Interview of Mary Mulbah, Secretary General of the National Teachers Association of Liberia
I am Mary Mulbah. I am Secretary General of the National Association of Teachers of Liberia. Our union is an association. It was established in 1938 and became legal in 1958. Our association advocates for its members. NATL has around 20.000 members from all categories of teachers in Liberia. We support our teachers in schools and represent them at regional and national level.
NATL provides different services such as welfare services (funeral assistance), help with administrative duties and professional training with our partner Education International.
In Liberia, the statute of teachers is very worrying. For example, there is no state organised social protection system for teachers. It happens a lot that teachers cannot afford healthcare and fall very ill. Unfortunately, the union doesn’t have the money to pay for the private health insurance which is very expensive.
We are now very mobilised against the privatisation of our education system. In June 2015, the newly appointed minister of education visited Kenya where he met Bridge International Academy (BIA). When he got back to the office in Monrovia, he decided to sign a memorandum of understanding with BIA to set up low-cost primary private school system providing standardized education. This agreement was done without any consultation with the education unions. The Minister wants to reform the education sector through privatisation to increase access.
BIA says it is now operating 23 schools with an estimated number of 8000 pupils. Every pupil should pay 80$per year to attend class. We did our own investigation and we can say that BIA is not delivering minimum quality education. First, because BIA schools use digital tablets and less than 3% of our population in Liberia has access to electricity! Secondly, BIA teachers are not paid enough. They often go on strike and kids are left without any education during weeks.
We have organised meetings with civil society groups and with political parties to stop the privatisation of our education system. Privatisation is not the solution for Liberia. The government should tackle the deep roots of the problem: the lack of training and equipment and insufficient funding for the current education system.
Instead of outsourcing education, we urge the government to increase spending on public services in order to improve access to quality education.