Being Candid about Problems in Liberia’s Education and Agriculture

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In early 2013 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself admitted that Liberia’s educational system was “in a mess.” It has alas gotten worse since then. Not only are our elementary and high schools in crisis due to poorly trained teachers, corruption and indiscipline among the students. The student explosion that followed the cancellation of tuition from public primary schools made classroom space and facilities woefully inadequate. In many schools, both primary and secondary, there are backrooms filled with broken chairs.

Then the problem of teachers–who are not only inadequate but in many cases poorly trained. Up to 1959, before teachers colleges were created, there were “Teachers Institutes” each January throughout the country, where teachers were given refresher courses in various subjects to equip them with new skills for the new academic year. This was discontinued when teachers colleges were built in various parts of the country. It now appears that the need for refresher courses for teachers continues, to keep them equipped with fresh instruction in the various subject matters and in special skills in handling the new generation of students, especially in the post-war classrooms.

There are also the problems of curriculum and textbooks. This newspaper has urged that Civics be returned to the Curriculum. We have also joined a few scholars in calling for the writing of Liberian textbooks reflecting the local culture that would make instruction and learning more adaptable to the Liberian situation. But we are still using foreign textbooks which are largely irrelevant to the Liberian reality. This is not the case in other West African countries, which insist on using local textbooks. This pays off: the children learn faster because the texts and illustrations are more adaptable to their national experience. But somehow the Education Ministry has not been able to establish and maintain a well staffed and financed textbook writing program. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored and financed local textbook production.

Perhaps these and other burning educational issues may be considered at the US-Liberia Partnership Dialogue Conference which begins today in Monrovia.

The issue of higher education is another critical problem in Liberia. The recent crises at the University of Liberia have underscored this problem. Corruption within the faculty and staff are at the center of UL’s problems. This has led to the enrollment of ill-prepared students, who enter using money and sex as their admissions credentials. Also, students at our universities, especially UL, are not taught or encouraged to read because the instructors are more interested in selling their pamphlets than sending students to the library and insisting on the development of an efficient and well stocked library at UL.

Today’s conference has a loaded educational agenda.

The Conference will also consider Energy, but thankfully, progress is being made in this sector—the rebuilding of the Mount Coffee Hydro, the plan for mini-hydros throughout the country and the West African Power Pool Program designed to electrify rural Liberia.

The other BIG problem to be tackled at today’s Conference is Liberia’s poor performance in Agriculture. We still eat what we do not grow–rice, our staple, being the principal example; but we are compelled quickly to add many other foods, including vegetables, beef and poultry and eggs. We cannot boast of a single veterinary doctor. Our tree crops development is at a standstill. No one talks about Liberian coffee anymore; cocoa farmers are crying for encouragement; and so are our rubber farmers, most of whose trees were destroyed during the war. Today the Cote d’Ivoire has surpassed Liberia as West Africa’s largest rubber producer. This is a shameful crisis about which no one seems to care. The people responsible for agriculture do not even talk about it.

All of these problems can be easily solved with seriousness, focus and commitment by all concerned, especially the people in government who are in the driver’s seat. Many of them were trained in the United States, where they learned about the dynamic role of the Department of Agriculture in the transformation of American agriculture that made the USA the world’s leading food producer.

We pray that this Conference will seriously tackle some of these issues and help us find a way forward.

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