Why Motivation Matters

Motivated teachers are vital for successful and effective classroom instruction. They show up consistently, inspire, and engage their students. Enthusiastic teachers assess students’ ability, give feedback, and collaborate with other teachers. They are passionate about the important role they hold and enjoy what they do.

When Teacher Susan welcomes students into her second-grade classroom, her primary role is to deliver instruction that helps her students learn. Her role as a teacher is important to her students' life outcomes. As students gain basic literacy skills and a love for education, they are better prepared for a life full of continuous learning. For Susan to succeed in this important role and provide high quality education to her learners and potential leaders of tomorrow, she must be motivated.

Many factors affect a teacher’s motivation to work. These include money, professional development, progression and promotion opportunities, workplace environment, and sense of autonomy. Susan’s motivations to teach also come from an innate passion to help children and inspire the future leaders of her community – to have a purpose.  Naturally, acknowledgment and appreciation of her tireless efforts and continued professional achievements is a significant motivating factor further still.

The Liberian Context

Liberia is facing significant economic challenges and is still struggling to fully recover from civil wars and the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in 2014.[1] The education system is additionally burdened with providing quality education to students during the COVID-19 pandemic and is significantly behind most other African countries in education achievement statistics.[2] The Liberian education budget is severely constrained, limiting the government’s ability to provide direct financial or other incentives to teachers.

A USAID-funded Read Liberia Activity research study revealed that, despite being trained and certified, many teachers are not yet included on the government’s payroll, with only 54% of teachers receiving a monthly salary from the government. Supplementary teachers make up 21% of the Liberian teaching force, and community or volunteer teachers make up 26%. This study showed that, for example, in Lofa county, 48% of teachers were volunteers while only 28% were full employees.[3]  A teachers’ average monthly wage in Liberia is around $220, which is lower than wages of other workers with similar education levels in the country.[4]

Teachers working in this fragile education system must also cope with uncertain class sizes. Some teachers face classrooms of up to 80 learners, while student enrolment in other schools is falling.  Many teachers also struggle with limited supplies of books and resources. All of these factors can lead to teachers leaving the profession.[5]

USAID Read Liberia’s Unique Solution to Value Teachers’ Service

To mitigate these national challenges, Read Liberia combined efforts with the Liberian Ministry of Education (MOE) to build a unique non-monetary incentive program to recognize high performing teachers. The activity is complementing the MOE’s work to create sustainable community-based relationships to reward both schools and teachers for their outstanding commitment to teaching reading skills, and to encourage more teachers to offer quality reading instruction.

How Does It Work?

This innovative approach recognizes teacher and school excellence by giving awards for up to two schools and four teachers per district annually. Each award is judged using a competitive process based on criteria approved by the MOE and other stakeholders. For example, to qualify for the Excellence in the Teaching of Reading award, a teacher must demonstrate mastery in teaching early grade reading lessons, must demonstrate creativity and innovation in teaching reading, and must demonstrate a high degree of collaboration with colleagues in the school community to promote reading and reading development.  Winners are publicly recognized for their achievements and are given non-monetary but meaningful awards from local companies.

Table 1.  Award Categories and examples of non-monetary incentives

Table 1.  Award Categories and examples of non-monetary incentives










You are Appreciated! USAID Read Liberia and MOE Honors Fifteen Teachers

September 8, 2021 was a day to remember for Peter Bganawoi, a grade two teacher from New Toyoto Public School in Bong County. Following numerous nominations and a rigorous vetting process, Mr. Bganawoi was recognized for his ‘Excellence in the Teaching of Reading.” At an award ceremony in Bong County, Mr. Bganawoi was welcomed on stage by local businessman Mr. Tornorlah Varpilah, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Passion Hotel, with whom the Read Liberia Activity had established a strong partnership. Mr. Bganawoi was one of four Bong County teachers recognized and was presented with an all-expenses paid night at Passion Hotel by Mr. Varpilah. As the crowd applauded, Mr Varpilah said this was his business’ way of appreciating the teachers’ contributions to the education sector. He also called on other private sector institutions to support early grade reading as the foundation for learning.

Mr. S. Tornorlah Varpilah (Left) CEO of Passion Hotel, Bong District presenting the award and nonmonetary incentive to winning teacher, Peter Bgawai (Right). Photo Credit: RTI.

Mr. S. Tornorlah Varpilah (Left) CEO of Passion Hotel, Bong District presenting the award and nonmonetary incentive to winning teacher, Peter Bgawai (Right). Photo Credit: RTI.

While speaking at the event, Read Liberia Senior Reading Director, Patience U. Suah, thanked the authorities of Bong County for their support and collaboration in motivating teachers in the county. She encouraged the award winners to continue providing excellent instruction to their students despite unprecedented challenges. Speaking directly to the award winners, Ms. Suah said “We hope the celebrations today show how much you are appreciated, and that your hard work has not gone unnoticed nor unrecognized.” [6] Ms. Suah also thanked the private sector partners for their continued support to Early Grade Reading (EGR) and urged other private-sector partners who are yet to support EGR to ensure that all “hands are on deck.”

