Education is a word often uttered by Liberians across our social strata. And I believe that utterance without a deep reflection on its implications is what is constantly eluding us, thereby keeping our education system at the level of “mess” for far too long.
We’ve also added a describing word, quality to education; so the catch phrase now is quality education. Every Saye, Musa and Bohynoh (My version of Tom, Dick and Harry) is calling for “quality education”, so much so that the mantra has become deafening. And, that is where it stops, in the intensity of the noise.
Education is costly. It carries a price tag. Someone has to pay for it or subsidize it for others. Quality education is even costlier! Who pays? Those who want it, those who believe in its value for the betterment of society, those who see it as the indispensable element for national sustained development and those who crave it for themselves and for others. So they pay directly from their own pockets and indirectly with the taxes paid into government coffers, the contents of which are to be guarded and distributed according to the prioritized needs of the citizens. This should be done by those in whom these citizens have placed their implicit trust by electing them to seek specifically, holistically their welfare. Two branches of government come to mind, the Legislative and the Executive. Need I write more on this point?
I wrote supra that the noise about education is deafening. Heaven forbid that noise should replace determination and action.
Recently the MOE in its efforts to tackle systemic challenges began talking about public, private partnerships. And the noise has gone several decibels higher. The MOE has five thousand plus schools directly under its control. It wants to pilot the partnership proposal in 120 of these schools (less than 2%), not one thousand two hundred of them.
So who pays for this experiment? GOL? Nothing extra! External sources? Approximately three million US dollars! Lest we forget donors also decide where they think their funds should go and they jealously guard these funds especially if they have had the experience of having their tax payers’ money siphoned off into bottomless pockets of unscrupulous patriots—oops—I mean citizens, because patriots show sacrificial love for country by their productive deeds and honest words.
When the MOE held a National Education Stakeholders Engagement at the Monrovia City Hall on April 28-29, 2016 to which hundreds were invited, one would have thought that since “quality education” being the hot topic on everyone’s lips, that the theater would have been jammed packed beyond capacity. Not so! By the time the third group of panelists took their seats after lunch on the first day to discuss, Quality Teaching: Supporting highly-skilled, highly-motivated teachers, the theater had one-third of the invitees present. Two thirds had taken their exits.
This is why not surprisingly, on my way to Gbarnga to attend the National Development Summit organized by the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning and the Governance Commission recently, I saw dozens of Liberia’s “precious jewels” strolling or running to school with either a single, or several copybooks rolled up or with deflated book bags, or with hands swinging in the early morning sun.
The MOE distributed in 2015, 1,017,400 textbooks to students in public schools, grades 5-9 and over a million readers to the 1st to 4th graders. The rest, particularly the rural children whose parents cannot afford to come to Monrovia to purchase books need the urgent attention, not necessarily in a patronizing way, of those who represent them. Because on Day Two of the Stakeholders Engagement the following statistics among others were given by the MOE:
Bomi County had in 2015, 18,133 students enrolled in the Early Childhood Education Program; 16, 235 in the Primary grades; 3165 in the Junior High grades and 1,208 in the Senior High division.
Let us also take the statistics for Montserrado County, given its strategic importance to our country.
ECD had 156,553 students, Primary 234,088 students, Junior High 84,202 students and Senior High 57, 663 students. What these numbers show for Bomi County are the following; 1,898 students did not go on to get their primary education, 13,070 students did not continue and finish their Junior high schooling and 1,957 were not among those seniors who sat WAEC exams. Only 371 students of the total number 39,112 were enrolled in TVET and other literacy programs.
For Montserrado County 77,535 students did not do ECD, 149,886 students dropped out between the primary and the Junior High levels and 26,539 students didn’t have to burn the midnight candle or look for “flexibility fees” for the WAEC exams frauds. TVET and two other programs absorbed less than 8,000 students.
Why such a huge disparity in the numbers of those who enter and those who eventually finish? Where are these dropouts? What are they doing? We are a small country!
Disturbing? Sad? Incomprehensible? No number of adjectives uttered at whatever pitch will change these figures by themselves. People make changes. People make life-changing decisions. People implement policies for specific and general purposes. People move, sacrifice and work extremely hard to make good things happen. Education is a good thing. Quality education is an excellent thing. But it is definitely NOT manna. So who are the people? The donors? No! These give whenever they can and to what extent they can, often on their own terms. The Government? Yes! And who is the Government?
The people. But the elected government must embody the vision for the people, such as is expressed in the motto of the MOE, “Show the light, the people will find the way.”
This way seems not to be seen nor yet understood …
…by those parents who pay teachers on the side so that their children can pass to the next grade despite failing in nearly every subject,
…by those students who pay for unearned grades with every means possible and jump from grade to grade or from school, to school, jumping and gathering at best, mediocrity if anything at all.
…by those administrators who inflate the grades of their 9th & 12th graders so their schools can look good in the WAEC lineup and these also turn a blind eye to the dealings of conscienceless men and women parading as teachers, who through willful neglect and incompetence deny students their right to education.
…by those political candidates who try to impress the youthful electorate by putting them under the impression that they will pay their fees but have them stranded once they lose the elections, thereby leaving institutions struggling to balance their budgets in the face of huge outstanding bills.
…by those students who are energized by violence and destruction and those who spur them on, especially so that education institutions can hardly buy what they need much less replace those wantonly destroyed.
All of the above point to fact that each and every Liberians must look at our children’s education differently. They are not less gifted than students from other lands. There are excellent teachers, but they are so very few. There are principals with vision, but they are not many. The number of these too few educators must be multiplied rapidly if we all of us accept that quality education for all of our children is the surest, most secure way to personal, collective and sustained national growth and developments. Education, better yet, quality education is worth every sacrifice to make it happen, by every means possible.