The alarming rapidity of my heartbeat filled me with uneasiness. I wanted to vomit. My right eyelid shook incessantly. It was apparent that something was happening to me. I am from a family that prided itself with being connected to well-educated men and women. Following that tradition my father put a lot of time and money into my education.
In my high school days, I was always top of my class. But what had caused my present confusion were the recent university entrance results. The results told the world my high school achievements were questionable. Like my classmate, Jason, we never expected the poor results, after the university entrance examinations.
But whether we like it or not, the results claimed that I and Jason as well as many others could not pass. The authorities made things worse telling the world that all of us, more than 10,000, failed the exams. My father, a strong disciplinarian, would demand to know why I failed. I would have the most difficult job convincing him that someone might have marked the papers, in the night.
That evening, I did not know what to do. My father would be home in about two hours. Getting ready to meet him, I contacted my friend Jason and we took refuge at the Intellectual Center on Benson Street, where issues were discussed. ‘Hataye’ centers had sprung up in the city. Young men congregate to discuss national events, and pour out their frustrations.
“I can’t believe the mass failure,” I said, sipping a glass of hataye. “It would seem we were just having fun and not really doing what we went there to do.”
Jason, at twenty four years old, was a man of steel. He did not reside under any parental control and I could not tell if that was the reason he was so calm. His situation was very much difficult than me. In spite of what had happened I could still convince my father to continue to support my education. Jason had no one, as far as I had known him in the last three years. Surprisingly, he was not too much bothered about it. He often said that things would work out themselves. It did not mean that he did not care about his future, though I had found some of his ideas very strange. In truth, Jason enjoyed life, and very often he had encouraged me to take some time from my studies and laugh at the follies of the world. He was an interesting guy and that was one of the reasons we had bonded.
And my father liked him, too. Another remarkable thing about this was that Jason had sponsored himself throughout high school and was looking up for success. So when I posed the question that the mass failure could not be possible, he stared at me, and sipped his hataye, shaking his legs to a tune that was playing in his head. Jason had a way of dramatizing events to let them lose their sadness.
“I know what you are thinking about,” he said, “you are a good student. You are studious and there is no way that someone could say you failed a test of that nature.” I smiled over such a positive opinion about me, and coming from a friend that I had always encouraged to spend some time on his books, it lifted my spirit.
“You flatter me,” I told Jason, smiling, “in the end we are all in the same boat. I’m not saying we should resort to self-pity, like others. We did our best, but the results said otherwise.
“It is either something is wrong with the system or something else happened.” I rolled my eyes, indicating several students who sat gloomily and defeated.
Jason nodded with a smile, but I sensed a trace of bitterness. He was examining the issue in his mind. After some silence, he turned to me and I saw his eyes brightened.
“I believe what the authorities said,” he said nonchalantly. I had known him not to be too serious on certain issues, but I knew that this one was different.
“What do you mean?”
“It means we have a rotten educational system.”
“But that is no news.”
“I know what it is, Anthony,” Jason said, “it is true the school system is in a mess.”
I gave that some thought and realized that I had neglected my glass of hataye, so I made a slow motion and picked the glass, sipped from it, made a face and slowly placed it back on the table. The hataye had turned cold. I liked it with a little sugar and some peanuts. It was better to drink it warm.
“I think that admission,” I said, “is clear that the fault is not totally ours as students, except there are ways to know the cause.”
Jason said, “Everyone knows the system needs to be fixed and your father should know this.”
“Yes,” I said with interest, “but fixing it will not mean it can be done in a rush.”
Jason placed his glass on the table and said, “What bothers me now is how in the world the university could not contact the Ministry of Education to find a way out rather than telling the whole world about such a major mess.” I was not surprised to hear my friend make such a comment. He appeared more mature at that instant. It made a lot of sense to handle such a situation of national magnitude in silence than rushing to announce the national disgrace to the world.
Realizing the importance of Jason’s comment, I said, “What the mass failures report to the world is that anyone outside Liberia would not believe that Liberian graduates can be trusted to handle some important jobs.”
“I thought about that, too,” Jason said with a grin.
“It simply places a heavy burden on Liberians whenever we face our counterparts abroad to prove our mettle,” I told Jason, who smiled and nodded. He was getting the picture clear now. With the whole world aware of the kind of rotten education system we had been laboring under, Liberians and anyone educated through the Liberian school system would have to work harder to get a job abroad. The thought was not encouraging but since we could not dwell on the issue in tears, considering the way out was the best option.
It was then that Jason interrupted my thought, saying, “You’ve got a job to explain to your father about what happened.”
“He is aware of the fact that lack of quality teachers, along with instructional materials…I could go on, so while I would attempt to convince him, he may likely pretend that all is well,” I said, excited about my ability to make those points clear. I was also surprised of my own confidence but knowing my father’s insistence on specifics, which sometimes humbled me in any of our past engagements, I knew my meeting with him would not really be fun.
“I don’t envy your position,” Jason said to encourage me, and then picking up his glass and draining the contents, made a face. “He will screw you up if you don’t make a good presentation.”
“I will try,” I told Jason.
The evening echoes began as the August rain threatened the night. It was not surprising because it was its season. I remembered then the biblical declaration that there was a time for everything. It encouraged me because when I faced my father to explain what was responsible and why I could not pass, it would also be its time. But the word failure stabbed me, and sent my conscience racing downhill. I had always prided myself on doing my best in any circumstance but that I had failed the university entrance was too much for me. My father would insist on the reason I could not pass the entrance. Perhaps fixing the educational system could be the reason my father would demand me to explain. But he would nonetheless inform me about his days and the method he employed or that his father made him to use to better himself. I would admire him, and reason with him, for his days were the good old days.