Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) Superintendent, Benjamin Jacobs in recent days received disdainful and annoyed responses from the student community for his proposal to shut down schools that lack libraries and laboratory facilities. The MCSS Superintendent made the comments during a panel discussion in the rotunda of the Capitol under the theme, “Engaging Citizens on National Budget for Accountable Development.”
The comments by Mr. Jacobs according to our Legislative Correspondent, Leroy M. Sonpon, III, were intended to draw attention to the likelihood of failure for most candidates sitting the 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). According to the MCSS Superintendent, this is because most candidates come from schools that lack libraries and laboratory facilities to assist in adequately preparing the students for the exams.
Although it is still too early to predict the outcome of the examination results, it can be safely opined that Liberian candidates for the WASSCE will perform poorly especially in the sciences. Many of these students rely on unscrupulous exam proctors (overseers) to provide answers to the questions and there have been instances where students as well as proctors have been caught red-handed with exam related materials including Answers key.
Students for their part fear that should the MCSS Superintendent’s proposal gain traction with national policy and decision makers to have schools without libraries and laboratories shut down, thousands of students could find themselves out of school at no fault of their own. The proposal by Superintendent Jacobs can rightly be interpreted as an indictment of the Government of Liberia for its failure to provide such facilities in public schools around the country.
In the face of such unfavorable learning conditions how then can education officials expect optimal performance from our students in the WASSCE? Private schools across the country, as compared to public schools fare much better in terms of the provision of favorable learning conditions for students. However many private schools around the country also lack adequate laboratory and library facilities, although they generate substantial sums from tuition and other fees.
Although many private learning institutions receive government subsidies, they often tend to justify their high tuition requirements with the excuse that they have to pay attractive salaries to teachers. But are private school teachers receiving satisfactory salaries? Well, only the teachers can tell. In recent time, the Ministry of Education has disclosed a number of plans to make the system effective. Part of the plan include a bill seeking the establishment of an Education Crimes Court, licensing of teachers and cleaning of payroll.
In addition to these, the Ministry of Education should introduce a policy making it mandatory for all schools to establish laboratory and library facilities in their respective schools. Admittedly, this is a tall order considering that the Government of Liberia has yet to reach the internationally recognized threshold of twenty percent budgetary allocation to education.
We believe that our students can do well and are willing to do well, but until the appropriate learning conditions including facilities and systems are put in place to enhance learning, we should not expect our students to perform miracles. Shutting down schools because they lack library and laboratory facilities may sound appealing; however it is fraught with potentially adverse consequences simply because of the sheer number of students that may be affected by such measures.
As a start, the Ministry of Education could introduce policies that forbid the granting of charters to schools that do not meet the basic requirement of a laboratory and a library adequately stocked with books and even desks or benches. Most public schools around the country lack not only libraries and laboratories but they also lack instructional materials including text books.
Added to this is the chronic shortage of wooden desks and benches. Yet large quantities of tropical hardwoods are being exported from the country on a daily basis. What can explain this dismal practice or what can account for this anomaly other than official neglect. If the Ministry of Education is serious it should begin to look more closely at these issues.
It can help create jobs by buying school furniture from local producers. But rather than wait for the Ministry of Education, county authorities should also take the initiative to produce wooden furniture for their schools and such could come from the county development funds. Sadly, it shall more likely than not come to pass that public schools especially those in timber endowed areas shall continue to suffer from the crippling lack of basic wooden desks and benches to enhance learning.
Local production of wooden desks. chairs and benches for schools should be the way to go and it is a good approach to Pro Poor empowerment of the masses to whom President Weah has the responsibility to lift out of poverty.
And lest we forget EDUCATION for all remains by far the most effective means through which a nation can rise out of the depths of poverty. Above all, MCSS Superintendent Jacobs should be reminded that shutting down schools does not cut ice, rather it is INCREASED SUPPORT TO EDUCATION.