Toward a 21st Century High School STEM Education in Liberia

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Rodney Bollie ([email protected])

After the more than 20 years of carnage that was the Liberian civil war, the Liberian educational infrastructure is still struggling to emerge. During the civil war most educators lost their lives, sought safety abroad or transitioned into relatively lucrative careers. The resulting gap created economic opportunities for people who stumbled into the teaching profession and consequently a further downward spiral. As if things were not already abysmal, successive governments continue to agonize about how to optimize the limited resources allotted to education. The cumulative effect is an educational system that severely lags within the sub region and by extension the rest of the world.

The ensuing opinion is not meant to further belabor the issue neither lambast those career educators who continue to provide quality teaching under austere conditions. Rather, this will be an attempt at how everyone could work concertedly with these professionals at ameliorating the quality of the Liberian educational system. My proposal therefore is to focus on improving the quality of high school education from grades 10th through 12th.

My use of the term educational system herein, refers specifically to primary through high school education. The daunting task of overhauling the educational system given the limited resources, requires triaging smartly and pragmatically. Put simply the quality of high school education should be prioritized, however not to the detriment of junior high and elementary education. Most high school students, if they haven’t already done so, are on the cusp of making key life decisions about college, pursuing a vocation, starting a family, etc.

Liberia is a nation of approximately 4.5 million people with about sixty percent (60%) under the age of thirty (30), according to CIA.gov. The nation is disproportionately younger, six (6) out of every ten (10) persons are thirty (30) or under. Furthermore, a survey done by our institution of six (6) high schools in Monrovia, showed the average age of a high school student is twenty (20). The point here is that there is a relatively smaller and shrinking workforce compared to the untapped potential locked in high school. Moreover as the nation struggles to rebuild after over two (2) decades of devastation,  there is a need for a relatively quicker return on investment growing the workforce. These students need to be adequately prepared to transition into the workforce or thrive at the post-high school level. The mass failure of students seeking to enter the University of Liberia in the past few years figures prominently here. To their credit, the University system continues to get more resource infusion and collaborative international effort. Thus, reinforcing my opinion about why the spot light needs to be on the high schools.

So then how do we address the quality in education? We must first invest in training our local educators and secondly build more communal learning facilities. In 2016, I was privileged to audit some classes at a local high school in an economically challenged community. These teachers incorporated cultural nuances that were integral to the students’ grasp of the subject. I bring this up to point out that the teachers are invaluable to the rebuilding process, their deficiencies notwithstanding.

Most will suggest bringing in expats to fill the void. The government or any international partner would have to pay for such services as they come at a comparatively higher cost. In addition, the cultural nuances are not easily replicated if one is not native to a community regardless of how educated he/she may be. Those of us who were fortunate to study abroad can attest to this. Basically, culture does have an influence and must be considered. Moreover, local teachers are likely to have vested long-term interests in their communities.

Periodic workshops with subject matter experts should be held at the end of each academic year for instructors to support their capacity building. Ideally a commissioned body within the Ministry of Education would oversee the logistics and costs of such training. The cost for public school educators could be defrayed by this body whereas private institutions could receive partial subsidies. All instructors would be required to maintain their certifications from these workshops.

Secondly for the students, publicly accessible libraries and laboratories would be shared among institutions. Instead of requiring each school to have these facilities across the country, rather each district would have its own with the resources time shared among its schools. The brilliance of this model is that many students, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, get to benefit.

As a side note our organization, The Institute of Basic Technology, is currently experimenting with this model in Liberia and has been for an academic year. We provide access to state of the art, fully staffed, high school STEM labs to schools in the Sinkor area at absolutely no cost. With all six (6) schools sharing the facility at different times during the week, over four hundred (400) students are benefitting from hands on, interactive lab activities.

In summary, I have argued that the Liberian educational system is not where it needs to be. Because the allotted educational resources are limited, there is a need to be pragmatic and prioritize improving the quality of education for grades 10th to 12th. This can be achieved by investing in training local educators and building shared facilities for high schools in various communities.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The rottenness of the educational system in Liberia is nothing new thereby not warranting any lecture in that regard and no matter the intent. And if we agree the entire education system is a mess and needs recalibration, then by all means, why start from the middle? Why not begin any attempted change from the primary level (foundational) as would any infrastructural endeavor to add on to later? This initiative by this charity group while appreciative for its implication in the grand scheme of things, smacks of whitewashing more than overhauling in the true sense of fixing “the mess” we have on our hands. This effort serves a crash or short term purpose, than the much desired long term solution we seek.

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