Will 2014 Restore to the Education Sector, the Proverbial “…Years that the Locusts Have Eaten”?

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In her annual message last year, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf acknowledged that the education sector was in dire need of reform. She reported that although student enrollment last year was perhaps the highest the sector has experienced in decades, “the quality of education leaves much to be desired.”

This, to a large extent, was due to inadequately-trained teachers and a lack of textbooks and facilities, such as libraries and laboratories, she said.

However, there was good news for the sector: A pilot for the West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Exams, (WASSCE) an extension of the West African Examination Council, (WAEC) was launched among 32 schools in Montserrado and Margibi counties. The exercise was to eventually replace the WAEC.

According to the President, the 2012 WAEC results showed marks of improvement. Quoting WAEC statistics, of the 25,425 Liberian students who sat the exams, 71.7 percent passed for the first time.

“The level of success can be attributed to improvement in our own teachers’ capacity, and to the deployment of 112 trained mathematics, and science teachers in all the major public high schools.”

The success story was partly credited to the arrival from Nigeria of volunteer teachers, teachers from the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) as well as Peace Corp Volunteers; these have been deployed in 14 of the nation’s 15 counties, (Montserrado excepted) teaching English, Science and Mathematics in 45 local schools.

She disclosed that beginning in September last year, Liberian college students would teach alongside Peace Corps Volunteers, under a new program.

The contradiction

Shortly following the President’s message to the nation, which was actually delivered on the 3rd working Monday in January, the Cabinet hosted a ‘Special Retreat’ the next month-February, at the Baptist Seminary outside Monrovia, where the education sector came under serious scrutiny.

President Sirleaf finally found it necessary to speak about being disappointed with the performances of some of the officials from the Ministry of Education, (MOE) describing the sector ‘a mess.’

In her remarks, the President made specific reference to how official business was being conducted at the MOE by some of her officials, who seemed to have addressed the ongoing outcry against ‘payroll-paddling and ‘ghost names.’

The President soon reshuffled her cabinet, dismissing some of the officials, while some were resituated, particularly the deputies. This exercise affected mainly the MOE.

Giving credence to the President’s description of the sector as a mess, all 25,000 applicants for the University of Liberia’s (UL) placement/entrance examination that sat the test administered in July, failed.

Prior to the test, the UL authority itself blundered in a number of 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; the UL Administration had failed to administer the examinations. The state-owned flagship institution also failed to provide the candidates an explanation for the postponement of the tests as scheduled.

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 in process. The brief fracas at Stella Maris foreshadowed things to come for UL vice president for Academic Affairs/Provost, Dr. Wede Elliot-Brownell, including a call for her resignation.

Earlier, the UL had 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 make it easy to squeeze—or buy—their way through.

The Administration said that paying money to enter the UL had been a custom-with bad consequences on the education system of the country.

Admitting 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.

“No more passing through the back door to enter the university as our students had done 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 UL administration decided to admitting 1,626 of the candidates that had done a little better the rest, scoring at least 40% in Math and 50% in English in the undergraduate program: 25 were welcomed at the College of General Studies, (Continuing Education) 93 at the six graduate programs; 37 for the Law School; and 24 for the School of Pharmacy for Academic 2013/2014.

Teacher Strikes

In the wake of this academic rigmarole coupled with the ‘messy system,’ teachers who were supposed to be in the classrooms were seen demanding 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. However, one wonders why the President said in her last annual message that some improvement had was in the sector whereby the necessary mechanisms had not been put in place by her government. Those things have to do with needy reform including teachers’ capacity-building, building of laboratories and libraries across the country.

2014 Expectations

Now that 2014 is here, Liberians are of the view that the President will not only mention in this year’s message an education policy that would focus on the necessary reform she perceived, but must, before mentioning the reform, firstly see the University of Liberia fully reopen.

That, the resumption of academic activities including the opening of classes and the return of students and teachers to classes.  

Also, various schools are being constructed across the country during the year in review; the schools need to be well-equipped with libraries and laboratories, with trained and committed teachers assigned therein. Al least, these are a few of the policies that if the President considers, would be interpreted as parts of the necessary education reforms she had hoped to achieve.

Moreover, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must note that employment and ghost names still remain problems at the Ministry of Education to address.

Taking a tangible step to addressing these problems will reflect not only a positive side of the MOE, it will also help government to reduce over-spending that is yielding no positive result in the education sector.

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