A Need for an Evidence Based Debate: An Imperative to Improving the Current State of Education in Liberia
Liberia’s present and future development is hugely dependent on the quality of its citizens, especially the young people. Such quality can only be realized through value education, the one that enables the attainment of productive skills through quality schooling at all levels. Education is fundamentally indispensable to the growth and development of any nation in which Liberia is no exception. As such, it is imperative to dissect the sector in its entirety through honest, dedicated, detailed, and professional studies to ascertain the missing pieces in delivering quality education to the massively youthful population of Liberia. Education, especially early childhood, basic primary, and secondary and vocational education are essentially compulsory to the survival of societies because these elemental levels basically discover the key to literacy, employment, civilization, healthy society, peace and stability. Furthermore, the latter level, secondary education, serves as potential source of students to higher institutions of learning such as colleges and universities and at the end, these people are further transformed by acquiring skills and abilities to work in different sectors of the economy.
In other words, they give reason for the establishment of tertiary education institutions and diverged sectors. Due to these huge benefits education contributes to society, universal education pundits and stakeholders held an Education For All (EFA) conference in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 and subsequently in Dakar, Senegal in 2000 to devise means to bring the benefits of education to every child of school going age in every society. Since then, the subject of education, particularly in the domains of primary and secondary education has drawn remarkable attentions from enormous countries around the world including developing countries like Botswana, Nigeria, brazil, mainland China, Jamaica, and Liberia’s next-door neighbor Sierra Leone, to name a few. These countries are experiencing tremendous boost in their education sector, especially fundamental education. Their respective success stories in education can be ascribed specifically to their strong research and development institutions empowered with well equipped supporting environment to execute honest research, thoughtful investigation, and comprehensive analysis based on data truthfully captured purposefully to enable policy formulation and resource mobilization for education quality enhancement. Such research initiatives are constantly evolving to adjust to the fast changing nature of both their local economies and global economy respectively. For instance, in recognition that Botswana socioeconomics situation has changed, significantly resulted into a review of polices and strategies for the country educational development by the Ministry of Education. Its recommendations, including examining the structure of the education system to guarantee access to universal primary and secondary education, while consolidating and vocationalizing the curriculum contents at these levels have essentially improved the quality of education in Botswana.
Admirably, all stakeholders are uncompromisingly performing their respective functions to perpetually response to the wishes of the citizens and the country’s manpower requirements. In China, education policy became one of the most discussed topics during the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Committee of the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) annual sessions, held in March 2010 with objectives pointing toward quality and equity. Before these sessions, the Ministry of Education released a draft of the state guidelines for short and long term educational reform and development plan for public comments and was afterward finalized in July 2010. Major targets in the guidelines include pre-school education, nine-year compulsory primary and junior secondary education, senior secondary education, vocational education, higher education, and continuing education. Through these national efforts, the Chinese education sector is experiencing mind blowing boom as the country has overnight become one of the best destinations for education in the world. In other words, China education is experiencing speedy improvement because they have graduated from theory to practice.
Regrettably, Liberia’s case is on the contrary. The power of research and development is yet to be realized by education stakeholders. Furthermore, education improvement is yet to catch the attention of stakeholders and to be of priority. Although since the incumbency of the Unity Party led government presided by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, there have been so many theoretical reforms at the ministry of education and uncountable stakeholders meetings about the education sector, specifically in Monrovia including the 2013 Education Round Table Conference held at the Monrovia City Hall. But these initiatives have proven to be far from understanding the actual problems engulfing Liberia’s education system. Sadly, those occasions are used to showcase fashions, eat fabulous meals, and disburse cash on government officials in the name of brainstorming the issues affecting the quality of education in Liberia. In my judgment, understanding the poor quality of education in Liberia requires nationwide investigation taking into account analyzing in totality the Ministry of Education educational resources and delivery capacity, school governance and system management, education infrastructure and technology, curriculum, learning and teaching materials, teachers’ quality, parents involvement, etc, etc.
The present education conversations in Liberia only pinpoint education as a mess based on an over the head observations, political rhetoric, unreliable information, and backward-looking arguments. This assertion, to me, is driven by mere politics and deceptions aim at attracting international donors’ monetary attention to enrich and increase the financial volume of individual pockets. Can we continue like this? The answer is a resounding NO. The way forward is to encourage thoughtful and dedicated research to determine the actual problems affecting the delivery of quality education. By doing so, the ministry of education will be fully capacitated to undertake the task of educating the young people thereby giving them the sort of education they ought to have to be productive and their aspirations to become responsible citizens will be assured. Additionally, the current wave of massive expatriates inflow into the country due to our inability and or inadequacy of local skilled manpower to work in the economy will be minimized.
