Liberia’s self-proclaimed reformist Education Minister George Werner has pronounced the closure of all secondary schools across the country at the end of July 2015 due to the bustling academic calendar which has shorter instructional period, limited extra-curriculum activities coupled with the absence of semester break. Werner’s education proposal proffers to change the education system from “mess” to “best” and promised to weed out unqualified teachers, unavailability of textbooks, unrefined curriculum, academic malpractices, briberies, sex for grades, inadequate furniture in most public schools, and low wages among others. These plus many more complicated and justifiable rationale prompted Werner to have taken a hasty, untimely, and disorderly decision without taking into consideration a number of outstanding issues.
On the other hand, Werner’s education proposal has been met with stiff resistance on the part of students, parents, guardians and school administrators. In addition, educationalists and academicians have also joined the bandwagon to angrily and vehemently oppose the proposal. Many have pondered where on Earth it is possible for Werner’s plan to ultimately be achievable by shutting down secondary schools within one month. Scores of people still muse over and hold to the conviction that Werner as former Director General of the Civil Service Agency of Liberia was a part of the decision by the cabinet to reopen school after the deadly Ebola virus disease subsided. Although, there were several calls from the general public and caveats emanating from all walks of life for the government of Liberia to relinquish its position on the resumption of school. Even members of the National Legislature intervened to reschedule the reopening of school, but their efforts proved fruitless, because the Ministry of Education chose to settle for another date.
A good number of parents and guardians raised the red flag and complained about the financial burden to reopen school on a short notice without adequate preparation; however authority of the Ministry of Education turned a blind eye on their quest to postpone the reopening of schools. School administrators and proprietors cautioned the executive not to resume classes within a very short span of time after the world’s deadliest epidemic crisis, but the ministry was still adamant.
Thousands of students, many of whom are poverty-stricken and primarily self-supported admonished the government to wait for Liberia to be declared Ebola free because of the psychosocial effects that the deadly virus had on the student populace before venturing into the reopening, yet their message fell on deaf ears. Civil society and non-profit organizations warned the government to put in place precautionary measures and supplied schools with anti-Ebola materials as well as other stringent procedures to safeguard students, notwithstanding the government preceded with the preparation of anti-Ebola school protocols and promised to provide all schools thermometers including buckets, chlorines and other sanitary equipment. Traditional and religious leaders urged the ruling establishment to cut off the reopening of school; nonetheless the government persistently remained resolute and completely unconvincing. A lot of people who were lay off as a result of the Ebola outbreak could not just afford to pay their children’s tuitions and other fees. In addition, lots of orphan children who lost their parents from the Ebola virus disease did not easily have the opportunity to enroll in school.
In spite of the appeals and deterrents, the government of which Werner continues to play pivotal role and makes uncompromising choices went ahead to reopen schools without ensuring all of the modalities were being worked out. Hence, Werner’s abort decision to close school no later than the end of July 2015 with a thirteen-point deliverables to fix the educational mess in one month has prompted widespread criticism across every sphere of the Liberian society. Across street corners, in intellectual centers, on campuses and market places, people are endlessly discussing Werner’s education proposal. Even on famous radio talk shows, outstanding newspapers and social media the proposal is being put under public scrutiny.
In the midst of public outcry, the Honorable House of Representatives cited Minister Werner to give reasons behind his controversy education proposal. The massive gathering of secondary school students under the heavy down pour of rain delineated the seriousness of the matter. Upon Werner’s appearance before the plenary, he claimed that it was just a proposal and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has given no formal approval. The people’s representatives then instructed Minister Werner to unconditionally and with immediate effect withdraw the letter he had written to the West African Examination Council headquarters in Abuja and among other things ordered the minister to ensure that the academic calendar for 2015/2016 is not diverted.
