– Students say theirs is a “living hell”
Every year, hundreds of junior high school graduates are denied access to secondary education in Zoe Gbao district, Nimba county.
According to local education authorities, this is because the only government high school in the district, Bahn High School, lacks sufficient classroom space to accommodate the large number of students matriculating to secondary school each year. This has created a situation that sees hundreds of students being denied access to secondary education simply because of the lack of classroom space to accommodate them. The students have described their situation as a ‘living hell’ due to official government neglect.
Zoe Gbao (frequently referred to as Zoe–Geh), like many other districts around the country, is undeveloped and poor. It has a population of 28,675 – according to the 2008 National Population and Housing Census report – but is said to have increased in recent years due to a high birth rate (6.2 2008 estimates), according to the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo- Information Services (LISGIS).
The District Education Officer (DEO), Aaron B. Zoleglee, who is also a former principal of Bahn High School, has described the situation of denying secondary school age children access to the school as ‘a difficult one.’
“It is a difficult decision because I know the importance of education, but our hands are tied; there is nothing we can do. We just have to turn away many students every year because the Bahn High School lacks adequate chairs and classrooms to accommodate the huge influx of students who are leaving junior high.
“The classrooms are so small that they cannot hold up to 35 persons per class. Right now, the school is overcrowded because we tried to take 30 persons per class, thereby creating a difficult learning environment. The school’s current population exceeds 400, which should have not been the case.
“But we are managing and doing our best. This is a serious problem that this new government needs to address. The old government was aware and they did nothing to redeem the situation. Every Liberian child has a right to education and they don’t need to be denied that right. I think the number is more than 500 per year—looking at the number of junior high school graduates,” narrated DEO Zoleglee.
The Zoe-Geh district currently has 60 schools, out of which 55 are government run. Out of the 60 schools, there are 14 junior high schools and two high schools – the second high school is owned by the Inland Church, with the rest being elementary schools.
Three affected parents, *Mary, *Annie, and *Martha, lamented that the situation is seriously affecting poor parents, since they do not have money to send their children to Bahn Catawba Mission High School, which is run by the Inland Church.
“This kind of situation puts our children’s future under threat because they have to sit down the whole year without being in school. This is making most of our children to be high school dropouts, and it is frustrating,” the parents said. “We cannot blame the school administration but the government for creating such a problem. If the district had at least three high schools, such a situation was not going to occur.”
Bahn High School was constructed in the 1956 as a self-help project by the people of the district to educate their children, under the reign of late Paramount Chief Alhaji Tuazama. After the country’s 14 years of civil wars, the building was reconditioned by NGOs, and has since then undergone minor repairs when it showed signs of collapse. The school runs from kindergarten to the 12th grade.
Currently, the school building is at the point of collapse with huge cracks visible in every wall; ceilings that are falling off in every classroom; with no doors or windows (the few remaining ones are badly damaged); visibly broken floors everywhere; and no science and computer labs for students, in this 21st century age of science and technology.
The school also lacks adequate supply of clean water for drinking and hand washing and lacks a conducive and sanitary environment and well-ventilated classrooms.
Zoleglee added: “We need urgent help because the Bahn High School building is breaking down every day, which makes it a death trap. We need this building to be demolished and rebuilt to accommodate the influx of students. The education system in the district needs total overhaul starting first with infrastructure and the provision of better learning materials to educate children of this district. We also need more high schools in the district to end the problem once and for all.
“It is sad and heartbreaking that we have a computer lab, but it does not function because the computers are dead and the government does not care to repair them despite years of appeal. As for a science lab, we don’t have it; therefore, we have encouraged the students to adapt to this poor environment, just to have education. This should not be the case. However, we have a library, but the students are lazy when it comes to reading and many of them do not visit the library.”
*Princess, an 11th grade student at Bahn High, described the school’s learning environment as a ‘complete hell.’
“We are actually suffering to get quality education here. Every day, we have to fight like animals for a common chair just to have a seat since the ones in the school are not enough. If you are unlucky, you will have to stand or sit on the floor during the entire period. For females, it is terrible and the school’s lack of an encouraging and healthy environment and clean classrooms poses a serious problem for us. It is not that we do not want to go to the library, the situation there is worse off, and no student wants to risk his or her life going there,” she said.
Another student, *Richard, added that although the school does not look like a place for learning, they are compelled to go there just to acquire an education.
“When your parents are poor, you have to bear many things—just like the one we are going through at Bahn High. We are learning under harsh conditions. No computer and science labs are clear proof that we are being left behind. Also, whenever it rains, we miss class because rain water leaks through the roof and water splash through the open windows in the building. And the classes we miss during these times are not rescheduled.
“The building we are in is like a death trap lying in wait for its victim. With this bad learning environment without computer and practical science knowledge, I don’t think we are adequately prepared for the job market,” he said.
However, both students lauded DEO Zoleglee and the teaching staff for their hard work, saying that despite the difficulties they try to ensure that the students are educated.
“He is actually fighting the situation and doing everything possible to make sure that we are educated. Since he took over as District Education Officer, he makes sure teachers are in class on time and teach according to the lesson plan,” declared both students.
Meanwhile, Zoleglee explained that another problem facing the district is the need of enough teachers with a bachelor of science (B.Sc) degree.
“We have teachers, but need more qualified teachers to help impart knowledge in our children. The lack of more B.Sc holding teachers is hampering our students’ performances. Still, I’m certain that they will do well in the upcoming WASSCE national exam,” he said.
However, the problems facing the Zoe-Geh school district are, according to official statistics, not unlike those in other school districts in the leeward counties.
(Editor’s Note: Names with asterisks were changed to protect the identity of the speakers.)