Through research, I have come to realize that before Liberia could be condemned to a senseless civil war nearly 25-years ago, the country education system was one of the best amongst top flight African nations. Unfortunately, such beautiful period has fallen prey to undeserving criticizing due to leaders’ lack of vision and limited ability to honestly improve the delivery capacity of the institution solely responsible to provide quality education to all citizens; irrespective of family background, social status, age, geographical location, and political affiliations. The unfortunate civil war in Liberia saw overwhelming participation of young people, most of whom were forced to be a part which accordingly brought great set-back to their progress both in their academic and family lives. Many of these folks present capacity cannot afford formal education because of over-aged. Therefore, in order for them to appreciate the gift of life and be responsible citizens, they need serious vocational attention that would enhance their skills to enable them contribute meaningfully to the tasks of nation building.
As I dissect the Liberian education sector and try to compare with other countries with similar history of conflict, it can be concluded herein that there are too many missing production factors in the education sector of Liberia that remain unspoken about while the issues concerning poor quality of education as raised in the news by prominent stakeholders are not really important as they are considered in my argument; poor observations and dishonest opinions only meant to derail the efforts of hard working education employees specifically teachers. For example, the pronouncement made by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia and some educational pundits that “Liberia’s education is a mess” following the 2013 and 2014 sequential failure of nearly 40,000 students in the University of Liberia entrance and placement examinations and nationwide poor performance of grade 12th students who wrote the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exams in similar period. Such argument cannot hold water as it fails to pass the test of well orchestrated research and as such spoke on the surface and was impulsively made. In my mind, such pronouncement didn’t only blackmail the current school goers in Liberia but also; Liberians around the world, especially scholars having sleepless nights in Morocco, Botswana, South Africa, America, Nigeria, Australia, India, the Peoples’ Republic of China in which I truly represent because many of us passed through the very education system in Liberia and are awarded international excellence each semester in the midst of hundreds of thousands of international scholars from diverged corners of the world. On such assertion, I contend that Liberia education is not a mess but the people whose responsibility is it to ensure quality education are either not collaborating well or do not have interest in the preparation of the future generation and or lack vision or lack the political will because education quality is the end result or output of their collective work. In other words, garbage in-garbage out, if we put quality in, of course we will reap quality. Conversely, if we pull the wrong triggers, we will get unsatisfactory results.
Liberia, unlike China and Japan with more than 60% aging population is fortunately relaxed with over 60% young population. This means that there are more prospective innovators, inventors, and state men and women in waiting. However, these young people cannot adequately contribute if they remain deprived of quality education. As the oldest African nation, it is time for policy makers and education stakeholders in Liberia to do away with lip-service. With continues lip-service to education, Liberia will remain a professional vagabond amongst peers, even with the massive deposit of mineral resources, small population, and rich international contacts. Giving the young outlook of Liberia’s population, it is suspected that the future is promising. But, such sentiment can only be realized if our kids’ education is treated with absolute care and all necessary attentions are given them to ensure they get quality education. The national government, through Ministry of Education, is obligated by laws to ensure the provision of quality education to all citizens at every level of the educational strata. But frankly, ensuring quality education is a huge task that cannot be handled by the Ministry of Education alone.
This goes to say that all stakeholders concerned with the education sector must perform their respective duties and responsibilities toward the achievement of acceptable education nationwide, hence, making quality the ultimate goal. The quality of education is invariably discussed by different stakeholders and with different perceptions altogether. However, the public tends to feel education quality more when students in primary and secondary especially are representations of their respective grades and high school graduates are equipped with supplementary skills for job readiness, making remarkable breakthrough in society through vocational skills, and passing university and college placement exams with ease. Anything short of these, illiterate families sitting in Grand Bassa, Bong, Lofa, Gbarpolu, Nimba counties, etc have no need to send their pulpils to school because their education cannot improve their family status.
While I differ with the assertion that Liberia education system is a mess as pronounced by the president and other so-called education stakeholders, I do acknowledged that our education is unarguably in a poor state and demands serious attention. Yes, I do agree that most of our students are not representatives of their educational levels (grades), a large amount of our teachers are not qualified and the few qualified lack motivation, the majority of our schools have makeshift structures, the largest part of our school administrators are wrongly placed, nearly all of our Chief Education Officers (CEOs) and District Education Officers (DEOs) lack motivation, nearly all of our ministers are appointed based on political affiliation and not credentials and qualifications, and education governance and management needs revamping. Well acknowledged and there is no doubt because the veracities are vividly seen from the Broad Street of Monrovia to Yao-Mahnplay in Nimba County and through to the South-Eastern region of Liberia. Can we graduate from all these misfortunes? The answer is a resounding YES. And the way forward is a collective effort by all stakeholders including but not limited to the executive represented by the president who has constitutional power to appoint and dismiss ministers, law makers represented by the committee on education that has direct oversight responsibility over the ministry of education operations, the judiciary with prosecutory power to x-ray corrupt officials of the system, the general public who are commonsensically obligated to unearth wrong doings in the education sector, etc, etc.
