Education: “A Vibrant Preschool Will Improve Liberia’s Education”

Partial view of some of the teachers at the training

 – Educator Lyn Gray

An educator, Lyn Gray, has said in order to provide quality education to Liberian students, there is a need to focus on building the foundation of students from elementary to 3rd grade, ensuring that they get a sound foundation in reading, writing and phonics.

Madam Gray made the recommendation Monday during the kickoff of a 2-day intensive training for 20 teachers organized by Kids Educational Engagement Project in partnership with Liberia Reads held at the June L. Moore Public School on the Roberts Field Highway.

According to the organizers, the training is a strategy intended to develop and promote reading in Liberian schools in order to improve student performance. Madam Gary, an American citizen from the state of Virginia who has lived in Liberia for over 20 years, said focusing on preschools across the country will address the country’s messy education system and ensure quality education.

Ms. Gray said poor performance by Liberian students has been demonstrated in public exams, including entrance and West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams for the past decade, adding that “Liberian students are not dull, but just need attention.” Adding to the problem, she said, “Some Liberian teachers cannot even pronounce and spell correctly so the students will not make any gains when the teachers are not well trained and qualified to help the students.”

“The most important things children have to learn in school before moving further is reading and writing, which starts at the very beginning and so there is a need to have it restored,” Madam Gray said.

She stated: “There is a need to leave the older ones and concentrate on the younger ones more, because there are some students especially in the junior high, high school as well as university that will not improve anymore.” Madam Gray, who is currently involved with training teachers in Liberia, including Grand Gedeh and Gbarpolu, said “There is a tremendous difference between the quality of teachers Liberia had before the civil crisis and after the crisis.” She observed that a lot of school teachers left the classroom in search of good salaries, thereby leaving classrooms across Liberia with many inexperienced teachers.

“Today, the teachers want to get more ideas and training to be able to help provide quality education to students,” she said. “There are schools where the entire class cannot read and the teacher will have to pass all the students because you cannot fail the entire class. So they move up without having the ability to read and write. I know of a student who graduated as the dux of the class and failed in the entrance. It happened because teachers did not have the tracks to nurture them and ensure that they were able to read and write well,” she said.

Madam Gray, who is one of the workshop facilitators, cited the low salaries of teachers and school staff as one of the major factors hampering the country’s education sector, and called on the government and stakeholders to ensure that teachers are paid well.

“If we pay more teachers well, we will have more qualified teachers coming into the classroom to teach and ensure that students get quality education that they can rely on throughout their lives. Doing this will make teachers to be full time in the classroom, because some of the teachers have four children and had to transition to doing other things to support the home, and not only depend on the salaries from the school,” Madam Gray observed.

She recommended to voters to engage their representative candidates about their plans to improve the education sector of the district, including the level of support in terms of budgetary allotment to the Ministry of Education, as well as reduction of their (lawmakers) salaries to help improve the education sector.

Momo Watson, Sr. from the Selma Ballah Public School in Sappimah Community in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County, said he was excited to participate in such a training, which he said will help him learn many new techniques that will greatly impact his students’ learning abilities.

Watson said the training will help him develop ways to presents himself to the students and improve his speech. He called on the government to assist in providing instructional materials to schools, construct additional classrooms especially for elementary, as well as assign additional teaching staff. “We had 382 students last academic year. Because of the lack of chairs, many of the students sat on the ground during school. The school runs from ABC (elementary) to 4th grade and has limited teaching staff,” Mr. Watson said.

J. Boakai Massaquoi, a teacher from Small Bong Mines Elementary School in Bopolu, one of the beneficiaries of the training, who has been teaching for some years, described the training as a great opportunity to enhance his capacity as a teacher. “Liberia Reads is really helping us as teachers to ensure that we have the skills and knowledge needed to teach the students,” Mr. Massaquoi said, adding, “it will help us to improve on our presentation because as a teacher, you must be prepared first in terms of skills and knowledge to present the lesson to the students.

Our facilitators have been able to help us on the basic things we need to know as teachers, including the pronunciation of words. There are some key words that some of us had problems pronouncing, but I can now pronounce them very well.” Mr. Massaquoi said some of the school’s classes are over-packed, with limited teaching staff, adding “Some of the students get involved in creating disturbance because of the limited teaching staff.”

Jladee Cole from Gboleken Community School in Grand Gedeh, who has been teaching for the past two years, said “Reading remains a serious concern of teachers because of students’ inability to read. We have many of the students focusing on doing other things instead of their lessons. While there is a need to build the capacity of teachers, students must also be encouraged to study in order to pass. Teachers need more training as well in order to improve the education sector.”

Alvin Worzi is a Liberian journalist with over seven years of professional experience. For the past few years, he has been engaged in covering land issues, security, education, gender related issues, politics, and agriculture. Mr. Worzi is currently the Assistant Secretary General of the Executive Mansion Press Corps (conglomeration of reporters assigned at the Executive Mansion). Mr. Worzi is a member of the Press Union of Liberia.

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