Reforming The Liberian Education System: A Worthy National Debate

By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 27, 2015



“The national conversation on reforming our schools has waned. But reforming our schools should not be complicated.” This is almost like a SOS reminder by Dr. Elliot Wreh-Wilson to us all as conscientious citizens to debate the state of our   “messy” education system.   What is more, Dr. Wilson is a professor at a leeward university on the ground; thus making his appeal genuine and credible.

Further, Dr. Wilson gave five important leading hints to launch the debate and which, on the surface are simple - not too complicated to implement in order to put our schools in a better shape. However, I think we should be under no illusion that reforming adequately our school system would be an easy matter. At the level we are, it is a complicated venture that requires not only a profound, long-term restructuring process (not sophisticated complexities, of course), but also reinventing, somehow,  a new national education philosophy or precept.

Some Layman Reforming Ideas

Again, as an earlier enthusiast of our current regime, I drafted a two-part article almost 10 years ago (2006) on the theme: “Reshaping Our Educational System To Fit The Challenges  Of This 21st Century” (see: . And  here were my layman ideas then and even today:

  1. We want a building, reads a placard of the
    protesting students
    To reorganize the infra-structural control of our educational system, I would suggest that we examine the model of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) established almost forty years ago. I suppose it was intended as a pilot project (and which I also suppose has proven to be efficient and effective in the management and control of a group of schools) then we need to harmonize and implant the model throughout the country to have, for example, Greenville Consolidated School System, Harper Consolidated School System, etc – with their proper superintendents and competent staffs. This system may be the most viable and efficient; it would help the Ministry of Education to have a better control and management of our national educational system than simply relying on the supervisors of schools – individuals who supervise hardly anything or have the power to effect any change in the system.

  2. It is my view that in a nation with mass poverty and illiteracy, self-empowerment and national development would be quickened were we to focus most of our meagre resources and attention to free, organized and solid general education (from kindergarten to high school); thus providing a strong generalized cultural base to every youth at an early stage in life. That would be a better preparedness for their future. At the same time, permit the one or two state universities to seek more of their own funding through private or other means. Whatever state funding (including scholarship, etc) should focus or encourage areas of our national needs for the next decade or two (and of course beyond), for example: medical doctors, engineers, scientists, agriculturists, and the rest. To attract interest to these areas, the Ministry of Education should also allot an amount to award top students from around the country in subjects such as mathematics, biology, chemistry, etc.

  3. An Education Policies Commission – composing of eminent scholars, educators and personalities – be established to serve as a watchdog over our educational system, make suggestions to the government, review our text-books, curriculum, etc, etc.

  4. To the name of the Ministry of Education must be added: “Research, Science and Technology” – a section to be headed at the Deputy Minister level. It would give the impulsion and set the agenda for our schools and universities to pursue theses areas of studies. The advancement, development and prosperity of our nation would depend on its research, scientific and technological capabilities.

  5. Or that the government should establish a separate and independent institution or a body for Research, Science and Technology.

  6. In line with the President’s recent educational policy pronouncement of “decentralization” – I would suggest (since education is a very expensive adventure) that the country be divided into 3 or 4 Academic Zones; and each zone be provided, in time, a university with its own specifics or specializations (ex. Mining engineering, Agriculture, Rubber manufacturing engineers, Literature, Political Science, Business Management, etc).

  7. The Ministry of Education must undertake a serious study, at the national level, to know the exact statistics of our school drop-outs, causes, at what stage, frequency, etc. And of course, the same holds to know the statistics and categories of those who continue schooling to the terminal level and in what fields, motivations, etc. One way to go about this would be to first examine and strengthen the bureaucracy within our schools. It is not enough to just pay teachers; a school today is a complex entity that requires a proper control, scrutiny and managerial skills.

Now, few years after the publication of my paper, and while spearheading a village self-help school project, I first thought to undertake a survey on our education system. So I took a questionnaire to the Ministry of Education, but the document never got out of the Ministry. I  was later  told that it  disappeared shuttling between the different sections concerned.  This questionnaire was divided into seven sub-titles, touching on almost every major aspect of the education system: 1. Budgetary allotment 2. Text books/Local publications 3. Population- Schools/Teachers 4. Students – Population/Expenditure 5. Private Schools 6. Libraries/Book-stores/Museums, and 7. Projections.

