A Panacea to Sooth Disappointments of Liberian Presidents
By Mwalimu-Koh Moses Blonkanjay Jackson, Ivy League Scholar, Education Specialist
During my thinking thoughts, I considered President George Weah’s declaration that he was “…very disappointed, very disappointed…” over the state of affairs in the education sector after a visit to several Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) schools managed by Supt. Adolphus Jacobs, and Ministry of Education schools (MOE) managed by Sonii’s District and County Education Officers. The declaration caused me to recline feeling like a President the second time in my life. This feeling was not due to any financial gains nor any political achievements, but rather because two Presidents were now thinking the same thoughts I have always thought about the sector.
Earlier in 2013, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed disappointment in the sector, branded it a mess, and made sweeping changes. This time, President George M. Weah and I were ending the day on January 13, 2021 with the same feeling about the state of affairs in the education sector. The only difference between the way the two Presidents felt about education and mine is their reactions. In their disappointments, they boldly condemned the state of affairs with looming powers to take executive actions, while in mine, I simply wrote articles and might be licking my wounds again. You will agree that, were I to be that vocal, “job-seeker”, “jealous” or “opposition” would be adjectives attached to my name.
Fellow Liberians, over the last two decades (2000-2020) there has been a resident cacophony and conundrum about education reform in Liberia. Based on this situation, two Liberian Presidents have made damaging declaration or outburst regarding status quo of the education sector. When these outburst and assertions were made, several corps of education administrators were replaced while the system remained stagnant; hence the cacophony and conundrum remains resident as Liberian children consume poisonous pedagogy under difficult situations. Once again, President Weah has expressed disappointment and proposed to take actions.
Cacophony in Education
For the sake of the lay man, “cacophony” implies discord, disorganization, disharmony, unmelodiousness. You see, when a choir director stands before a choir, she and the congregation expect to hear melody or consonance in tones and movements. This means, those in the choir are people who have attended choir practices and possess conversance of the lyrics, cadence, and rhythm of the various tones.
If there are people who are not qualified to sing that song, their tones would cause discord in the music. This lot includes those who did not attend choir practice, those who do not have singing voices but forced themselves in the choir because they have the pastor’s ears. Each time the song gets discorded, and the congregation receives cacophony, the choir director takes the blame.
It was therefore due to the apparent poor performance of the “Education Choir” that caused the cacophony and caused the sector to receive condemnation and lashes from President George M. Weah. This was similarly the case when President Sirleaf rebranded the sector, “total mess”
Conundrum of the Sector
In simple terms, “conundrum” means puzzle. Overtime, attempts to fix the problems in education have always posed as a puzzle or conundrum. In spite of consistent attempts towards improvement, the sector remains challenged. Questions that generate the puzzle are hence, “Why is there always mass failure in the WASSCE and other matriculation exams?”, “Why do we have so many untrained teachers on GOL payroll?”, “How did they get there?”, “Why is there a proliferation of undocumented and unregimented private schools that are dishing out low quality education?”, “Why do college graduates continue to demonstrate very lopsided scholarship?”,” Why is the MOE always lashed for weakness and underachievement?” “What do Presidents really want to see?”
Fellow Liberians, it is an open secret that overtime budgetary allotments for the education sector has been low beyond global best practices, and advocacy is ongoing for increments commensurate with the prevailing challenges. Albeit, there has also been laudable financial and professional interventions by developmental partners including the UN, USAID, EU, World Bank/GPE, AfDB, and other international governments. In spite of all this, Presidents of Liberia have usually registered disappointments over the efficacy of the sector; this is the puzzling part or conundrum.
Attacking Prof. Sonii’s Challenges
Admittedly, Prof. Sonii is in a seriously challenging situation because he inherited a sector wrought by disorganization, discord and complexities left behind by an ignorant, arrogant predecessor, George Werner who declared “Education is foolishness”. In a bid to fix the discorded system, the professor launched several initiatives including the holding of an Education Summit.
Albeit, according to my professional lens, the gross shortage of technicians to implement the tasks at some levels of his team has served as a main challenge. Mind you, Prof. Sonii may have inherited over 90% of those non-technicians within the sector.
Attacking MCSS’ Faults
In the case of Adolphus Jacob’s dominion, the MCSS, I posit that it stands in direr need for reform, recalibration and restructure, than the total educational system because it is cold and almost non-existent.
Since the incumbency of Superintendent Jacobs, there are hardly signs of innovations that other schools would follow. You should note that the MCSS was designated to serve as an exemplar for all schools and school systems within the Republic of Liberia (2011 Reformed Education Law). Unfortunately, most of the time ones hears about the MCSS is either when staff contesting Superintendent Jacob’s credentials, teachers are advocating for salaries and incentives, or some complaining for getting fired for advocacy.
