By James Thomas-Queh
“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: www.theperspective.org/articles/0327200601.htm1/www.theperspective.org/articles/08200601.htm1) . And here were my layman ideas then and even today:
|We want a building, reads a placard of the
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.
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.