By Hester Williams Catakaw
This is the worst and best time for education in Liberia. This is the worst time because the Ebola Virus has infected so many people that all of our schools and learning facilities have all closed. Our school system has come to a standstill in Liberia.
We can use this worst time in education to begin our best time in education. Let us use this time to put things in the right perspective and plan for a dynamic educational program for Liberia.
I have spoken with so many people on this aspect of decentralization. We must decentralize education in Liberia flow! One hundred and sixty seven (167) years of centralized education in Liberia has not worked. Consult with the Executive Branch of government and begin your legislation through the House of Representatives, to establish county school system. You already have your school boards in each county, and the county development fund. This is the best time to begin the decentralization process for education, which will include your teachers’ housing project, building your technical schools, and other learning facilities in each county. The Ministry of Education can limit herself to policies, teachers’ standard, national curriculum, textbooks, and other issues. We cannot sit in Monrovia and expect to supervise our schools. This is impossible.
The next issue concerns the early childhood education. I am on record since zoo8 telling colleagues and stakeholders that the early childhood program is not a mandate of the Ministry of Education and should not be at the Education Ministry. Our schools’ census tells us that over fifty percent of children in Liberia are under twelve (12) years old. This information should tell you how important the early childhood education should be to Liberia.
Many of our young people are having children without any clue on how to raise them. This is one reason why the early childhood education should be given an autonomous status to be able to respond to the needs of our children. Establish a bureau for early childhood education in Liberia. This bureau will come up with a strong family program of parenting skills and other family virtues in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development providing the family component, the Ministry of Justice providing the human rights component, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare responsible for the growth and nutrition component and the Ministry of Education providing the cognitive component of reading and writing.
The early childhood education is a cross cutting one, that needs all hands on board to provide strong foundational skills for young children. All of these Ministries can put a small amount of money in their individual budgets. When you combine all, and add what your partners in education contribute, the early childhood program will be well supported. We must prepare a new breed of Liberians, who are patriotic and well-grounded in education.
The next issue is agriculture. We already have our Agriculture Curriculum. Let us insist that every school must teach agriculture. Make teaching agriculture compulsory in the junior and senior high schools. Schools can begin with planting in old cups, buckets, or wooden boxes for various kinds of plants, until they can start their school garden or farm. We must begin our agriculture education. No matter how much gold, diamond, or oil you have, if you cannot Feed yourself, you are wasting your time.
The Liberian Language program was piloted in 2009 in some selected schools, in partnership with LIBTRALO. We must continue the Liberian Language Program. We need a language that will hold us together, use a language that is widely spoken in the country. For us in Monrovia, our schools are teaching Bassa, because you hear Bassa being spoken almost everywhere in Montserrado County. You already have the curriculum for all of the Liberian Languages, use them. This is the time.
Look at your National Curriculum; it is still not harmonized with the West Africa Secondary Schools Certificate Exams (WASSCE). You did not complete the piloting phase of the curriculum. The last minister simply printed copies and circulated the curriculum without proper feedback and input.
The curriculum is your most important tool. It is your program. Without a strong relevant program or curriculum, you have nothing to show. What are the schools really teaching?
When we get a strong curriculum, then we can begin the textbooks based on the content of the curriculum.
This is the time to begin the decentralization of education in Liberia. Each county must have their school system. We should not mix politics with education. Let us use our worst time to bring out our best.