Education: The ‘Messy Sector’ In Review

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Flashback- (L-R) Dr. Brownell, Mr. Dorbor (Testing & Evaluation contractor), and Dr. Getaweh at the press conference.jpg

The education sector came under the spotlight in 2013 when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, being disappointed with certain officials from the Ministry of Education (MOE), and some school authorities, described the sector-as ‘a mess.’

The President made the pronouncement at a retreat on the outskirts of Monrovia organized by the arm of government that manages the education sector.

In her remarks the President made specific reference to how official business is being conducted at the Ministry by some of her officials.

Following her observation, the President subsequently reshuffled her government; dismissing some of the officials, while some were resituated, particularly the deputies. This exercise affected mainly the MOE.

Further emphasizing the President’s description of the sector, all 25,000 applicants for the University of Liberia’s (UL) placement/ entrance examination administered in July, failed the test.

 Prior to the administration of the test, the UL authority itself blundered in several ways when they failed to go by the schedule earlier set aside for the test.  

UL Placement Exams

The 25,000 candidates who registered for the UL entrance and placement examinations were, on June 22, left hanging around the various designated exam centers because the UL Administration failed to administer the tests. The state-owned flagship institution also failed to feed the candidates with any explanation why the tests wouldn’t be administered as scheduled.

The various centers designated by the UL for its entrance exams were inundated with scores of young people aspiring to gain admission. They began gathering in their numbers as early as 7 a.m., but were left to linger until 5 p.m. when the UL administration finally announced an indefinite postponement of the exercise. This nearly plunged the institution into turmoil.

 Nearly 50 schools across Monrovia were being prepared as test centers for the administration of the exams.

 The university’s president, Dr. Emmet E. Dennis, did not provide any reason why the exams were canceled until two weeks later.

A commotion began around 10:30 a.m. when a group of students who had become disgruntled stormed the Stella Maris Polytechnic campus, near the UL main campus on Capitol Hill, in an effort to disrupt any test being administered there. The brief fracas at Stella Maris foreshadowed things to come for UL vice president for Academic Affairs/Provost, Dr. Wede Elliot-Brownell and the vice president for UL Relations, Dr. S. Momolu Getaweh Sr.

In a nation-wide announcement on June 18, 2013, Dr. S. Momolu Getaweh, Sr., of the UL informed all registered candidates for undergraduate admission and placement exams that the exams were officially scheduled for Saturday, June 22.

The candidates were advised to be stationed at their respective testing centers not later than 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the test.

 Most of the candidates who spoke with the Daily Observer, said the failure of the UL to live up to its pronouncement and their unfair treatment by its authority all pointed to the “fact that the Liberian educational system is indeed messy” as described by President Ellen Jo0hnson Sirleaf.

The worst situation came  when the UL ‘read the riot Act (issued a strong warning) to those hoping to enter, believing that some members of admission personnel could be counted on to  continue ‘business-as-usual,’ willing to give some an easy way through.

Doing what they can to prepare for the school’s entrance exam—if they are serious about making something of themselves—seems to be the new message the UL administration is trying to encourage.

The days are over when anyone could ace his or her way into the school, relying on some quid pro quo (something in exchange for another: be it money, a handshake or what have you) went the warning.

The administration of the state-run university then announced the mass failure from the 2013 entrance examination should serve as a wakeup call to students who have not seen the proverbial “writing on the wall.”

Forget about throwing away your resources: business as usual is now a thing of the past. Paying money to pass the school’s entrance exam will no longer be tolerated, or words to that effect reverberated through the halls.

The vice president for Academic Affairs & Provost, Dr. Weade Elliott-Brownell including other members of the administration asserted that paying money to enter the UL has been a custom-with bad consequences on the education system of the country.

Admitting to the mass failure in the entrance Dr. Brownell, joined by her colleagues, stressed that the failure signals to stakeholders that high schools around the country are not doing enough to prepare students for university studies, and that the UL is quite pleased to have such results because they were not tampered with this time around.

She also indicated that the result serves as a warning to candidates to prepare before coming to sit for the tests, noting with strong emphasis, “No more passing behind the back door to enter the university as our students have been doing over the years.”

Other professors stressed that the result of the entrance was sad for the country, “not because the university has performed poorly, but because students are not learning in high schools as expected.”

The results indicate that no candidate out rightly earned the scores of 50% in Math and 70% in English, previously set by the Faculty Senate of the university as the passing scores for undergraduate examinations.

Similarly, no candidate who sat for the graduate programs, Law School and School of Pharmacy exams earned the score of 70% also set by the senate as a passing score.

 Interestingly, the UL administration arrived at admitting 1,626 candidates who scored either at least 40% in Math or 50% in English in the undergraduate program, 25 for the College of General Studies (Continuing Education), 93 in the six graduate programs, 37 for the Law School and 24 for the School of Pharmacy for Academic 2013/2014.

  UL admitted a lower number of candidates under ‘conditions,’ which included candidates in the undergraduate division taking two transitional courses; one in Math 100 and the other in English 100.  Both courses will be administered for six hours a week without academic credit.

Also candidates admitted in this category will be permitted to take an additional three credit hour course, which shall be determined by their respective colleges, with total hours of academic work for the first semester of 2013/2014 not exceeding nine hours a week.

They must pass the transitional courses within two semesters if they wish to continue at the UL, and that upon admission, rules governing poor academic performance shall be applied.

UL Entrance-July 13

 Following the failure on the UL Administration to administer the tests as scheduled, they said it was regrettable to annul the tests and that the sudden postponement of the Saturday, June 22, 2013, Entrance Examinations was primarily due to circumstances beyond its control.

As such, the test was administered [only in the Monrovia area] on July 13, 2013.  In the meantime, it then said, the exams administered in the leeward counties would remain valid.

Additionally, the entrance exams for the graduate programs and the College of General Studies scheduled for June 29, 2013 remains unchanged (July 22).

“It is the policy of the UL to protect the integrity of the exams by printing the materials as close as possible to the exam time,” the UL said in a statement issued in Monrovia.

The state-owned university explained that after successfully printing and dispatching test materials to leeward counties, a technical breakdown of IT and reproduction equipment occurred; resulting in difficulty producing adequate test copies of the exam for Central Monrovia and its immediate environs.

“In spite of this, the Committee had hoped it could still administer the exam as scheduled.” By this mix-up of policy in the administration of the exam, the entire exercise was placed under scrutiny concerning its authenticity (genuineness, accuracy.)

The university was in constant communication with its county supervisors and coordinators, and according to them, the examination was going on smoothly.

 

“The University of Liberia, wishes to sincerely apologize to parents, applicants, and the general public for any inconvenience experienced as a result of Saturday’s unfortunate event. The University is taking steps to prevent the recurrence of this unfortunate incident,” added the statement.

Teacher Strikes

In the wake of all of this academic rigmarole, teachers who were supposed to be in the classrooms teaching the basics of education were on many occasions protesting for full employment status, reinstatement, salaries and other benefits.

 Taking into consideration all these noisy situations in the sector, one would agree that, indeed, the educational system was a mess during the year 2013.

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