On a late Friday afternoon in August 2019, Hawa Palay—a grade one teacher from Ndambu Public School in Lofa County—has just completed a five-day Read Liberia teacher training course. Upon leaving the auditorium, a notification on her mobile phone catches her attention: it’s a text message informing her that she has already been reimbursed for the training.
Twice a year, the USAID Read Liberia Activity trains 1,263 teachers on how to implement the USAID-Ministry of Education’s early grade reading model. The training takes place in what can be over 50 training sites and across six counties in Liberia: Lofa, Bong, Grand Bassa, Nimba, Margibi, and Montserrado. After each training, Read Liberia is responsible for reimbursing teachers for training-related transportation and other costs. However, this can be a huge challenge, particularly in rural areas with limited, or in most cases, no banking facilities.
Prior to 2019, the Activity provided on-site payments through local banks. This was costly, involved considerable paperwork, and was prone to risk. For example, errors such as misspelled names could delay payments for weeks or even months. Fortunately, the launch and use of digital financial services across Liberia has contributed to the creation of innovative ideas and solutions for this very issue. In 2019, the Activity began collaborating with Liberia’s two largest cellular operators—Lonestar/MTN and Orange Liberia—to facilitate more reliable and timely payments to teachers.
Transitioning to the use of mobile money payments has had a significant impact on Read Liberia and its teachers. For Read Liberia, using mobile money has made the payment process more transparent and easily traceable. Attendance at training courses is confirmed via pre-populated lists of the participants and their mobile money numbers. Read Liberia staff carefully monitor participation to ensure that the intended teachers are present each day of training. These attendance lists correlate to digital mobile money registers that the Read Liberia Finance Department processes after the end of each training, all of which are cross-checked by multiple staff members to ensure accuracy. The process of submitting mobile money payments is very quick, taking roughly five minutes to complete. For teachers, using mobile money reduces the level of administration involved, including the time it takes to travel to banks. During the Read Liberia mobile money onboarding, many teachers purchased sim cards and mobile phones to facilitate the payment process. For many, it was their first time making such a purchase and they were able to reap the benefits of other mobile phone uses such as paying utility bills, school fees, and adding to their savings.
Within minutes of leaving the training in August 2019, Ms. Palay and her fellow teachers had already received their mobile money payments. The instant payment allowed them to procure provisions and return to their rural homes in Lofa County before nightfall.
“Oh, what a joy!” Ms. Palay exclaimed. “I just went to a nearby MTN mobile money agent, showed him the message and withdrew the cash.”
Mobile money is playing a key role in extending financial services to Liberians that have limited access to traditional financial institutions. Challenges do exist: money agents sometimes exhaust their funds and network outages can delay transfers. However, the benefits for Read Liberia teachers, particularly those in more rural areas of the country, far outweigh any potential issues.
The Read Liberia Activity is a five-year United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—funded education activity implemented by RTI International in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Education. Read Liberia works to improve early grade reading skills for Liberian students in 640 public schools in grades one and two and piloted emergent literacy skills for Liberian children in 60 public kindergarten schools. The five-year activity is implemented in six counties—Lofa, Bong, Grand Bassa, Nimba, Margibi, and Montserrado—with aim of reaching over 57,000 students each year.