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Costing for good quality ECE in Liberian schools

Tue, April 16, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Pacific Concourse (Level -1), Pacific K


The now widespread recognition of the need for young children to start learning and developing cognitively and socio-emotionally has led to a greater emphasis on pre-primary schooling as one key means for this early learning and development. A growing body of research evidence has proven the enormous value of good quality early learning, and its role in laying the foundations for a child to succeed in primary school and beyond. Crucially for countries like Liberia, Engle et al (2011) found that the poorest and least advantaged children have the most to gain from good quality early learning and that this can even go so far as to help reduce the perpetuation of societal inequalities (ibid.). While good quality pre-primary schooling cannot be thought of as a sure way to fully compensate for a child growing up in poverty (Harris, 2012), it can go some way towards levelling the playing field.

The financing burden for education systems is a major challenge, with resources available from national tax revenues and donor support facing competing demands, from the pre-primary through to the tertiary level. Increasingly there is the push towards universalising access to secondary schooling as well as primary school, with the foundational pre-primary level often neglected. Countries such as Uganda and Nigeria have not managed to ensure at least a year of pre-primary school for all children, while pushing to universalise access to secondary school. In the case of Liberia, resources are even more limited, and the Ministry of Education has hitherto not achieved any budget envelope from the President and the Government, via the Ministry of Finance. Pre-primary schooling, as in other Sub-Saharan African contexts, such as Tanzania, is meant to be provided by government schools, but they are not given the resources necessary. In such circumstances, government schools must charge fees, or leave provision to the private sector.

This paper looks at the lack of government financing of pre-primary education in the Liberian context, which has meant that the financing burden has fallen on communities and often specifically on parents of pre-primary school children. In this context, pre-primary school is not considered optional, but rather, where it is available at all, children are expected to start schooling at this level. We draw on a survey of the head teachers of 50 pre-primary schools, and of 478 parents of children attending these schools to examine how pre-primary schooling is being provided at the present time, and the cost burden on parents that results. We provide details of schools’ expenditures and income, and what parents are paying, and we consider the difficulties parents have in paying these fees. We then explore the links between these costs and the significant problem of overage enrolment and low quality of education in Liberia.