The Daily Observer has reliably learned that students in Margibi Country are abandoning school, specifically the Gborfelelah Public school, to join the traditional school (Poro and Sande societies).
The Poro is a traditional secret society (Bush school), widely practiced in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast and introduced by the Mande people. It is sometimes referred to as a hunting society, and only males are admitted to its ranks. The female counterpart of the Poro society is the Sande society, but initiates girls into adulthood by rituals, including female genital mutilation (FGM). Proponents of FGM profess its power to confer fertility, to instill notions of morality and proper sexual comportment, and to maintain an interest in the well-being of its members throughout their lives.
As a result of the situation in Margibi County, classes are reportedly left empty because students are leaving on a daily basis, given the high presence of the traditional schools in the area.
The Gborfelelah Elementary Public School, which is located along the Kakata–Weala Highway, was built by the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) in 2010, following an appeal from the locals.
The town is surrounded by both traditional schools (Poro and Sande). As a result, students from the only government-run school in the area are following their colleagues who had earlier abandoned classes in order to join the societies during school hours.
It can be recalled that during the administration of formal President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a policy was crafted through the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA), disallowing Poro and Sande activities during academic semesters, but the policy seems to be going unheeded.
Another school that is also affected by the exodus of students, according to the report, is the Kplawein Public School located in Gibi District, upper Margibi County.
The school was built with funding from the World Bank Education Project in 2009. Located deep in a forested area, it is normally invaded by members of the traditional schools, who are in pursuit of non-members, thus causing the disruption of normal academic activities.
The situation has led to a drop in the number of student’s enrollment at the only public school in Gborflelelah Town as the tradition runs parallel to formal schools.
With such development, the Vice Principal of the school George Binda, said the enrollment of about 500 students from the beginning of the school year has reduced to 150 regular students.
“The situation has led to the point where, whenever a student learns of his or her fellow school-mate being initiated, he or she leaves school during normal classes to join the society, a situation that is very worrisome,” Mr. Binda informed the county’s Liberia News Agency (LINA) correspondent Richard Baysah.
“At the moment, we cannot do anything as we are all aware that people place premium on traditional practices, specifically in rural areas, and if one tries to talk too much, it becomes an issue in the local setting. The formal education of our children matters a whole lot, and if some measures are not taken to ensure that students are kept in class, we might be heading for a very serious problem,” Mr. Binda said.
Margibi County Chief Education Officer Andrew Jlay has meanwhile promised to investigate the report.
LINA correspondent contributed to this story