By Francis W. Nyepon
Liberia’s Education System is severely imbalance in the provision and delivery of services; facility management; staff supervision; and bureaucratic control. The system has failed to generate comprehensive organizational and structural changes over the past ten years. Neglect, mismanagement and unprofessional conduct have destroyed the day-to-day function of the system, by depriving many schoolchildren of a positive learning environment and critical academic growth after almost two decades of social dislocation and brutal civil war. Recently, there have been changes in the administration of the system intended to bring about changes and reorganization. It is believed that this restructuring would bring about desperately needed transformation to a system that has been out of touch with 21st century academic values. Liberians are looking forward to this overhaul with great anticipation and expectations that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will function much better than it did over the past ten years.
However, can Liberian schoolchildren be optimistic that this reorganization will make the leadership of the MOE more accountable to their learning, achievement and performance? Can parents be hopeful that this reorganization would indeed deal with a system-wide revamp that is indeed devoted to analyzing and boosting the MOE's management structure, including curriculum, instruction and organizational areas where the bureaucracy has been chronically inefficient? Can Liberians look forward to the MOE promoting creativity, innovation, curiosity and individualism is our education system?
Over the past 10 years, Liberia’s Education System has been in a state of mediocrity, remaining in freefall during this most critical period in our country’s history. This author believes that the system failed simply because those who lead and managed the system lacked vision, direction, guidance and the political will to truly transform the system. The MOE mercilessly trapped over a million schoolchildren in poverty, condemning many to the distinction of inequalities across all lines of class, gender, region and ethnicity. On the one hand, the system’s failure allowed students to pass from one grade to the next without certified academic confidence in basic skills; while, leaving countless others disgustingly unprepared to function competently in the society. On the other hand, the system allowed useless and unethical teachers and administrators to make a mockery out of a noble and respectable profession without consequence or accountability.
This colossal failure of our education system has had a horrible ripple effect on schoolchildren, parents and communities across the country, radically affecting the general population with devastating consequences in our collective mindset, social attitude and communal behavior. The system failed our country immeasurably, and if we are not careful, it could rip off yet another generation of innocent Liberians by denying them a productive and promising future. To this author, this gigantic failure of our education system should be a wake-up call to Liberians everywhere, especially those in leadership. We can quibble about the collapse and breakdown of our education system and blame past administrators, or we can stand up with the resolve and determination to fix the system and face the brutal truth that our country has been out-educated by every country in the sub-region and countless others around the world.
The failure of our education system isn’t about Liberian schoolchildren because they are as smart as students anywhere on the planet. The hard truth is that other countries’ education systems have surged far ahead, while ours has not modernized, nor kept up with changes, which could transform the lives of our children across the country. The danger of doing nothing is that a substantial portion of our youth, 45% of whom makeup our national population, will be left in ever deepening poverty, continually requiring massive assistance to be lifted-out of a state of melancholy; and possibly leaving an entire generation abandoned without hope for a better life.
With the problem now laid out, this author shall attempt to present the basis to begin a constructive dialogue in order to successfully transform lives and restore hope to Liberian schoolchildren by suggesting measures, which can restructure our education system, most especially after the forced closure of schools in July 2014 due to the horrible effects of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which killed over 4,000 Liberians and left over 1,000 children orphaned.
Liberia needs to completely and totally end its dependency and beggar mind-set towards education that permits us to rely totally on others for direction, standards, curriculum, and guidance in our education outlook. Our education system can only be transformed if we re-define opportunities, present innovations and provide orientations, which embraces creativity, individuality, professionalism, and resourcefulness.
A paradigm shift would give recognition to developing the potential and capacity of teacher, student and school as the primary means in meeting 21stcentury socioeconomic demands and expectations. To accomplish this goal, however, every aspect of our national life would have to be tapped, not simply by the scale of provision and access to service, but by the very nature of how educational services are conceptualized, resourced and delivered. This new narrative and paradigm shift in Liberia’s Education System should be about integrity, standards, assessment, curriculum, discipline, resource management, performance, responsibility and respectability. It should be about building marketable skill sets and social benchmarks amongst schoolchildren as the means of achieving national goals. Such a narrative would indeed be resolute in maintaining education as the only ticket needed to reduce poverty, illiteracy, socioeconomic insufficiency and our chronic collective disease burden.
To fundamentally restructure our education system, we will have to prioritize education as a national requirement, and not continue to give this most vital socioeconomic building block the usual lip service treatment to fill speeches, excite constituents and accommodate international audiences. But to transform our education system in this manner would require a shift in our attitude and outlook in terms of policy, and the way both educators and policymakers relate to one another in comparison to content, curriculum, skills training, and instruction.
Liberian education can truly become revolutionary if Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is presented in schools. Making ICT an integral part of our national education strategy would indeed modernize learning and lead to total transformation of our educational landscape. If ICT is integrated properly in our school system, it could definitely contribute to building new relationships between schools, communities and the larger society by bridging the gap between formal, non-formal and informal education.
There is a strategic need in Liberia to seriously consider developing a teacher residency program across the country. Such a program would be intended to give new teachers valuable hands-on training from seasoned professionals as mentor teacher, while taking courses to earn a master’s degree in education. A program of this kind would indeed be an excellent way Liberia can begin an aggressive transformation process in education, offering beginner teachers an opportunity to work under the guidance of an experienced teacher adviser, counselor or guru in specific profession to gain practical knowledge to be transferred. It would also force institution of higher learning to provide advance course study in education and related areas to enhance the academic growth of a progressive and knowledgeable segment of our population.
In Liberia, we need to come to terms with the way educational resources are distributed, deployed, and utilized. Such as, how and where staffs are assigned, compensated, accommodated and where school buildings are constructed, in order to achieve clear-cut social and economic goals, which impacts population, diversity, development and modernization.
Let’s get real here, it cannot be emphasized enough. Our education system is badly in need of capacity strengthening through professional and leadership development; including, curriculum and instructional resources, reinforced through interventionist accountability schemes, which this author believes can only be addressed through open measurements of accomplishment. This requires some common sense measures, which include: leadership, discipline, curriculum and basic reading and language skill sets. A determined effort to train, recruit and retain high quality administrators and teachers will make the biggest difference in reforming and restructuring our education system. The teaching profession must be made to appeal to the best and brightest amongst us. Having schoolchildren exposed to truly skilled teachers and administrators is an investment that is sure to pay off in the long-run because it would demand that the system provides solid curriculum, assessment, expectation, performance, accountability and output nationwide.
These practical and realistic approaches to transforming our education system would ensure greater social dividends, quantifiable and measurable returns in terms of learning, achievement, capacity, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and well-being. Transforming our education system will indeed deal with closing the gap between rural, urban and peri-urban schools, so that the entire system is brought into the 21th century with better innovation, curriculum, evaluation, achievement and performance.
Francis W. Nyepon: Author, Policy Analyst, Environmentalist & Entrepreneur: email@example.com
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