Dr. Wreh-Wilson’s opening suggestion to the debate was on reducing class size, especially at the elementary level, to 24 students. To accomplish that, he proposed building more classrooms. Logical. Having in mind almost a similar proposition, I had in the mentioned survey the following the question:  “What is the approximate student population per class in state-run schools?” I thought an answer to this question at all the levels: counties, districts, villages, cities, etc – could  help in determining the number of classrooms needed to contain, at least, 24 – 30 students per class in the various areas. But even at that, I was also aware that this quota would be difficult to implement within the urban areas because of the lack of zoning, disorganized and congested communities. As proven from  our own village self-help school project, I think  a national pilot-project  could be easily initiated first in the rural areas where the communities are smaller and little more organized.

It must be stressed too that in most countries where the 24 –30 students quota is respected, there is also an accompanying  policy of not  failing any student; so that the classrooms be freed to receive the next group since new classrooms cannot be built every second. Of course, the students taken alone - but who still may have academic deficiencies to the end of a normal school cycle - may branch off early into  professional training schools. This group produces the professional mechanics, electricians, highly skilled labourers, etc. And all that process constitutes  an organized, functional education system.

Reinventing A New National Education Philosophy or Precept

For the last 35 years, education has not been a requirement to acquire power and amass wealth in Liberia, but by brutal militarization, warlords and sheer gangsterism. Worse, when even those educated ones are entrusted with power, they seem to lack the decisive will to be any better or differ. Thus to cleanse our mentality, I think there is a need to also reinvent and inculcate a new national education philosophy, if not a precept.
I start the discussion in this way: For what an education should serve in a nation? Should it serve only as a mere personal fulfilment, well-being  and happiness of individual citizens? Should it serve as the engine or the shining path to the progress and development of a nation and its people?  Or should it serve both purposes?

I believe a reflection on these questions should help us examine our deep inner-selves and give us, perhaps, the will to decide on what kind of education do we desire for our nation and for what purpose or utility.       

Here is piece of my own life that speaks volumes. My rural parents entrusted me to the care of an urban family; so that I could go to school to learn and be a “kwi” or “civilized.” It was a great sacrifice to give out the first male child; but that tells us the importance that was attached to education in our times. That even deep in the “hinterland” (with no educational institutions) the noble values of education were even more perceived-not only with respect to personal fulfilment, well-being and happiness of a child, but also to become important and useful to the nation.

Imagine then how deeply saddened I was when I read,  some time ago,  that students had abandoned classrooms in Greenville to go dig gold and diamond; and yet there was no reaction from the government or the county authorities. True, “pervasive poverty” is the undeniable underlining factor, but we can not also rule out that the deep sentiments of a devalued education facilitated the impetus. Look, an impoverish youth gets to school hungry, but no teacher most of the time, no books, no library – not even the bare minimum of any quality teaching to keep him in class.  So why waste his time in class when he could be more productive and useful digging gold and diamond to feed his poor, jobless family  and still bribe his way to a diploma - if need be.

To break this unfortunate circle, we must strive so that our country can re-appropriate its education nobility. To achieve that, we should hope and pray that the government after 2017 will revisit the archives of suggestions and ideas, get on the drawing board (and not wait for partners) to extract our country from a worsening two-prone education system: money-making private schools for an elite minority, and rotten public schools for the pervasive poverty-stricken population.

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr. James Thomas Queh, neither your article nor your questionaire was regarded because Ellen Johnson Sirleaf brought two wars Into the country and stole two elections NOT for anything progressive in terms of national development or progress, BUT of course for simply to be seen as president and get personally wealthy!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 05:53PM, 2015/12/27.
Sylvester Moses
Sylvester Moses at 06:12PM, 2015/12/27.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
And then after this very EJS and Joseph Boakai have MESSED UP THE NATION´S educational system and obtained their ILLGOTTEN WEALTH, they (JOSEPH BOAKAI AND ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF) are telling the Liberian people that we (the Liberian people)are stupid by asking us to give them a third term by voting the thief Joseph Boakai into office!

Is that what the so called Harvard education is about?

Is that what some fools call "experience" or "age"? I mean, you are really right, Mr. Moses.

I mean this woman, her supporting political bastards, and her advisors, could not erect even a single library! MY GOD!

Probably Emmanuel Dolo shall recommend to the next government to build at least a library in each municipality; since for him - Dolo, THIS IS HOW HE JUSTIFIES HIS SALARY - BY PASSING ON HIS BOSS ELLEN´S RESPONSIBILITIES TO HER SUCCESSORS! WHAT A STINKING SHAME!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 07:42AM, 2015/12/29.
Volusion Custom Development at 02:57AM, 2017/09/12.

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