 12 per cent of girls are enrolled.
Since the war’s end in 2003, the Liberian Government has pledged to provide a free and compulsory primary education to youngsters.
“We need to reclaim the potential of these children because they are the greatest hope for Liberia’s development,” said Cream Wright, UNICEF’s Global Chief of Education. “Ensuring the Liberia’s children get an education is essential not only for their own well-being but for their country’s recovery.”
The meeting will immediately follow the 13-15 February Liberia Partners Forum, a high-level donors’ conference sponsored by the UN, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United States Government and the European Commission, in Washington, DC.
UNICEF, which maintained a presence in Liberia for the duration of the civil war, will continue to work in tandem with the Government to improve children’s access to education by promulgating special programmes for children previously recruited by militias, backing girls’ education, offering teacher training and distributing school supplies for hundreds of thousands of students.
Last month, the agency received its largest-ever single donation of $201 million from the Government of the Netherlands specifically targeted to ensure that youngsters caught in conflict and natural disasters as well as those emerging from crisis can go to school. Liberia is one of the 40 countries set to benefit from this new fund set to be dispensed over four years.
Earlier this month, Nigerian peacekeepers with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) built a three-classroom building to be utilized as a nursery and a primary school.
At the inauguration of the new school in the capital of Monrovia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Representative Alan Doss said, “Education is the key to peace and development, education provides knowledge, education dispels ignorance, and education is the only human asset that can not be stolen.”