Managing the business of education: Liberia cleans up its teacher payroll, 2015–2017
In late 2015, Liberia’s newly appointed education minister, George Werner, recognized that the government school system was wasting money and failing its students. Shortly before Werner assumed office, a pilot project had identified significant numbers of ghost workers (teachers who never showed up for their jobs or were fraudulently included on the payroll) as well as teachers who lacked even basic qualifications. Although the project covered just three of Liberia’s 15 counties (the most populous counties of Montserrado, Nimba, and Bong), the findings illuminated a long-standing national problem. Resolving to put an end to the abuses, Werner and senior ministry officials created a program implementation unit dedicated to the nationwide project, refined vetting procedures for assessing qualifications, and introduced mandatory competency testing that laid the foundation for additional reforms. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf provided crucial political support when the project ran into resistance from the national teachers’ association. By February 2018, the education ministry had removed 83% of the 2,046 ghost teachers, and planned to remove the remaining 17% that it identified during the last six months of the project. Overall, the project generated $2.3 million in annual savings that opened spaces for new teachers in the school system and budget, with the ministry expecting that this number would increase to 3.1 million once all ghost teachers were gone. As a result of the project, the ministry hired 1,371 trained new graduate teachers. Still, challenges remained: 49% of public school teachers had failed the competency tests. Armed with this important baseline data, the ministry had to decide what to do to improve teacher quality.