Liberia’s education system is severely imbalance in the provision and delivery of services, facility management, staff supervision and bureaucratic control. The system has failed to generate comprehensive organizational and structural changes over the past ten years.
Neglect, mismanagement and unprofessional conduct have destroyed the day-to-day function of the system by depriving many schoolchildren of a positive learning environment and critical academic growth after almost two decades of social dislocation and brutal civil war.
Recently, there have been changes in the administration of the system intended to bring about reorganization. It is believed that this restructuring would bring about desperately needed transformation to a system that has been out of touch with 21st century academic values.
Liberians are looking forward to this overhaul with great anticipation and expectations that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will function much better than it did over the past years. However, can Liberian schoolchildren be optimistic that this reorganization will make the leadership of the MOE more accountable to their learning, achievement and performance? Can parents be hopeful that this reorganization would indeed deal with a system-wide revamp that is devoted to analyzing and boosting the MOE's management structure, including curriculum, instruction and organizational areas where the bureaucracy has been chronically inefficient? Can Liberians look forward to the MOE promoting creativity, innovation, curiosity and individualism in our education system?
Over the past 10 years, the system has been in a state of mediocrity, remaining in freefall during this most critical period in our country’s history. The system failed simply because those who led and managed it lacked vision, direction, guidance and the political will to truly transform it.
The MOE mercilessly trapped over a million schoolchildren in poverty, condemning many to the distinction of inequalities across all lines of class, gender, region and ethnicity. On the one hand, the system’s failure allowed students to pass from one grade to the next without certified academic confidence in basic skills; while leaving countless others disgustingly unprepared to function competently in the society.
On the other hand, the system allowed useless and unethical teachers and administrators to make a mockery out of a noble and respectable profession without consequence or accountability. This colossal failure of our education system has had a horrible effect on schoolchildren, parents and communities across the country, radically affecting the general population with devastating consequences in our collective mindset, social attitude and communal behavior.
The system failed our country immeasurably, and if we are not careful, it could rip off yet another generation of innocent Liberians by denying them a productive and promising future.
This gigantic failure of the system should be a wake-up call to Liberians everywhere, especially those in leadership. We can quibble about the collapse of the system and blame past administrators, or we can stand up with the resolve and determination to fix it, and face the brutal truth that our country has been out-educated by every country in the sub-region and countless others around the world.
The failure isn’t about the schoolchildren, because they are as smart as students anywhere on the planet. The hard truth is that other countries’ education systems have surged ahead, while ours has not modernized, nor kept up with changes which could transform the lives of our children. The danger of doing nothing is that a substantial portion of our youth, 45% of whom make up our population, will be left in ever deepening poverty, continually requiring massive assistance to be lifted out of a state of melancholy; and possibly leaving an entire generation abandoned without hope for a better life.
Liberia needs to completely end its dependency and beggar mind-set towards education that permits us to rely totally on others for direction, standards, curriculum, and guidance in our education outlook. Our education system can only be transformed if we re-define opportunities, present innovations and provide orientations which embraces creativity, individuality, professionalism and resourcefulness.
A paradigm shift would give recognition to developing the potential and capacity of teacher, student and school as the primary means in meeting 21st century socio-economic demands. To accomplish this goal, however, every aspect of our national life would have to be tapped, not simply by the scale of provision and access to service, but by the very nature of how educational services are conceptualized, resourced and delivered.
This new narrative and paradigm shift in the system should be about integrity, standards, assessment, curriculum, discipline, resource management, performance, responsibility and respectability. It should be about building marketable skill sets and social benchmarks among schoolchildren as the means of achieving national goals.
Such a narrative would indeed be resolute in maintaining education as the only ticket needed to reduce poverty, illiteracy, socioeconomic insufficiency and our chronic collective disease burden.
To fundamentally restructure the system, we will have to prioritize education as a national requirement and not continue to give it the usual lip service treatment to fill speeches, excite constituents and accommodate international audiences. But to transform it in this manner would require a shift in our attitude and outlook in terms of policy and the way both educators and policymakers relate to one another in comparison to content, curriculum, skills training and instruction.
Liberian education can truly become revolutionary if Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is present in schools. Making ICT an integral part of our national education strategy would indeed modernize learning and lead to total transformation of our educational landscape. If ICT is integrated properly in our school system, it could definitely contribute to building new relationships between schools, communities and the larger society by bridging the gap between formal, non-formal and informal education.
There is a strategic need in Liberia to seriously consider developing a teacher residency program. Such a program would be intended to give new teachers valuable hands-on training from seasoned professionals as mentor teacher, while taking courses to earn a master’s degree in education. A program of this kind would indeed be an excellent way Liberia can begin an aggressive transformation, offering beginner teachers an opportunity to work under the guidance of an experienced teacher/adviser, counselor or guru in specific professions to gain practical knowledge. It would also force institutions of higher learning to provide advance courses in education and related areas to enhance the academic growth of a progressive and knowledgeable segment of our population.
We need to come to terms with the way educational resources are distributed and utilized. Such as, how and where staffs are assigned, compensated, accommodated and where school buildings are constructed, in order to achieve clear-cut social and economic goals which impacts populations, diversity, development and modernization.
It cannot be emphasized enough that the system is badly in need of capacity strengthening through professional and leadership development; including, curriculum and instructional resources, reinforced through interventionist accountability schemes, which can only be addressed through open measurements of accomplishment. This requires some common sense measures including leadership, discipline, curriculum and basic reading and language skill sets. A determined effort to train, recruit and retain high quality administrators and teachers will make the biggest difference in reforming and restructuring the system.
The teaching profession must be made to appeal to the best and brightest among us. Having schoolchildren exposed to truly skilled teachers and administrators is an investment that is sure to pay off in the long-run, because it would demand that our system provides solid curriculum, assessment, expectation, performance, accountability and output nationwide.
These practical and realistic approaches to transforming our education system would ensure greater social dividends, quantifiable and measurable returns in terms of learning, achievement, capacity, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and well-being. Transforming our education system will deal with closing the gap between rural, urban and peri-urban schools, so that the entire system is brought into the 21st century with better innovation, curriculum, evaluation, achievement and performance.
Note: Francis W. Nyepon: Author, Policy Analyst, Environmentalist and Entrepreneur: