Simply Thinking Thoughts
By: Moses Blonkanjay Jackson (MsEd, EdM)
In my thinking thoughts I considered the news that the mass student failure in the 2016 West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams is the worst since 2013. I pondered why people are surprised as it was clear from the onset that our students would fail massively. I also wondered why WAEC-Liberia National Office (LNO) always blames our students who are victims of oppression, and no mention is made of its own foibles and failures. In his press conference, the head of WAEC-LNO, Mr. Gayvolor, claimed the press and students are to blame. “…Your assertion that the examination was the same papers, it misled good number of our candidates” Well, considering the trend of issues, instead of the newspaper headline, “Liberian Students Perform Miserably in West African Certifications Exams”, shouldn’t Rodney Sieh had rather written “WAEC-LNO Performs Miserably in West African Certifications Exams”? or for Kenneth Best, “Worst WAEC- LNO Failure since 2013”? When a teacher gives a test and his students fail, hasn’t he also failed?
WAEC –Liberia National Office Failed Again
I submit that over the last two decades, the WAEC-LNO has always failed and assumed a lackluster or “hands-off” attitude towards the education sector of Liberia. Each time our students fail, the LNO does not initiate remedial means but focuses on a “pedagogy of who cheated or not”, and leave the whole problem with our staggering Ministry of Education (MOE). Professional educators would wonder whether WAEC-LNO’s failure is due to mediocrity and lack of pedagogical savvy among its national board or the annoying lack of willpower to act decisively.
Fellow teachers and stakeholders please take a minute and let us have a short professional pedagogical brainstorm. Will a good teacher continue to test students every period, finding out they are failing, and wouldn’t make efforts to find out the weaknesses in content, sequence, or perceptual styles? Wouldn’t the teacher institute pedagogical strategies to ensure performance improves? First of all, what is the logic in administering the exams every year if students cannot pass it? Is it to expose the huge population of unqualified teachers or to disgrace poorly mentored students? Are the WAEC exams predictive- determine students’ intelligence quotients, or diagnostic-measure of the performance and quality of our staggering education sector?
While I understand WAEC-LNO boss Gayvolor’s assertion that the press may have “misled” our students to fail, what does he have to say about the impact of the huge number of students promoted to 12th grade after spending only three months in 11th grade, according to George Werner’s education reform strategy? Did Gayvolor expect them to pass WAEC en masse? Sadly, Gayvolor forgot to tell the world that poor supervision of schools, proliferation of unqualified teachers, huge number of low quality private schools that MOE doesn’t have any control over, and the placement of arrogant education leaders in the system had an impact on the 2016 results. In addition, Chief Gayvolor missed the lacks of libraries and laboratories for students to prepare, and the poor and de-motivating working conditions of Liberian teachers?
For your information, while teachers struggle with meager salaries, WAEC staff and national council members attend meetings abroad almost every month and receive huge traveling benefits, per diems and fabulous board. What do they actually discuss or recommend based on the consistent failure of Liberian students? What do they say about our out dated curriculum which has never been field tested and is grossly non-aligned with the content tested by the WAEC exams?
As a “measurement tool administrator”, what has WAEC done to ensure the tools are measuring valid content? How has the WAEC results impacted education policy at the national level? Now, if students are failing, we believe WAEC should reflect and re-direct some of the money to student enrichment and teacher in-service training instead of continuing to award greasy test paper printing contracts and taking huge salaries and benefits.
Fellow Liberians, isn’t the goal for all of these positions, travels and benefits for our children to learn? But then, if they are not learning why all this blame shifting and “don’t care “attitude instead of remedial action?
Pedagogy of Oppressed Liberian Students
The situation which our Liberian students are faced with is metaphorical to the story of the children of Israel when they were slaves in Egypt and using straws to mold bricks for an oppressive Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-7). Now, either out of ignorance or arrogance, the Pharaoh one day delivered a pedagogy that no more straw would be provided the slaves but they would be forced to find their own straws and still mold the regular quantity and quality of bricks. Any Israeli who did not comply with this “pedagogy of oppression” was disgraced and whipped mercilessly.
Fellow stakeholders, isn’t this similar to our Liberian students’ situation? No good teachers, no proper scaffolding, no quality education leaders, no budget, “no this, no that”, but they must pass WAEC or else Chief Gayvolor’s LNO will rebuke them and accuse them of cheating.
In Paulo Feire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, he argued the agreement between the governed and the governors and concludes that the governed are usually the oppressed and the governors are the oppressors. The oppressors and the oppressed enter an agreement where the oppressed agree to be oppressed by the oppressors. For example, the moment a parent enrolls a child in a school, she has signed an agreement for the child to be oppressed by the oppressors who are the teachers and staff. The parent cannot readily determine if the people in that school are fake, unqualified or dishonest; however, by that agreement, the teachers are given full authority to determine if the student “pass” or “fail” a class even though the teachers themselves are a bunch of infiltrators who do not know how to teach. The child goes through the oppressive environment for over 12 years because his parents signed an agreement for him or her to be oppressed.
Liberian students are the oppressed, and WAEC-LNO and the MOE are the oppressors in our case. These oppressors do not provide adequate support for our oppressed students to pass the WAEC exams but only stand by every year, receive taxpayers’ money to administer the test, and call press conferences to blame and disgrace them. The students are the oppressed because by paying the WAEC fees, they have entered an agreement to take a non-valid exam that will make or break their futures. Per the agreement with oppressor WAEC, the students should have no voice in how their intelligence is measured; they are victims of a so-called messy education sector stuffed with individuals who are not educators and leading policy.
Ineffective Policy Implementation
I submit that WAEC-LNO and MOE officials who are currently managing education are dishonest by telling the general public they did not know there was going to be a mass failure in the WAEC. What hope did they have in a so-called messy education system which has not gone through any major reform to change the “mess to best” as promised by the MOE; we all knew, including Gayvolor and his team of WAEC-LNO regular conference attendants that the results would be disappointing. According to our education policy, a calendar school year is at most 200 instructional days for a student to pass from one class to another; when 11th graders were promoted to 12th grade after 90 days, we all knew the failure would be massive; when the current 12th graders were asked to stay home and wait for WAEC exams while their brains went into academic coma, we all knew they were going to fail. When the MOE, instead of vigorously and properly scaffolding the hap hazardous 90 day student promotion policy by committing resources, chose to forcibly launch the infamous controversial education privatization PPP school program, thereby winning a political fight with the National Teachers Association and causing de-motivation among teachers, we all knew the WAEC exam results would be disappointing.
May I ask, “What did Chief Gayvolor say was his achievement after he administered a test and only 38% passed? Was he celebrating for successfully administering the test without an episode, or lamenting the bad results? What were his recommendations for better results in 2017?
According to professional educational thinking, results from a standardized battery such as the WAEC exams are not only supposed to be used to label students, but also to tell stakeholders the status of our education sector; to inform policy promulgation at the international and national WAEC offices; to goad the MOE to initiate professional, measurable and sustainable reforms. If we continue to miss these points, ours will always be a disappointing exam result of a failed WAEC-LNO followed by a “Pedagogy of Oppressed Liberian Students” delivered at a well attended national press conference.
Now may the Lord bless our students; may He keep them and make His countenance to shine upon them; may He give the failed WAEC-Liberia National Office grace, and give them compassion and give them peace….. in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I am simply thinking thoughts.
Author's Statement: The Rivercess Man, Moses Blonkanjay Jackson (The Mwalimu-Koh) is a triple Ivy League product, and a Jesuit protégé; Mr. Jackson is a Yale University Mathematics Curriculum Fellow, and a University of Pennsylvania Physics Curriculum Fellow. Mr. Jackson holds a Master of Education degree from Harvard University and a Master of Education with Secondary Mathematics concentration from Saint Joseph’s University.
The Harvard trained education scholar, Blonkanjay Jackson, previously served the Government of Liberia diligently, for four years from 2010 to 2014, as Consultant, and Assistant Minister for Teacher Education
The title “Mwalimu-Koh” in Swahili means “Veteran Educator and Scholar”; it was conferred on Blonkanjay in Philadelphia in 2008 by his Swahili colleagues for the demonstration of exemplary scholarship, and when they learned that he (the first African HGSE Student Government Senator) had been elected Senator of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.