Grand Bassa County – The education of hundreds of girls in Grand Bassa County is under threat, according several teachers in District #4.
Teachers are worried about parents cutting short their female pupils’ school year and say this situation gravely threatens these girls’ future and dents government’s efforts to provide education. From a global standpoint, the situation in Grand Bassa violates international convention (laws) which supports the right to education of a girl child. A FrontPageAfrica investigation into this situation has established that over 15 girls between the ages of 11 and 15 were removed from the Government Day Public School and sent to the Sande society. “Some of our students were in school and they (their parents) took them away – they (students) are now in the Sande Bush,” explains Tdoa Nyanway, Dean of Students at the Government Day Public School on Compound Four – the District’s Provisional Town. “The bad thing about this thing is that when these students return from the bush they stop coming to school.” There have been several calls for improved collaboration between the Government and the traditional council to curtail the situation by ensuring that once schools are opened, traditional societies like the Poro or Sande is closed. With the frequency of such occurrence increasing in rural Grand Bassa, especially in District Four, some teachers in the area predict that many girls risk dropping out of schools every academic year, thereby seriously affecting the future of these girls. According to the teachers, the possibility of early marriage for these girls is very high. Besides the public school on Compound Four, there are reports of similar happenings at several other public schools in the district. “What they are doing now is really affecting the students because whenever they (girls) leave from that particular area they never want to think about school again but rather think about marriage,” said Mitchell Garyeazohn, Vice Principal of the Korkor David Town Public School. “Some of them are brilliant students who could benefit the larger society if they are educated,” he said, adding that though the Ministry of Education prohibits this traditional practice during academic period, traditional leaders in the area have refused to honour the mandate. Parents Take the Blame Teachers in the district are also accusing parents for ignoring the importance of education by preferring to send their girls to the Sande society otherwise known as ‘bush school’ despite the free and compulsory primary education the government provides. Daniel Zugar, the Chair of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) in the district accused other parents of being uncooperative. Zugar says the PTA is struggling to dissuade parents from taking away their kids from school which, he agrees, is harming schools and wants central government treat the situation with urgency. “I think there should be announcement from the traditional council for parents not to be taking their children from school; this is our concern and it is very serious,” suggested the PTA Chair who furthered that there are already existing problems dogging public schools in the district which, he claims, are lowly supported by government. Same Old Recommendations There were more recommendations from several teachers on how to curb the situation, including Principal Andrew Sopah who reemphasized the need for local government to suspend these ritual activities while schools are opened which, he adds, will encourage pupils to stay in school. “Parents need to be educated about the importance of going to school …, for me the only thing I want government to do is to close down the Sande bush because it is stopping children from getting education” Sopah told FPA as he drew laughter from his staff who nodded in refutation. Mr. Sopah’s suggestion sounds genuinely impossible considering the ethnocentrism accorded these traditional practices across indigenous Liberian communities. On the other hand, the threat of these practices during the school year is glaring and much detrimental to global efforts campaigning for the rights of a girl child to education. Unlike the propositions from the Principal of Government Day Public School, other teachers believe the ball is in government’s court and once robust measures are taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in partnership with the traditional council, the situation will end. “A one-on-one conversation with parents can also help solve this problem,” added Dean of Students, Nyanway, who believes that community engagement will sensitize most parents. Speaking to FPA in separate interviews, Nyanway and many other teachers in the district claimed they know the situation, understand the parents and are aware of how the prevailing situation endangers the future of several girls in the area. These teachers say they are preparing a special report about the situation and will make further recommendations to the District Education Officer who they expect to make onward submission to the County Education Officer.