The Continuing Crisis in Liberian Education

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How is it possible that the most highly educated President in Liberia’s 169-year history, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has not been able, in spite of 11 years of leadership, to fix Liberia’s educational system?

Or did she underestimate the challenges of national leadership which she sought for over four decades?

Yes, we recall that Liberia’s two most intelligent Presidents were indisputably Presidents Joseph Jenkins Roberts and Edwin J. Barclay. Several other Presidents, including Barclay’s uncle, President Arthur Barclay, were also college grads. But hardly any attained the Master’s degree as has Ellen. Nor did any of them go to Harvard, as she did.

Remember, earning a Harvard degree is not the only benefit derived from the education one receives from this, the world’s richest and most prestigious university. The connections alone are immense and can empower one to do a lot in life.

So how come, under her watch, Liberia has now topped the list of countries with children out of school? How come the fatal ‘acknowledgement’ that Liberians are unable to run their educational system and, therefore, have decided to outsource it? This has never happened before.

Now the educational crisis has come become full-blown. The Nation’s teachers, represented by the National Teachers Association (NTAL), and the Monrovia Consolidated School System Teachers’ Association (MCSSTA) as well as the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NHWAL) are demanding the immediate resignation of Education Minister George T. Werner.

And how do they make the charge of nepotism, implying that he is a “member of the first family”? His name is not Sirleaf; neither is he from Bomi County, the Sirleaf’s ancestral home. So where does the “nepotism” part come from?

In demanding Werner’s resignation, the nation’s teachers and health workers have been joined by a coalition of several civil society organizations (CSOs).

They accuse Werner of having “singlehandedly” and “unilaterally” brought into the country the “Private Schools of Liberia (PSL),” which include the Bridge International Academies (BIA). The Liberian teachers claim that PSL has “dismal performance records” in places it has operated, including Kenya, Uganda and the United States.

The teachers, health workers and CSOs accuse Minister Werner of “consistently and persistently violating the constitutional rights of teachers, educational workers and students of grade school and vocational institutions.”

The teachers and CSOs contend that Werner’s decision to bring in the PSL and BIA was unilateral and that the decision had already been made when he convened “a first ever stakeholders meeting in January.”

The teachers and partners deem the bringing in of the PSL and BIA as having violated Article 6 of the Liberian Constitution, “which guarantees access to educational opportunities for all.”

The denial of these, our future generations, of education is indeed a painful, sad, criminal and even tragic violation of the basic human right of education. What future is there for any country without educated people?

But forget about George K. Werner. As Education Minister, he is only a pawn in the mess of unconstitutionality that pervades the landscape. One only has to know who really got him the job and one will understand the bad, nearly hopeless situation we and our children are in.

The person responsible for this educational—or any other failure—is Ellen herself, for she is our President.

Remember the brief but apt (fitting) and highly meaningful poem:

“I’m glad I’m not a President;

And very glad I’m not a King.

There’s something grand about them;

But they’re blamed for everything!”

At this point, we only have to appeal to our people to bear patience. Fifteen months is not far away. As we have always urged, the Liberian people now only have to WAKE UP and carefully choose our next leaders—both Legislative and Executive—who we hope, pray and trust will be able and have the heart and the political will to fix all that is wrong with Liberia. And that includes, let’s face it, Liberians themselves.

Again remember what Vice President Bennie D. Warner said in the late 1970s: “The problem with us is us.”

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