Reforming Liberian Schools in Five Easy Steps -- Part III



By:  Elliott Wreh-Wilson, PhD

WVS Tubman University
Harper, Liberia


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 5, 2015

                  



 
 
 
 
House Speaker Alex Tyler

Let me first thank the Editor at The Perspective for entertaining this discussion. Second, let me thank Mr. Scott, Mr. Hodge, Mr. Smith, Mr. Doe and all those who have joined us in the conversation. These are all very familiar voices, and they enlighten me each time I view what they say. Yes, there are answers - many answers - what we can do now is to weave them into a not-so-complex whole that may save our children one day in the near future.

Now, I hope you will permit me to remind readers of the points raised in my initial post.

First: that we think seriously about reducing class size. It is good not just for instruction and assessment, but also for teacher sanity.
Second: that we think about re-introducing the old “In-Service” teacher training program. There is always a new and different way to teach a class. Our teachers need to know.

Third: that we introduce students to technology. Laptops are a necessity, not a luxury anymore.

Fourth: that we view English not only as our official language, but also do what it takes to move to proficiency in English for all our children.
Finally, that we move new college grads with high scores into graduate programs at home or abroad. It is an investment in our children’s education.

Indeed, we could reduce class size and yet fail to achieve our goal to improve instruction. This is what some of you have said. Hope I got that right. So, what will improve instruction? Vouchers? Move all our kids to private schools?

And, what if we abolished the Ministry of Education and returned the Ministry’s budget to families in the form of vouchers? Just consider how much pushing and pulling will have to occur before this can happen. Is this a fight we want to take on when what we really want is school reform?

And, could better trained teachers be the solution? This is what I advocate as a second crucial step in reforming our schools. Now, how we do that may require creativity; but overall, it needs to be done in order to avoid what one of our commentators called fake degrees and credentials. The last thing a parent wants is that her child has a teacher with “questionable” credentials.

What about online schooling and home schooling? I am guessing that this proposal views technology as the medium through which we might improve our schools. I realize that cost will be a problem here; and I am assuming we all do. So, how can we do this in a country where electricity and internet service are lacking even in urban and semi-urban areas?

Is any one of these suggestions the magic bullet? What if we tried a combination of all the proposals? Do we then have a panacea? And, will Bill Gates and others ever come to our rescue? What about wealthy or well-to-do Liberians? Could they provide the vouchers and support we crave?

Forget my suggestion that we go back to the old mud houses and thatch houses. What else was I to suggest in the absence of sustained support for crumbling schools like Cape Palmas High? Yes, good students do not need bigger buildings to do well in their lesson. And, the size of a school house does not determine the quality of its students. Still, no one believes the way to improve our schools is to have classrooms that hold 70-80 students. These large classes do not promote learning-not to mention the fact that teachers tend to prefer smaller classes for evaluation and assessment purposes.

Let’s continue the conversation.


samuel Garson
Thanks
We need to add Religious education in primary and secondary education to teach us Ethics and Moral Values. Parental training in the children who has the primary responsibility to teach moral values. Why more students are studying Accounting, management, to name a few? They are seeing few people in government getting rich overnight. I'm making no judgment on this, but the focus on the primacy of the individual, rather than community; the changing pattern of family structures; the shortening of the length of many relationships; the emphasis on parents going out to work and the consequent perception of the reduced value and worth of full-time parent have changed the way we behave. You can talk with your kids and Explain why something is right or wrong...without arguing. Teaching Ethics and morals is very important in society.
samuel Garson at 08:02AM, 2016/02/05.
Kpanneh Doe
While in a discussion with a colleague recently, regarding the deep malaise affecting public schools in Liberia, he offered this insight that I found quite revealing in many respects: He noted that it was not that the teachers in the public school system were ill-prepared, mediocre, and inadequate in their qualifications-- even though much of that exists. He opined that the rottenness of the system had turned good teachers into bad teachers, and turned teaching into a diminished profession that is not comparable to other professions such as politics and law that has become quite fashionable in contemporary Liberia today, as these have become areas where money and wealth can be made rather easily without being productive or making a difference in people's/children's lives. Furthermore, how else do we explain policymakers and school leaders turning a blind eye to the growing 'overcrowding' that is occurring in many schools in rural Liberia and many other parts of the country? Or how do we explain the criminal acts of cheating, where grades are being sold when it is unearned, or teachers offering free grades in exchange for sex with young female students who could be their daughters. These problems have engulfed the school system in a way that makes learning quite difficult to occur. Considering that teaching and learning are the foundation tools for effective education, Good teaching can spur learning, while bad teaching can undermine it and destroy the intellectual capacities of children.

One of the fundamental changes that has to occur to effect reform in the school system, is to elevate the profession of teaching--the mother of all professions. Whereas teaching and learning should take place in a free and unobtrusive educational environment, these foundation tools that foster effective education now find itself under pressure and in perennial conflict with each other. Restated, Good teaching can spur learning, while bad teaching can undermine learning. A teacher who is passionate and motivated about what he/she does can have an enormous impact on a sizable proportion of students who may not be self-motivated, suffer from learning challenges, or come from socio-economic backgrounds where learning is not encouraged. More so, teaching is an art as well as a science, that is why ongoing, continuous in-service training is an important reform initiative that should be encouraged because teachers have to keep abreast of the changing trends and new models that frequently characterized this field.For example, Rote Memorization which for a long time has characterized the culture of learning in Liberian schools, has to be changed to critical thinking learning. And teachers have to be trained to learn how you introduce that when teach English, math or any other subject.[ It should be said that not anyone with a degree, undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate make good teachers. I am sure many of us have had the experience of having bad teachers, including those with Ph.D's. Professor Wreh-Wilson has the distinction of being one of the best teachers in Liberia today, with his dedicated service to the profession. And I am sure there are many more...].

There are so many other things that can be done to enhance the teaching profession. For example, we can learn from the Finland example of developing 'Master Teachers' who can serve as mentors to new teachers. There are many retired Liberian teachers who can share their wealth of knowledge and experience about teaching. But has anyone reached out to these people...There is also the concept of 'Team Teaching' and making 'mothers' central to teaching at the primary level[I would develop this idea further in my next posting. But none of these reforms can occur with the existing bloated educational bureaucracy.
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