The faculty and students of the University of Liberia’s T.J.R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology did themselves and the nation a great favor last week by inviting South Korean Ambassador Noh Kyu Duk to be their commencement speaker. Ambassador Noh explained to the graduates how his country became one of the Asian Tigers that lifted their people out of poverty and backwardness and made them industrious and rich.
For starters, let us tell our readers who the four Asian Tigers are. They are East Asian nations who, one time poor and backward, seriously embraced education, industry and technology and became four of the world’s richest and most highly developed nations. They are Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. There are two other facts our readers need to know about the four Asian Tigers: First, that they all, unlike Liberia and many other African nations, had no natural resources; and second, they were all transformed into success stories after 1960.
Now, what did South Korean Ambassador Noh tell the T.R.J. Faulkner graduates? Liberia, he told them, should give priority to education, especially science and technology, in order to lift itself out of poverty and backwardness, just as South Korea and the other Asian Tigers did beginning in the early 1960s. South Korea, he recalled, earlier depended largely on textile (clothing, fabric) production, whose prices soon drastically declined.
Following this economic setback, the government in 1962 developed a five-year plan and turned its attention to serious investment in education and technology, especially the chemical industry. First in this direction was the steel industry. “Despite skepticism about the feasibility of such a venture in Korea,” Ambassador Noh told the graduates, “the government successfully integrated steel mill in the early 1970s. This,” he said, “paved the way for other steel-related industries, such as shipbuilding, automobiles, machinery and construction.” But the government soon found out that without the support of science and technology of its own, the national goal of industrialization and economic development would be nothing more than a sand castle, which would soon crumble. In 1973, therefore, the government established “the Daedeok Science Town (DST) as an engine of enhancing national competitiveness of high technology.”
Ambassador Noh then admonished the graduates to forget entertainment and laziness and rather focus on a plan of action to achieve their goals.
For her part, the valedictorian of the class, Ms. Anita Tarplah, urged her fellow graduates, yea all UL students, to “civically engage, rather than focus on egotistic ideals, prestige and ambitions of splendor.”
This highly intelligent and serious-minded student knew what she was talking about. How many times within the past several years has the UL, including the College of Science and Technology, not lost precious time because UL students engaged in violent demonstrations that kept the university closed for months.
T.R.J. Faulkner Dean, Dr. Euphemia Weeks, herself a neuroscientist, underscored this point when, in her Academic Report, she recalled how these uncivil disruptions affected the TRJ College, closing it down for six months at a time.
We pray that all UL students, and students throughout Liberia, would heed the admonition of their fellow student Anita Tarplah, and turn their focus seriously upon their studies, to move their schools and fellow students FORWARD.
We would like to close this editorial with two critical questions: First, what next for the TRJ Faulkner Class of 2015? Second, what next for the Liberian government? Will the University of Liberia help move its talented students, like Ms. Tarplah and her classmates, one step further by affording them further science and tech training and helping them begin the technological and industrial revolution in Liberia?
Will the Liberian government emulate, albeit belatedly, the example of South Korea? Remember that Ambassador Noh said it is “never too late” to start doing the right thing.
Yes, Liberia, Singapore and South Korea were on the same economic plane in 1960, and Liberia had a serious advantage over them: many natural resources. Alas! We were left behind, and we are still woefully behind. But it is NOT TOO LATE!
We must, however, just as South Korea did in the 1960s, focus seriously on education, especially science and technology that will pave the way to our agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions.