The Impact of Ebola on the Educational System of Liberia

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Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

If anyone had told you or me that 2014 would be such a disruptive, terrifying year, I hardly think that any of us would have believed the prediction.  And so it has been from the point of view of the Liberian family, diminished, impoverished, and partly annihilated; from the point of view of our educational institutions, this latter being the focus of this presentation.

Ebola did not overtake Liberia suddenly. We simply failed at all levels to take the necessary, precautionary measures at the appropriate time.  What we must do now is to examine thoroughly its impact and the remedies needed to prevent more deaths, the remedies needed to mitigate sufferings, the remedies needed to put Liberians in a productive frame of mind despite the pall Ebola has put us under.

Education, which is the non-porous building blocks of any nation focused on a holistic development, continues to take a beating in our country and Ebola has only added its own severe debilitating lash to a system already struggling excruciatingly to acquire excellence in delivery and excellence in results.  

But the hiatus which Ebola has imposed upon us must be turned into periods of evaluation, assessment and planning so that more consistent, well-thought-out education agenda can evolve, an agenda fully supported morally, socially and financially, the execution of which will pit excellence successfully against mediocrity.  This will be hard work, of course, for everyone, given where our education system is in general and where it needs to be situated regionally and globally.

During this Ebola crisis, our students have died. Our students have become orphaned. Our students have been displaced. Our students for the most part are presently not very constructively engaged. Our students are again on the familiar path to becoming over-aged students in classrooms. Our students are peddlers hawking their wares in moving traffic on our city streets and at market stalls. Only God knows how many of these minors are getting a very   poisonous taste of the adult world.  They will never be children again.  They can never regain lost innocence.

Our teachers also have died.  Others have been forced for economic reasons to again abandon the profession.  For some this abandonment will be definitive. So many teachers, those from private and faith-based institutions have no earnings now; yet they have families to support.  Others have no family left. Some have left the country; they will remain resignedly in other lands and there face the stigma, the ostracism, even the hostility that Ebola has saddled Liberians with rather than return to their homeland to work towards keeping Ebola and the likes of it out of our boundaries, out of our world. 

Despite these enormous physical, psychological, economical and educational challenges being thrust upon our education system, we must, with proper planning, insight and a real ounce, just an ounce of patriotism meet these challenges in the short, medium and long terms. Let the Ebola hiatus serve as a springboard for the educational system to be infused with dogged determination on the part of us the citizens to help bring about the changes we would like to have. Ours is a small country; our population is relatively small thereby making it easier for Liberians to do better things for ourselves.

The Ministry of Education is providing books for the public schools which are in the majority.  Together with its International Partners it continues to train teachers.  It has established School Boards in each of the fifteen counties.  It has demanded higher academic qualifications in the field of education for its district and county education officers and it has made available the national curriculum for all schools.  Despite these noble efforts and more, the WAEC results, including the WASSCE pilots, the results of entrance exams administered by tertiary institutions continue to be dismal.   Why is this so?  I believe that the 1980 coup d’état the protracted period of civil unrest have given Liberians in general a different mindset with regards to the value of education. Additionally, corruption has gained perceptibly, that is in full view of all, an enduring status. Therefore we now have on our hands herculean but not insurmountable tasks, although they are exacerbated by the Ebola outbreak. Gratefully the international community has taken note of this universally menacing ogre and is reaching out to chase it, hopefully out of creation.

Education institutions are particularly vulnerable, in spite of the belief that this crisis will pass.  Therefore for the immediate future I strongly suggest that Government, with the help of its partners make available to private and faith-based institutions soft loans to enable them to bounce back so as not to add to the hardships of parents and guardians some of whom have not been able to work over a period of several months.

Additionally, the following suggestions are also implementable to the benefit of our education system. That the formation of teachers especially mastery of the contents in the key subjects – Language arts, math, science, civics – be given the greatest priority in a consistent comprehensive way in each of the fifteen counties.  That, the counties be given greater autonomy in conducting educational activities and that they be rewarded for creativity in teaching/learning strategies which have appreciable results.     

That the counties be held responsible for the outcomes of external exams and the ranking nationally of their respective schools and counties.

Very importantly, most importantly  each Liberian must convince himself/herself that education is the only productive way forward for our country and that each of us needs to take  personal responsibility in giving prominence to education, for if our education system is inadequate we will produce inadequate functionaries.  We cannot afford to do this to ourselves in a would shrinking everyday and thereby making the competent and incompetent easily discernible.

A modicum of will power at the official level and at the level of ordinary citizens could go a long way in making the education system resistant to any viral pandemic.

I thank you.

Authors

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