Individually, the stakeholders mentioned herein have impeccable role to play in ameliorating the quality of Liberia’s education and any potential shortfall or deceitfulness in one would painfully and adversely affect our education system. For instance, the Ministry of Education is operated by a total of twelve (12) ministers, including one minister proper, three deputy ministers, and eight assistant ministers directly appointed by the president of Liberia. The ministry, since the swearing in of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia’s 25th president in 2006, has experienced unprecedented appointments and dismissals of three ministers proper including the present one, twelve deputy ministers including the present three and so many assistant ministers. These ministers: proper minister, deputy for administration, deputy for instruction, and deputy for planning as well as the assistant ministers are the major decision makers and as such represent the senior staff of the ministry of education. To me, the massive appointments and dismissals that have taken place at the ministry within less than twelve years suggest that there have been so many wrong appointments at the ministry of education and such trial and error scenario is one of many reasons contributing to the poor quality of education in Liberia. The need for quality education for the children of Liberia cannot be over-emphasized as the growth and development and sustenance of the Liberian state are solely and utterly reliance on sound education. If this serious education need has never been given attention by the Commander-In-Chief, its better late than never and the time is now to shift the paradigm instead of wrongly articulating the ills in the Liberian education system. If we agree that Liberia’s education is a mess, whose responsibility it is? Madam President, please take the necessary action to improve the quality of education in Liberia as the children are looking up to you as their primary savior and the Liberian state cannot be developed without effectively educating the citizenry.
In the same vein, the law makers, more than confirming appointed ministers to the ministry of education, have direct oversight responsibility over the operations of the ministry of education but such oversight responsibility is apparently being reneged and or not taking seriously. This, to me, seems that the Senate committee on education is not cognizant of their responsibility or it is insensitive to the education sector. According to the American Non-Governmental Organization Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC), the management jargon, ‘’Oversight’’ is equated with supervision in the sense of being a general review of institutional performance with particular attention to failures to carry out mandates, to preserve discipline, and to inefficiency and poor productivity. This function comes with audit, evaluations, monitoring, inspection and investigation, and it helps an organization to enhance its effectiveness, productivity and integrity. On the other hand, responsibility as defined by an online dictionary.com is the state of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control or management. I am of the conviction that had the law makers fully exhausted their oversight responsibility in this regard; the ministry of education would have been on course to deliver quality education because after thoroughly investigating the state of education, they (the law makers) would have offered useful recommendations for improvement. Therefore, let this serve as an eye opener to our law makers to actively get involve with their oversight responsibility instead of only waiting to cross examine the budget line of the ministry of education. X-raying the ministry of education budget line is also an important function but I suppose it is very important to be aware of the in-depth circumstances impeding the quality delivery of education in Liberia first before dealing with the monetary aspect.
Finally, I like to conclude that quality education is the premier guarantee for societal growth and development because it prepares the manpower required to contribute to nation building. Nowadays, countries with good education systems are better off and experience minimum illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment. Furthermore, with better education system, a country workforce is well positioned to undertake the tasks of nation building, protecting cultural heritage, contributing to social-economic growth and development, promoting healthy environment, peace, and participating competitively in both local and global workplaces. Conversely, countries with poor education system experience dismal performance and fall prey to local and global competition because of disadvantaged system and incapacitated population. The lack of sound education system has negative effect on economy and makes quality service delivery impossible because such system cannot effectively mold manpower for the job market. Sorrowfully, such economy is overwhelmed by unprecedented illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment. Undeservingly, the Liberian case falls into the category of poor quality education and that is why the country is surrounded by gigantic illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, and unprecedented dependency syndromes. Therefore, I am honestly calling on all stakeholders to confront the Liberian education sector in one accord and with the mind set to ensuring quality education for all based on evidence gather through comprehensive research instead of speaking emotionally over the head. LIBERIA CAN RISE AGAIN!!!!
Emmanuel Boone Waydon
Master Candidate: Strategic Management, School of Management, Wuhan University of Technology
25 Luoshi Road, Wuhan City, Hubei, China
Cell #: +86 1 3129985419 | Skype: boone.waydon