There is so far no information whether MCSS students who are supposed to be the drum majors of academic performance are passing WASSCE at the Division1 or 2 levels. The MCSS is one of the reasons for Prof. Sonii’s trouble because the President was also grossly disappointed in the situations at MCSS schools he visited.
Attacking the Disappointments Liberian Presidents
Over President Sirleaf’s 12-year tenure, each time she expressed disappointment over the performance of the education sector, measures were taken to attack the issue. Overtime, she repeatedly replaced Ministers and their principal deputies expecting different results.
When President Sirleaf was not satisfied with Dr. Korto, she replaced his team and brought in Dr. Othello Gongar. Upon the completion of the Education Law, Gongar was removed to make way for Hon. Etmonia Tarpeh. Before President Sirleaf could exit the stage, she ushered in George Werner. Unfortunately, none of the replacees proved satisfactory to madam due to many reasons. Of course President Weah hit the ground with massive replacement and brought in people who are supposed to be the king makers. See where we are today. Disappointment again.
One of the reasons replacements of administrators have not yielded the expected results is because the preferred, and those replaced embody the same characteristic; usually ignorant newcomers who do not possess any acumen in educational systems operations. Some were appointed based on partisanship although they lacked the skills to manage the sector while some were appointed based on family ties and friendship. Others were mere hustlers who abruptly changed their careers because they believed the education sector is a hustle ground for underachievers; some carried the notion that any sick Tom, inept Dick or arrogant Harry can manage an education system. “da one da black lie”
Soothing the President’s Disappointment
Recently when President Weah lashed the education sector, there were advocacies from within various circles for him to replace the sector administrators to sooth his disappointment. While I do not feel adequate to contest the President’s wisdom for utilizing his “will and pleasure” power or his proclivity to “Listen to the will of the people”, I posit replacing people will be helpful if and only if based on two factors. Firstly, in addition to possessing relevant education credentials, those coming in should be vetted as pedagogically savvy, and equipped with appropriate skill sets to manage education. Secondly, this new group should be able to apply technical skills to troubleshoot the sector and effect systemic reforms.
To sooth the disappointment of President Weah and his future successors, adjustments and replacements in the sector must be strategic and professional. When administrators are changed, there must be a change in the systems and modus operandi of educational thoughts and management. The way we have operated the sector and have not realized the expected yields must change. operate
With all due respect, if President Weah ever chooses to make replacements based on political party affiliations, friendship, family relationships, and based on recommendations from “those who have his ears”, let him expect remain disappointment. There is a need for President Weah to cue from President Sirleaf’s bad experience whereby she used the same old lens over and over by preferring acquaintances over technicians, with hardly the expected results.
Attacking the Discord Panacea
To attack the discord, means troubleshooting the existing framework and making adjustments. This would require professional assessment and proffering of legislations to test the strength of the existing policies and edicts in order to institute mechanisms to strengthen the general pedagogy. This done, Liberia will be blessed with a functional, emulative MCSS that is genuinely a prototype of educational structure as propounded in the Education Law, and say goodbye to an MCSS run without innovations, and operated by notions. If the appropriate professional measures are taken, we will have an MOE that possesses an abled corps of professionals and education engineers who can conduct education with purview of a National Education Task Force (NEFT) or a Society of Professional Educators in Liberia (SOPEL).
From where I sit, the stage at which our education sector finds itself cannot be fixed without technicians or people who went to school to learn and apply educational skills. There are at least 5,000 education degree holders who are ready and willing to take over their sector, but are not afforded the opportunity. There is need for new set of thesis that advocates and proposes a dispensation for system change and process shift.
To this end, may the Lord bless all of you who have passed through this disappointment system, may the Lord console all educations, may the Lord make His face to shine upon President Weah and give Him wisdom to support and strengthen the education sector of Liberia.
As there is still hope for all proven and professional educators, I depart with the lyrics of Robert Lowry’s old fashion hymn, “Shall We gather at the River” Note the first and fifth stanzas.
- Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.
On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.
Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.
At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.
Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.
I am Simply Thinking Thoughts
About the author:
The CEO and founder of the Diversified Educators Empowerment Project (DEEP), Mwalimu-Mkoh M. Blonkanjay Jackson holds a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Master of Science in Mathematics Education from St. Joseph’s University; he is a Yale University Teachers Initiative Math Fellow, and UPENN Teacher Institute Physics Fellow. He is part-time lecturer at the UL Graduate School of Education. Mr. Jackson served the government of Liberia diligently for four years and returned to private practice as Development Specialist and Education Engineer. The Mwalimu-koh can be reached at 0886 681 315 / 0770 206 645.