Literacy: A Pillar to Development of Post War Liberia

By I. Billuh-Gma Twegbe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 28, 2005


The Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) deserves high commendation for organizing the two-day symposium in October 2004, promoting Civil Liberties, Collective Security and Development in Post War Liberia. I believe that the symposium was the right call to remind us all of our responsibilities to our country. However, I am confused by Dr. Syrulwa Somah’s statement, “Our generation, unlike any preceding ones, is the more exposed, most [widely] traveled and most educated be it by commission or omission; be it by our own will and unmanageable conditions in our own immediate environment or Liberia.” Such a sweeping statement of comparison needs to be expounded on to make its meaning and implications clearer.

Houghton Mifflin College Dictionary defines the term generation as “A group of individuals considered as sharing a common contemporaneous cultural or social attribute.” In Liberia, as in other parts of Africa, every generation includes both the literate and illiterate. Based on the definition, it is safe to infer that any Liberian who shares a common contemporaneous cultural attribute, is a member of a generation, whether he or she is educated or uneducated. And since there has never been a Liberian generation without an illiterate population, it is hard for me to see how one generation can claim to be more educated than previous ones.

However, in response to Dr. Somah’s plea to Liberians to come up with solutions to address the ills affecting the nation, I would strongly suggest that literacy be one of the pillars of reconstruction and development, because I believe that in order to develop a nation, one must first develop the minds of the people. I also believe that there is a hunger for literacy throughout Liberia today, as it was in the nineteenth century, but the settlers gave little or no attention to the education of the indigenous people. Literacy and adult education need more government recognition and financial support to be successful. And to put a dent in the 80% rate of illiteracy, the government should launch across the country a serious, functional literacy program that leaves no city, town, village or any remote hamlet behind.

There are people in rural areas, as well as cities, who live with severe social and economic problems and miseries due to their inability to read, write and compute. Functional literacy gives these people new self-confidence and hope, as it unlocks doors of opportunities for better jobs, better standard of living, and a sense of empowerment and a good feeling of being productive citizens. With functional literacy programs that may include awareness and improvement of one’s environment, involvement in community activities, knowledge of civil duties and others things, these people can take complete charge of their lives with pride. They will, in turn, be able to participate in a larger effort of national development.

Finally, I must say, with all appreciation, that I was deeply moved by Dr. Somah’s recent remarks at the February 2005 “Sunday Project Winter Ball and Fundraiser” to help bring hope to orphan children roaming the streets of Monrovia, in which he addressed with passion and compassion the problem of illiteracy and the suffering of our people. He gave two interesting descriptions of Liberia: “The Liberia, which to some was a shining city on a hilltop in Africa, and the other Liberia which is wrestling between unemployment and illiteracy rates at 80% each.”

My only reaction here is to the idea of Liberia being a shining city on a hilltop.” Bless the hearts of those who cherish this fantasy. But how in good moral conscience can a “shining city on the hilltop” let her citizens, most of them indigenous people, dwell in darkness – illiteracy (at 80% rate) down the hilltop. Until the Liberian Government and the Ministry of Education recognize that literacy is critical to the development of the nation, and take appropriate measures to institute a real and serious literacy program throughout the country, this darkness will continue to plague the nation.