In 2015, Alex Devine had a dream – a competition aimed at breeding a new generation of Liberian intellectuals who will go beyond normal classroom activities to discuss issues with logic and fact.
He also dreamt of getting rid of the ‘Super Friday’ phenomenon among high school students, an unsanctioned day set aside by students to go out having fun including getting drunk and other harmful vices instead of being in school during class time, an act that was creeping into the already broken education system, and destroying it.
But dreams are just dreams if they are not translated into action, something Alex couldn’t do due to him actively pursuing his acting career, and two other reasons, he said.
Firstly, he lacked the finances to organize such an intellectual competition, which killed his ambition.
Secondly, because of his budding acting career, he could not, and was unwilling to give enough attention to organizing the competition.
Despite his unwillingness to pursue this dream of his, his mind was disturbed day and night for neglecting this unique call to serve his people.
Still, Alex was not willing to sacrifice his career, meager resources and time to make this dream a reality.
But as fate would have it, after an interaction with some students who were out gallivanting on a beach during class time revealed their poor intellectual capacities, Alex started to rethink his previous reluctance to give his dream a try.
At home later that fateful day, Alex decided to drop his acting ambition and started planning the first edition of the Montserrado County Inter-High School Debate featuring over 30 county high schools.
Sadly, Alex’s previous issue with his financial capacity to run the debate reared its ugly head. But his renewed vigor coupled with a competitive nature honed over years of pursuing his acting career, wouldn’t let him quit.
In 2015, Alex launched the Montserrado County Inter-High School Debate to rave reviews. The biggest boost to the debate competition came during the final between St. Teresa Convent and Len Miller High School, which Len Miller eventually won.
From that point on, the Montserrado Inter-High School Debate competition made headways among schools, and stated attracting students eager to build their intellectual capacities.
Yet, raising funds to run the debate still remains a major challenge, despite the success of the competition.
Alex said: “Although I am still experiencing financial troubles like in the past, I will not retire until I see to it that our students’ intellectual capacities are fully built, which will make them critical thinkers, and the people who will solve problems with critical thought to put this nation in a better place.
“You see, when the intellectual capacities of feature leaders of this nation are built, unlike past leaders, they will make decisions about the country based on analytical skills, taking into consideration the aftermath of their actions.
“Liberia is way back not because of poverty, but decisions made about this country years back by leaders were not based on analytical thinking, when one considers the fact that our leaders continue to give concession companies 86 years or more for little or nothing for the country’s resources.
“When students’ intellectual capacities are built, which comes along with critical thinking, they will develop the ability to confront problems – complex problems, and to design solutions to them.
“The ability to think critically is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual, which I want Liberian children, the future leaders, to have,” he said.
Alex noted that when he considers Liberian children, he sees them as children with a bright future; and given the opportunity, they can be like other children in the world, which he is trying to ensure.
“I want to change the stereotype that Liberian school-going children only know pleasure, which is not true. The problem here is that they lack the environment to explore their potential,” Alex said.
However, despite the success of the debate competition, Alex said people have not changed the overwhelming narrative that portrays Liberian youth as intellectually inferior.
“It is about time they need to change this kind of thinking,” he said, adding: “These kids are eager to learn regardless of the challenges they have to go through.”
Alex said he plans to decentralize the debate competition next year to the 15 political subdivisions of the country to make sure that each Liberian student is assured of exceptional intellectual and critical thinking abilities to confront complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions.
Now in its third edition, the success of the national high school debate is remarkable, as it has built the intellectual capacities of young Liberians like Nathan Gbelee, Olivia Livingstone, one time MVP, Fadilla A. Shaibani, 2nd edition’s Most Eloquent Speaker, and Satta F. Sheriff, a child rights advocate, who won the Most Valuable Player that the same year, just to name a few.