Ellen Stresses Quality Education

By: Alva M.  Wolokolie:  Given the shocking headlines of recent days, regarding the mass failure of applicants who sat the examinations for admission to the University of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says it is imperative to speak about the quality of education in schools today.

President Sirleaf recalled that those of her age, who are old enough to remember, can look back fondly on their school days, and say they are proud of the quality education received. She said the education system was then highly competitive and demanding where the schools, teachers, students and even the region competed for excellence. Indiscipline and insolence were dealt with very firmly. Cheating and other vices inimical to progress and productivity were not tolerated.

Delivering the 14th commencement convocation of the Catholic- owned Stella Maris Polytechnic on Friday August 30, 2013, at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville City, President Sirleaf explained that while government applauds the establishment of many institutions of learning, it is also concerned about the quality of training in all institutions. The Liberian leader told the audience and the graduating class that government recognizes that it is not sufficient to simply turn out graduates like an assembly line; rather, it is imperative to graduate young people who have received the quality of education that makes them marketable in the private sector.

“Today we are graduating 509 students from this institution. If we add to that the hundreds of others that graduate from state-run and private institutions, once, sometimes even twice a year– and we know that our tertiary institutions are turning out students in vast numbers –that is laudable, for it is a measure of the human resources and strong manpower pool that is being prepared to run our country. We note in this audience with particular pleasure that 137 students have successfully completed training in the Health Sciences –16 at the Master’s level – an area of critical need to our country”,  President Sirleaf asserted.

The President told parents, guardians that she has been assured that, coming to a polytechnic, an individual  knows  that his/her goal has been to develop operational skills in addition to scholarship – a goal which fits the country’s post-war national reconstruction program and beyond. As a result of this, President Sirleaf said there is urgent need for emphasis on training and acquiring knowledge that has practical applications to real-life conditions.    Stella Maris is, therefore, very relevant to the national development goals of the country.

Commenting on the theme of this year’s graduation, “Partnering with the Private Sector: A Catalyst for Providing   Quality Education,” the Liberian leader said it is equally central to the reconstruction and development program.    “When we set out, a few years ago, to attempt to purge bloated public service, our aim was to reduce the public sector and expand the private sector, which remains the driving force of any economy. A viable and potent private sector command creativity and competition from citizens and partners alike,” she added.

She however praised the Catholic Church for providing good health care delivery and education for the people of Liberia since February 1884 when the first Catholic Monrovia Mission was established. Over the years, the President recounted that the curriculum of the Catholic Education System (CES) has proven over time to be one of the best in the country, providing quality education to all.

President Sirleaf recalled that since 2003, Stella Maris has been a shining example in quality education and practical training for application to our current national situation. “We are proud of your achievement. We have no doubt that all of you sitting there today will accept your profession and will move on to build a better Liberia”.

The President, also an educator, reminded the audience that the responsibility for acquiring a quality education also rests with students and with parents because no matter the investment in education, they must be willing to utilize it to the fullest.

She added that the youth, who comprise over 60 percent of the country’s population, must demonstrate a desire and willingness to prepare themselves for the future. This endeavor, she pointed out, must also claim the attention of parents, guardians and supporters if everyone is to succeed in the goals that are set.

“We need and want positive attributes in our educational system. We want schools, cities, towns and even counties to compete in producing the best students. We want our young people to rely on their ability and their brain in facing academic challenges and not circumventing the system. We want school administrators and teachers to uphold their dignity and integrity by teaching our young people self-reliance, self-esteem and confidence,” President Sirleaf said.

Still commenting on the importance of education, President Sirleaf said  there is no quick fix to the crisis in public education but acknowledged that her government concentrated, in the early years, on enrolment because it wanted to get the children off the farms, out of the markets, from the roads and get them into schools. “We did that, and enrolment throughout the country quadrupled. The problem, we found subsequently, was that the quality of education did not measure up”.

“The results of the UL exams clearly attest to this and tell us now we must address that with all that we have so that we have other graduating students like the ones here today at Stella Maris graduating with the right education and a preparedness to go on into their professional life.

If only we had the resources that are required, we would populate the school system with the best qualified teachers.    We would continue to bring in more and more of our partners such as the Peace Corps that are now teaching at Tubman University and teaching in our Teacher Training Institutes and the Nigerians who are also serving throughout many of our counties. But we also want to recognize the many who are here sitting in this audience, who have come and given their time, who have been able to make Stella Maris what it is today, ” the Liberian leader said.

“To the Graduating Class of 2013 – all 509 of you – I say: Go out with pride. You and your parents and supporters chose the difficult but correct path to quality education – an investment in a professional future. Utilize your knowledge well, for yourself and for your country. It is one thing to acquire an education; it is a totally different ballgame to apply the knowledge acquired to positive and beneficial use,” the President concluded.

In a brief remark, the Archbishop of Monrovia, His Grace Lewis Jerome Zeigler lauded President Sirleaf for efforts in transforming the country. He also praised the staff and faculty of Stella Maris Polytechnic for the commitment they have exhibited in providing quality education to the young people of Liberia.

Archbishop Zeigler then paid tribute to the late Archbishop emeritus Michael K. Francis for being the founder of the Stella Maris Polytechnic and a fearless and tough preacher against the abuse of fundamental human rights.

Stella Maris is owned and operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia. The aim of the institution is to develop operational skills as well as scholarship.

The Polytechnic currently comprises five colleges which is the outgrowth of the Arthur Barclay Technical Institute (ABTI). The colleges are the Arthur Barclay Business College, Bishop John Collins Teachers College, Mother Patern College of Health Sciences, Monsignor Stephen Kyne Technical College and the Monsignor John Oge College of Agriculture.