Upgrading BWI—an Initiative Long Overdue

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stands to place herself among the Greats of the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute.  Indeed, should she and her government succeed in prudently investing US$10 million for the improvement of BWI, she would not only be transforming the Institute into a center of excellence.  She would be ushering herself into the BWI Hall of Fame, placing herself among the Institute’s historical greats, including President Charles D.B. King, who first conceived the idea of the School, President W.V.S. Tubman, who as a young Maryland Senator pushed the bill for the school’s establishment through a reluctant Senate and went on, as President, to have the Liberian government take full responsibility for BWI; and James Longstreet Sibley, its first Principal, who gave his life for BWI.

This wonderful initiative was announced by Youth and Sports Minister Eugene Nagbe at BWI’s graduation last Saturday.  No government administration has at once ever invested even US$5 million in BWI.

Instead, most governments have largely neglected BWI.  As a result, the school was allowed to decline, due to the lack of money for qualified teachers and staff and trade shop equipment.

For example, right now there isn’t a single lathe—a tool making machine—at BWI, whereas in the 1950s there were at least three in the machine shop, empowering students and their teachers to make tools. 

Yet, despite these financial pitfalls, there has been some progress at BWI.  For example, the architectural drafting students over the past several years have been using the Auto CAD, which allows them to do all their drawings and designs on the computer, instead of the traditional drawing boards and T-squares.  This was made possible by a grant from the international shipping giant Maersk.  The petroleum giant   Chevron also supplied the   Business and secretarial science departments with many computers. There is also a renewable energy program, where electric power is generated through the use of wood chips.

But these initiatives, important as they may be, can at best be described as stopgaps  (temporary solutions).

What we see in President Sirleaf’s initiative is a major, indeed revolutionary attempt at academic and industrial transformation of BWI.  If this initiative is properly implemented, it will turn the Institute into a veritable center of excellence and beyond that, it will help the nation solve both its employment and employability problems.

While the President and her coworkers are putting together the US$10 million package, the challenge rests with the BWI Board of Governors and the School Administration to produce a comprehensive development plan for the unprecedented transformation being envisaged.  The plan must include the attraction and further training of an excellent cadre of teaching staff, both academic and industrial.  Academics must include sound Science, English, History and Literature teachers. 

The plan must also include modern equipment for all the shops.  The topnotch training and preparation of the teaching staff and the modernization of the agricultural and industrial areas will definitely prepare BWI graduates for the nation’s job market, both in the agricultural and industrial arenas.  These include experts ready to work in food production—animal and poultry husbandry, rice, tree crops, including almond, citrus, mango, cashew nuts, coconuts,   oil palm and rubber industries.  The training output will also include experts in all the industrial fields, including Accounting, Architectural  Drafting and Design, Auto and Heavy Duty Mechanics, Business Management and Entrepreneurial Training, Secretarial Science and Office Administration, Computer Science, Building Construction,   Cabinet Making and Carpentry, Domestic Science, including the Culinary Arts, Tailoring and Catering; Electronics,  Electricity, Machinery,  Plumbing, Refrigeration, Telecommunication Technology, etc.

The Board, the Principal and the School Administration must get busy immediately and, in collaboration with the various business and industrial enterprises in the country, carve a comprehensive academic and industrial  curriculum as well as a plan to modernize all of the agricultural and industrial shops on the campus; an improvement in the campus  infrastructure—energy, water, sanitation, classroom space, a much improved, computer equipped library, computer components to all the shops, rehabilitated and refurnished dormitories and other campus buildings; spacious and well equipped cafeteria facilities, football, basketball and other sports and recreational facilities and, of course, campus landscape that will facilitate a conducive learning environment.

As the BWI family takes seriously President Sirleaf, her administration and their revolutionary intervention for BWI’s advancement, the Board and the School administration must come up quickly with their plan, ready to take BWI to another unprecedented new level.

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