The Honorable House of Representatives mandates were crystal clear to Minister Werner and prompted overwhelming jubilation from the protesting students who were strongly against the closure of schools. To the utmost surprise of everyone, with of all the power vested in the honorable legislators from oversight to lawmaking to representation; the Minister refused to adhere to the directive from the people’s representatives. However, the minister chose to spitefully shut down all secondary schools in forty-two hours after he met the plenary through a so-called “Official Pronouncement” at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism regular press conference without any remorse and respect to the Honorable House of Representatives. Many hold to the firm believe that the Minister’s action was paradoxical and an affront to the people’s representatives as well as a complete disregard to the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia which calls for coordination among the three separate branches of government. For most people, what is even more disgusting, disappointing and disheartening are the utterances and deportment portrayed by self-styled eminent statesman, an obstreperous spokesman, a well-known opportunist, a chameleon politician, and a familiar freebooter like Lewis Brown to misconstrue the Constitution all because of his greed for power and mere justification of salary and accompanying benefits. One could only hope that legislators will take decisive and punitive actions as in the case of the former Minister of Health, former Acting City Mayor of Monrovia, former Superintendent of Montserrado County and so forth or else people will take them for jokers as it is widely perceived.
Liberians from all walks of life and even foreigners alike have begun raising eyebrows and questioning the real motive behind Werner’s education proposal. In the first place, how could someone who claimed to be a reformist authorized all secondary schools to promote students on the basis of performance that have not completed the prescribed academic curriculum and academic year. Even if ninth and twelfth graders are not promoted does it in any way solve the problem of massive failure in WAEC exams? There remain more questions than answers. All too often, some students will ultimately perform exceptionally well in the second semester since majority of the students were still struggling to recover from post-Ebola stress disorder. It is an obvious fact that many students were already out of school before the so-called official pronouncement to close all secondary school due to the initial far-flung rumor.
All the more so, during the public hearing, Minister Werner vowed to consult every stakeholder in the educational sector of the country, nonetheless to the complete shock of relevant stakeholders Minister Werner pronounced the closure of schools without regard to the Act that establish the Ministry of Education including the Education Reform Act of 2010 which speak of consultation among important caliber of people in the education system before major decisions are being taken in order to get desirous outcomes.
A considerable number of people are of the strongest conviction that any public policy or regulation or law that does not take into account people’s participation consultation is doomed for failure. For any public policy to be systematic, it must take a participatory approach and meet the approval of relevant stakeholders especially the National Legislature so as to be legally applicable. Therefore, many educational pundits believe that from all indication, it is very glaring that Werner’s proposal could lead to words of war and serious confrontation between the Legislature and Executive branches of the government. Some believe that even though Werner’s proposal may have been genuine, but his approach is absolutely wrong. While others think that Werner’s proposal is another concocted plan to derail, degrade and belittle Liberia’s education system as it is too often done to young people who are studying in Liberia not to be comparable or compactable with the sons and daughters of cabinet ministers and other government officials studying in the Western world.
Robust change in the education system does not come from unilateral decision on the part of a self-professed reformist, but it should and must take holistic and realistic approaches involving everyone. In the age where the world is like a click of a mouse, Liberia’s education system cannot be lingering behind because of greediness, selfishness and irresponsiveness of the part of the government. It cannot be backward because of perpetual criticism or blame shaping mentality or continuous excuses.
For an impoverished country like Liberia to succeed in this 21st Century, the government must prioritize education for the common good of all instead of politicizing it. Liberia’s future will completely be doomed if the government play lip service to the education of its future generation with only grandiloquent and silver tongue speeches instead of concrete and tangible actions. For young minds to be developed to build new roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals across the country and as well ensure the construction of factories to produce goods with the three words inscription “Made in Liberia”; the education authority must make education accessible, affordable, effective, efficient, and state-of-the-art through education for all instead of few.
From this moment onward the government should come to the realization that no amount of natural resources, fertile soil and a climatic condition favorable to agricultural activities can remake or rebuild Liberia. But, it is the number of educative citizens who understand how to utilize the natural resources, fertile soil and climatic condition for the common good of their country. As a matter of fact, democracy cannot easily work in an illiterate society, so for an emerging democracy like Liberia; the government must work together to solve the educational crisis. It is on to Werner to put aside petty bitterness, partisanship, and recrimination to fix the educational “mess” to “best” through an inclusive and collective approaches rather than egocentric posture. Once again, the pages of history have been open and Minister Werner must ensure that his proposal is systematic and not problematic or else he will forever remain on the wrong side of history.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent YES.