The government of Liberia has decided to upgrade the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute (BWI) to a Center of Excellence, making it second to none in the sub-region.
The Minister of Youth and Sports, Eugene Nagbe, announced this bold initiative last Saturday when he delivered the Institute’s 64 commencement address on the school’s campus in Kakata, Margibi County.
This is a vision that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has already advanced, Minister Nagbe told the commencement audience. The vision, he said, is based on her desire to see the progress of technical skills in the country.
“We will transform BWI, we will shift the paradigm towards technical education, we will produce the quality of young leaders with the requisite employable skills to drive the economy,” he assured the audience, which included the 333 graduates.
Speaking on the theme, “Technical Skills Development: A Panacea to Liberia’s Unemployment Challenge,”
Minister Nagbe said the country had reached a critical stage where the need to increase government efforts to find innovative solutions to technical skills shortages cannot be over emphasized.
“Liberia needs a highly educated citizenry, particularly in the areas of scientific and technical research and services. This is a precondition for economic growth,” Nagbe declared.
In his view, the present educational system must be improved to produce graduates who have acquired the knowledge and capabilities to solve the country’s problems such as the supply of adequate electricity, the building and maintenance of roads, solving water and sanitation problems, fixing vehicles and machines of all kinds, running pipelines, drilling upcoming oil wells, producing the palm oil and value added products, such as processing rubber and making rubber-based products.
He recalled that in 1951, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) study showed that when local capacity was sought to work on the mines in the country, government found only five professional and technical schools, including the University of Liberia (UL), and BWI that offered “any kind of vocational training which followed a definite pattern with established aims and objectives.”
He laid emphasis on the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and the role it plays in providing sustainable livelihood opportunities for the youthful population.
As part of government’s Operational Plan for TVET, US$10 million has been secured to finance and upgrade BWI and transform it into a “Centre of Excellence.”
He added that BWI with its best historical positioning has the greatest potential and the biggest asset to serve as the quintessential Center of Excellence to lead in the charge of transforming the nation’s TVET.
“It is our hope that BWI Board of Governors can restart the conversation in up-scaling the institute to a technical college,” he said.
Of the number of graduates, 70 of them received diplomas in Agriculture, 37 in Automotive, 28 in Accounting, 22 in Secretarial Science, and 21 in Domestic Science.
In the building trades, 12 obtained diplomas in the Carpentry Section while 19 came from the Drafting section, 36 from Masonry, 35 plumbing, 46 Electrical Department and 25 obtaining diplomas in Electronics.
Earlier, BWI Principal Alexander M. Massey, challenged the graduates to go forward with the institute’s “Tiger” spirit.
He urged them to continue practicing Ebola preventive measures, because it was the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic that delayed the ceremony from last year to Saturday, March 28, 2015.
BWI is a public, post-secondary school in Kakata. Founded in 1929 as the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute, it was the country's first agricultural and vocational school. BWI was founded with assistance from Americans and is named after American educator Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute (now University).
Located east of the country's capital of Monrovia, the school sits on a 1000-acre rural campus and has over 1,800 students.
During the 1920s President Charles D. B. King visited the United States and toured the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Upon his return to Liberia, President King hired Massachusetts Institute of Technology's first African-American graduate, Robert Robinson Taylor, to design a campus for a similar school in Liberia.
The government donated 1,000 acres (400 ha) in Margibi County for use by the new school, which is named after Washington. The school opened in 1929 with the financial assistance of the Phelps Stokes Foundation.
James L. Sibley, an American educator, served as the first principal. But shortly after BWI’s doors were opened, he died of yellow fever. By his own request, his body is buried on the Institute’s campus. The inscription on the grave is quoted from the New Testament: “Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”