The Road to Nowhere
By Randell Zuleka Dauda
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) affirm that education is a fundamental human right for all peoples. Along these lines, however, the Liberian government, under the leadership of Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pledged its commitment to quality and affordable education in Liberia. In fact, education was one of the major goals strategically set aside by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) presented at the United Nations Summit in 2000 served as the measuring cup for success during this peaceful post-civil war period. Although UNDP reports that Liberia has a 30% rate of achievement of these ambitious goals, there are no visible signs of significant improvement in Liberia’s education system. If we as a nation should rebuild and prepare for a prosperous future, the lack of progress in a sector that is key to nation building shows that we are certainly heading nowhere.
Over the last decade, Liberia has tasted the flakes of peace and stability, and the government has allotted a significant portion of the national budget to education. There have been some strides towards improving the quality of education in the country. With over 250 schools reconstructed [as reported by African Reality in 2012] and about 1.3 million students enrolled at the elementary and middle school levels, education remains a focus of the Liberian people. Despite the large number of school-aged children enrolled in government institutions, Liberia still only has two government-owned institutions of higher learning. The University of Liberia (UL) stands with an astounding 35,000 plus students and the emerging Tubman University with only 1,091 students, according to Liberia Commission in Higher Education. Enrollment is very low at Tubman University particularly due to its location in the southeastern region of Liberia. The UL, known for its large classrooms and overcrowded lecture halls, is despondently the epitome for higher education in Liberia. Incoming students to the universities are underprepared, and they leave without much improvement. Some graduates of those universities sit around awaiting job placements while holding resumes with misspelled words, grammatical errors and typos.
We can find solutions to the issues facing institutions of higher learning in Liberia for the next 10 years. Else, we will be faced with a future led by poorly educated people. Like our old Liberian folks often say, “Pupu on the palm kannel” as a warning to children, but troublesome children will insist on opening, only to find that, indeed, there is pupu inside. We cannot continue to work on frivolous master plans and policies as a way to provide quality higher education to students in our universities if they are not prepared to be university educated. Students in the elementary and middle schools are underprepared, but continue to move along to high schools, expecting miracles along the way. They are victims of a system that goes nowhere. Schools are underequipped to the point that some schools ask students to bring chalk and a wooden chair as part of school requirements. Other schools outside of capital city have classrooms that can easily be mistaken for village farm kitchens or huts. And if the 14 years of civil wars were not enough to destroy the education system, 2013 Ebola epidemic pushed Liberian students back even further, compared to other African students. In such deplorable state, Liberia’s education system does not stand a chance to being considered a gateway to development.
Our old folks were right: pupu hidden under kennels will soon make itself known. Today’s students are expected to be our leaders tomorrow and from what is manifested in the classrooms now, we have a lot of pupu on our hands.
We need to move away from the top-down approach that continues to fail Liberia education system. We cannot fix the education system by working with the existing higher education structure. Instead, we must consider a bottom-up approach that addresses the issue of education by first looking at the grade schools. We must be able to address the gap that the war exacerbated and the difficulties we still face before considering feasible solutions to the challenges facing higher educational institution.
Our starting point has to be the grade school if in any way we are committed to a secure future for our children and granchildren. Higher education reforms, no matter how effective, will do little to address the insurmountable challenges facing our beloved Liberia. We must start from the bottom – the lower levels.
My name is Randell Zuleka Dauda. I intend to work and study education reform that will be a step towards securing a brighter and prosperous future for Liberia.