Reversing The Neglect Of Education In Liberia

Remarks By Chris Toe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 14, 2004

Note: Guest remarks made by the President of Strayer University, J. Chris Toe, Ph.D., on March 20, 2004 at the installation program of officers of the National Alumni Association of Laboratory High and William V. S. Tubman High School. The program was held at the Fellowship Hall of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, USA. Below is the full text of Dr. Toe's remarks:

Let me begin my remarks by expressing thanks and appreciation to the President - and officers-elect, and the members of the National Alumni Association of Laboratory High and William V.S. Tubman High School for inviting me to be your guest speaker and installing officer this evening. Accepting your invitation was very easy, and I did so for two reasons.

First, I came here tonight to commend you for recognizing the deplorable condition of your alma mater, and resolving to provide moral and financial assistance, so that those who walk the halls of this once great institution today will be given the same educational quality and opportunity you were given in your day. I am also pleased you will be providing relief and recovery assistance to your fellow Liberians at a time of desperate need. I applaud your selflessness and humanitarianism, and I urge you not to be frustrated, discouraged, or heavy of heart by the difficulties voluntary organizations always encounter at the inception of their activities. You will be rewarded in time, if you persist in your efforts.

I also came here tonight because I am a believer in education, a proponent of educational access, and a practitioner of education. It was not always this way, and in fact, I never planned to pursue a career in education. As you know by now, I was born in Grand Cess, Grand Kru County to two parents who were educators. I experienced first-hand the tremendous financial sacrifice they and others had to make, day in and day out, notwithstanding the fact that theirs is an occupation that produces all other occupations; that theirs is a career without which no other career or field of study would exist.

In spite of the fact that education is a profession without which no nation can advance politically, economically, and socially, educators in Liberia have to struggle to make ends meet. And despite the importance of education and educators to the development and progress of our society, the education sector has always been accorded very low priority in the allocation of financial resources by governments in Liberia.

· 156 years after independence, half of the population of Liberia is illiterate, compared to a little over a third for the sub-Saharan Africa region.

· 142 years after establishing one of the first institutions of higher learning on the African continent, only 40% of Liberia’s population has access to education (Millennium Dev. Goals Report).

· Since the American Colonization founded Liberia to, among other goals, ‘civilize’ the natives, public support for education has been half-hearted, disjointed, and much to our disadvantage, too little, too late.

In 2002, Charles Taylor’s government spent just 2.0% of the total budget on education. Regretfully, the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) has started to do no better; only 7% of the half billion dollars that was pledged in February at the International Reconstruction Conference for Liberia is earmarked for education.

The neglect of education has been so profound and pervasive it may have prolonged our 14year civil war and magnified its adversities. But the war also inflicted a toll on education.

· More than half of the children of Liberia are out of school.

· Two-thirds of the boys who enroll in school stay through the entire academic year, but only a third of the girls who enroll persist.

· Of those who are attending school, less than half of them are achieving minimal levels of learning.

We need no other evidence to be convinced that the quality of our education system is poor and substandard, and that we must reverse the neglect of education in Liberia.

We must start by putting Liberia’s House in order. We need unity, justice, development and leadership to consolidate and sustain peace in Liberia, and to lay the foundation for prosperity in our country. We also need a strategic plan for education that will enable the sector to obtain primacy in the allocation of resources. The foundation for such a strategic plan must be the following four core values:

· Commitment to Quality educational programs and services;

· Commitment to Access of all Liberians to all educational programs and services;

· Commitment to Efficiency in the delivery of all educational programs and services; and

· Commitment to the Relevance of all educational programs and services to a national agenda of peace and prosperity.

To develop a quality, accessible, efficient and relevant educational system:

· We must produce, at all levels of education, graduates with high quality skills and competencies that will help build our country;

· We must build a society where lifelong learning is deemed critical to keeping abreast of changing practices and technologies in every aspect of human endeavor;

· We must grow and balance the demographic composition of enrollment at all levels of education by increasing participation rates;

· We must diversify institutional arrangements for delivering education by, among other things, applying available information and communications technologies for online learning and related capabilities;

· We must encourage appropriate change in academic program mixes with greater emphasis on science and technology at all levels of education; and

· We must build transparent and accountable institutional capacity that will partner with parents and communities to manage the educational process and system.

A few of the priority actions that should be taken to accomplish these goals, and to achieve this vision, include:

· Training and compensating teachers well;

· Adopting, funding and enforcing a policy of primary education for all;

· Ending gender inequality at all levels of education;

· Providing adults with quality education at all levels;

· Building a public university system that will attain the level of acclaim enjoyed by comparable institutions in South Africa, Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Ghana at Legon; and

· Improving access and efficiency in the educational system and its processes, by developing a good policy environment and by employing leading-edge information and communications technologies.

Liberia has the resources to support education, and to achieve the limited priorities I have outlined this evening. The millions of dollars we squander on corruption and personal rule and on cars and spending sprees for girlfriends should be allocated to education. The funds we waste on sending battalions of people to international conferences and on other foreign travels should be re-appropriated for education.

A significant portion of the resources we are starting to save today and will save in the future, by no longer making war and no longer killing each other, we now should allocate to human development sectors such as education and agriculture. Civil society participants like the National Alumni Association of Laboratory High and William V.S. Tubman High School can help keep the focus on education by continuing their voluntary services, and by becoming advocates of education and good governance in Liberia.

Each and every Liberian we educate is one more roadblock in the way of totalitarianism, autocracy, one-man rule, corruption, and violence. When you put people first, you make sure education is provided; when you are preparing for the future, you make sure education is provided. We cannot wait until the elections are over to emphasize education and to ensure it receives priority funding. This is why I am unhappy about inconsistencies between the words and deeds of the National Transitional Government of Liberia when it comes to funding education and other long-term development requirements.

The Liberia of tomorrow must be people-driven; but we the people must insist on financial support for education if we are to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Education is the key to democracy, prosperity, and lasting peace.

The difficulties facing Liberia today and those it will face tomorrow are formidable; but focusing only on relief and recovery and doing nothing to begin resolving long-term development problems could lead to greater hardships for our people today, and little or no future for our children. We cannot allow that to happen.

As former students and alumni, of two of Liberia’s educational institutions with storied histories, you have an obligation to ensure that public resources are used to the benefit all Liberians; one way to ensure that this is achieved is to insist, indeed demand, that your government gives education its just due not only today, but also tomorrow.

I know that education alone will not solve all of the problems that we face today. But I also know that continuing to neglect education is a recipe for violence and mayhem, and a prescription for atrocities and destruction, as we have experienced in the last 14 years. Investing in education will improve the human condition in Liberia. It is worth the money. Other nations have done it. We must do it.

Education, good governance, a good policy environment and good luck will help Liberia sustain the peace we are now trying to secure.

I thank you for your invitation, and I wish you good luck in your endeavors.