The Educational Crisis Now at Boiling Point, Threatening the Peace

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must know that the education crisis sparked by the so-called “outsourcing” of the nation’s school system, has now reached boiling point, seriously threatening the nation’s fragile peace.

The threat to peace started several months ago when Education Minister George Werner and his brand new team at the Education Ministry decided, with presidential concurrence, to outsource certain parts of the nation’s education system to private “for profit” companies, Bridge International Academies (BIA) and Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL). This decision appears to have been unilateral, for clearly, it did not include key stakeholders, such as the High Schools Principals Association (HSPA), and even more critically, the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL), which has been in existence even before the advent of the Tubman administration. The NTAL was established in 1938, 78 years ago!

When the decision to outsource education was first announced, this newspaper wondered who Minister Werner had consulted before embarking on such an unprecedented, even perilous path. We openly opposed the outsourcing decision and predicted that it would do more harm than good. We urged the government NOT to proceed with it. Failure to listen, however, led to a blind acquiescence to Minister Werner’s decision.

Now here we are, at a time when the administration and the entire nation should be focusing on the final, most important remaining task of this government—to organize the successful holding of the 2017 presidential elections—the nation is now embroiled in a totally unnecessary educational crisis, which is seriously threatening our fragile peace.

It is unnecessary to stress the importance of the forthcoming elections because everyone knows how serious they are. For the first time in a very long time there will be a vacancy in the Liberian presidency. Why?

Because in 2011 the sitting President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was running for re-election, so technically there was no vacancy. In 2005, Mr. Charles Gyude Bryant was the sitting Head of State as Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL). So those elections were held under his watch.

In the 1997 presidential elections, there was a sitting Interim President, Madam Ruth Perry. During the 1985 elections a military dictator, Head of State Samuel K. Doe, was firmly in charge of the government. This military dictatorship started when the sitting President, Dr. William R. Tolbert, elected in 1975, was killed in a military coup d’état on April 12, 1980.

President William V.S. Tubman came into office in January 1944 after being elected in 1943 following the voluntary retirement of President Edwin J. Barclay. So it was Edwin Barclay who steered those elections that year that ushered Tubman into office. That was exactly 73 years ago.

That is why the coming 2017 elections are so crucial. For the first time in 74 years (in 2017) there will be no sitting president. After January 16, 2018 Ellen will automatically not be able to stay one more day in office. So we must elect her successor in October 2017, setting the stage for the first smooth presidential transfer of power in Liberia in 75 years.

The ordinary Liberian person on the street will ask, “75 years da small tin?” No, it is not! And in this we cannot fail, lest we provoke not only a constitutional crisis, but a serious threat to our peace. We here invoke a line from the Liberian National Anthem, “With God above our rights to prove, We will o’er all prevail.”

So now is not the time to indulge in confusion of any kind in our country. There is too much to do; too much at stake for us to fool around with anything.

That is why it is most unfortunate that the President, immediately upon her return from foreign travel, without asking a single question or holding a single consultation—not with the teachers, not with the students—proceeded to take such rash actions, in an ill-advised attempt to embolden her Education Minister, by taking stern action against the protesting teachers and students.

We must here make it crystal clear that we think the students were patently wrong in blocking the Robertsfield highway and threatening the economy by stopping international travelers from traveling. They were also wrong for engaging in violence. These students have forgotten what happened to the Nimba students who attacked ArcelorMittal Liberia two years ago.

Even so, we here commend the new Police Director, Gregory Coleman, who acted much more maturely by calling for talks between all the parties, toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This is indeed all we need right now, not fighting fire with fire and igniting an even more flammable conflagration.

“O History!” Edwin Barclay cried in his immortal poem, Human Greatness, cautioning against repeating history. Surely Ellen is not asking, as did President Tolbert and Justice Minister Oliver Bright, for another April 14.

We think it is not too late for the President to call the teachers and students, separately, in an attempt to resolve this crisis.

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