In Nimba County, teacher Karmie Baindan finished top against strong competition to represent that county. In the words of coaching supervisor Cassius Suah, “Madam Karmie has shown a high level of commitment and diligence towards her work and great passion for teaching her students.  When I learned that Baindan won, I felt impressed and very excited that a teacher I am providing support to could emerge as a winner of excellence in the teaching of reading.” At a similar awards ceremony in Kakata city, Margibi county, Mayor Emmanual Goll Sr. praised Read Liberia for its intervention in schools and highlighted the uniqueness of the awards event. “It was the first event of its kind in Margibi.” he proclaimed.

At the Montserrado Non-Monetary Award ceremony, Ms. Heaneah Farwenee, Technical Director at the MOE Early Childhood Division, indicated that “the non-monetary incentive program is an excellent opportunity to review teachers who are doing so much out there unnoticed.” Offering non-monetary incentives can be an effective way for governments to attract, retain, and motivate valued teachers. Reflecting on the awards Assistant Minister for Basic and Secondary Education, Felicia Sackey Doe-Sumah stated, “passion yields good results.”

Top left: Deputy Education Minister for Instruction Alexander Duopu. Top right: Read Liberia Activity Reading Director Patience U. Suah Middle: A cross section of guests and honorees  Bottom: NATIONAL AWARDS WINNERS (left to right) Titus Wingbah-Nimba County, Victoria Qualee-Nimba County, Peter Gbanawoi-Bong County and Juliet Saah-Montserrado County

Top left: Deputy Education Minister for Instruction Alexander Duopu. Top right: Read Liberia Activity Reading Director Patience U. Suah
Middle: A cross section of guests and honorees
Bottom: NATIONAL AWARDS WINNERS (left to right) Titus Wingbah-Nimba County, Victoria Qualee-Nimba County, Peter Gbanawoi-Bong County and Juliet Saah-Montserrado

Teachers welcomed the respect and admiration given to them and their profession.  Reflecting on his award, Mr. Bganawoi shared “I felt very happy and thrilled [to win the award]. It gives me more motivation to continue my work as a teacher. My family is very happy that I emerged a winner and my community members are also very happy for my success.” 

Mr. Bganawoi and his fellow winners subsequently advanced to the national-level awards ceremony held on October 28, 2021. Read Liberia organized this prestigious event in collaboration with the MOE at which four National Winners were honored. Juliet Saah of Montserrado County was named National Teacher of the Year for Excellence in the Teaching of Reading; Peter Gbanawoi of Bong County as National Teacher of the Year for Outstanding Contribution to the Teaching of Reading; Victoria Qualee of Nimba County as National Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Addressing Special Needs in the Teaching of Reading; and Titus Wingbah of Nimba County as National Teacher of the Year as Outstanding New Reading Teacher.

Speaking at the ceremony held at the Ministerial complex, the Deputy minister for Instruction at the Ministry of Education, Hon. Alexander Duopu, indicated that the successful collaboration and coordination between the MOE and USAID showed continued support in motivating those teachers who are committed to building students’ skills in reading fluency. This non-monetary incentive program shows that even in the face of constrained education budgets, there are innovative and achievable actions that the education sector, communities, and the private sector can take when working in partnership to motivate teachers and schools to excel.


For more information about the Read Liberia program, use the main menu to search by Topic > Then "Featured Collection" > Read Liberia. Or, click here.

For more information about teacher motivation, use keyword search "Motivation". in particular: see Cultivating Dynamic Educators: Case studies in teacher behavior change in Africa and Asia | SharEd (rti.org), in particular the chapter 8 describing use of a Teacher Motivation diagnostic tool in India. The Jordan RAMP project also tested incentives for teachers: Incentives to teach, incentives to read: A pilot of symbolic incentives for teachers and students in Jordan | SharEd (rti.org). And in Nepal a study looked at how motivation affects teaching practice, including absenteeism: Nepal Early Grade Reading Assessment, Education Management Efficiency Study and Teacher Observation Study | SharEd (rti.org)  

[1] Hot Pepper Newspaper. 8 Sep 2021

[2] USAID. Where we work, Liberia https://www.usaid.gov/liberia/education

[3] Read Liberia Year 1 Operational research study. 2008. RTI

[4] David Evans, Fei Yuan and Deon Filmer. Centre for Global Development. 2020. https://www.cgdev.org/blog/teacher-pay-africa

[5] Education Weekly https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-what-motivates-teachers...

[6] Read Liberia Public Private Partnerships Relationship Collaboration Plan and Model.2020.

About the Expert

Jennae Bulat's picture
Dr. Jennae Bulat is the Senior Director of the Teaching and Learning team in the International Development Group (IDG) at RTI International. In this role, she oversees RTI’s international education teaching and learning technical focus, ensuring that RTI uses cutting-edge approaches and best research-based practices in its pre-primary through upper-primary programming. Specializing in early literacy development and inclusive education, Dr. Bulat has a strong commitment to facilitating learning across all populations, particularly among at-risk populations, such as girls and children with special needs.