The Challenge of Fixing Our Educational System

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The Minister of Education, Etmonia David Tarpeh, in her speech at the 37th session of the  UNESCO General Conference held in Paris, France a fortnight ago, admitted to that body the downward trend of Liberia’s educational system.

Minister Tarpeh told the conference that Liberia continues to make progress in all of UNESCO’s fields of competence, Education, Science and Communication.

In her address, she admitted that Liberia’s educational system faced very serious problems.  But she spoke in generalities and left out the specifics.  She did not, for example, mention the mass failure, 100%, in the University of Liberia’s recent entrance exam.  That was a devastating (disturbing) reflection on the performance of all of Liberia’s  primary and secondary schools.   

The Minister maintained that with the support of the national leadership and that of Liberia’s international partners, the decentralization of the country’s educational system was well on course.

Noting that 53% of Liberia’s population is under 20, she appealed to UNESCO and Liberia’s other international partners to assist Liberia at all levels of its educational system, from primary through secondary and higher education, as well as in areas of vocational and technical training.  She noted the significant assistance which the Chinese government, the European and other development partners are rendering for the enhancement of vocational and technical education in Liberia.  The Chinese have taken the lead in investing what they estimate to be US$10 million to rehabilitate the Monrovia Vocational and Technical Training Center.

But one would have hoped that the Education Minister would have been more forthright in laying out to UNESCO the very deep trouble Liberia’s educational system is in.  It is possible that she did this in her in camera discussions with UNESCO leaders.  But whether publicly or privately, we believe it was important for UNESCO to know the depth of the crisis facing our educational system, so that they would prepare an appropriate and meaningful response.  But first, the problems have to be laid out in detail, with the MoE having a clear idea as to what it wants UNESCO and other development partners to do to help solve these problems. 

Mr. Joe Kappia, the Daily Observer’s first specialist, was recruited in the mid 1980s from the UL’s Teachers College.  His focus was on Education.  He was appointed the Daily Observer’s  Education Columnist.  He immediately started covering the entire educational system, from primary through higher eduction, as well as the Ministry of Education, the National Teachers Association as well as students organizations.   

Mr. Kappia has been teaching in the American school system for many years now, mainly in California, from where he sent his incisive article on Why Are  Our Students Not Performing up to Expected Standards?  This piece was published in our Wednesday, November 13, 2013 edition.   We pray that Education Minister Tarpeh and her key staff  members will read this article.

In his well researched and effectively written article, Teacher Kappia, quoting two leading American education experts, Tomlinson & McTighe,  said effective teaching in the classroom can be influenced by four elements: whom we teach (students), where we teach (learning environment), what we teach (curriculum content) and how we teach (instructional method). Teachers have to focus on all of these elements in order to have positive impact on the students. 

Mr. Kappia lamented that despite the infusion of massive capital into teacher education at the elementary level by USAID and UNICEF, effective teaching may still be a challenge for our  post-war educational system, as reflected in poor performance in Liberia Senior High School Certificate Exam given by WAEC-Liberia and now the university entrance exam.

We believe the MoE officials should already know why our students fail: inadequately  prepared and inadequate numbers of teachers; poor and inadequate classrooms, equipment and supplies; the widespread lack of libraries and science labs in our schools; the lack of a well defined and relevant curriculum; and efficient and effective school administrations, beginning with the MoE itself.  How many times hasn’t President Sirleaf changed the top leadership at the MoE?  Still the problems persist.

But despite all the foreign aid we receive to fix our educational problems, ONLY Liberians can fix it.  But we must first find the qualified and committed people to do it, and the Ministry and the whole government must be COMMITTED to the process, keep relentlessly FOCUSED on the problem and the goal, until the desired results are achieved.

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