Korto, Gongar, Tarpeh, Now Werner—What Happened to Liberia’s Education?

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The Education Ministry, though down the protocol ladder—after Foreign Affairs, Finance, Justice, Defense and Internal Affairs—is yet by far the most important of all Ministries, because it is that Ministry which holds our future.

But how is it that in the 11th year of this administration, despite all the support we have received from our international partners, especially the World Bank, United States, United Nations, (UNICEF and UNESCO), our Chinese friends and so many Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), our education system is still “in a mess.”

You mean none of the Education Ministers learned the lesson of what happened to Dr. Joseph Korto and all his Deputies, when the President paid a surprise visit to the E.J. Goodridge School in Barnersville years back and found the children sitting on the floor? She immediately suspended Dr. Korto and his Deputies.

One would have thought that no other Education Minister would ever again be found with his or her students sitting on the floor, or with the schools suffering any other deprivation—chalk, books, decent toilets, efficient and faithful teachers, etc.

The new Education Minister, George Werner, did not have to travel all the way to southeastern Liberia to find students still sitting on the floor. Remember only recently when, just across from House Speaker Tyler’s mansion in Marshall, a patriotic and caring citizen visited a public school and found the children sitting on concrete blocks? The very next week he showed up with a truckload of chairs for the school.

All government functionaries, especially in the face of dismal failures in so many sectors, should from the moment of their appointment, decide to take a hands-on—meticulous—approach to their work. For they are dealing with typical Liberians who take everything for granted and pursue a nonchalant (laid back), anti-J.J. Roberts approach. The typical government worker, when pressured to do his or her work quickly and on time, remarks, “The thing that J.J. Roberts started in 1847 is what you want me to finish today?”

Our Minister of Education and all other Ministerial and Agency heads should understand the nature of the people they are dealing with–totally lacking of work ethic—not just in the public sector but everywhere. How many Liberian businesses, like their Lebanese and Fula and Nigerian counterparts, open their doors at 8 a.m. or earlier? The problem is that these Ministers and Agency Heads are themselves Liberians, born and bred.

That is why it is so sad that we do not have our educational act together. There are so many fundamental lessons our people have not learnt and we need to teach them—not just reading—our people, students and parents alike, don’t read; writing—our people don’t like to write and that is why we have so few Liberian-authored books; and arithmetic—most of us are not meticulous with numbers. It was not always like that; but we began to experience educational decline after the 1980 coup, but more especially during and after the war. Our illiteracy rate still hovers around 70%.

We have to fix this illiteracy problem and give our people some self confidence, dignity and efficiency. And this newspaper has always contended that we can make Liberia 100% literate in five years, but all the stakeholders must work to make it happen—the government, especially its Education Ministry—relevant non-governmental organizations and everyone who cares.

Just recently also, we stressed editorially the need to train more teachers. Crash courses are necessary and Minister Werner must pay meticulous attention to the Teacher Training Institutes—in Webbo, Zorzor and Kakata—and ensure that they are all equipped and ready to do the job comprehensively and thoroughly. We need at least two more teacher training institutes and also crash courses for teachers because the needs are too great and urgent. Well trained and conscientious teachers are needed especially in nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Liberia’s curriculum also needs revamping, to ensure that the appropriate instructions are given in all elementary, junior and senior high schools. We hope that given the absence of such basic supplies as chairs, we are not too farfetched in calling for a library and laboratory in every public school.

We hope that Minister Werner, will engage all his colleagues in this most vital sector and construct a comprehensive plan to fix at long last Liberia’s education system. All that being said, the government must invest far more in Education and give Werner and his team all the support they need to get the job done – without further delay.

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