Madam President, I Beg To Differ

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Few days ago, I was part of a forum of heads of media institutions to an interaction with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, prior to her departure to the United States to attend the ongoing World Bank Spring forum on post-Ebola reconstructive. As expected the President touched on a wide range of issues, including the GAC audit on the Ebola Trust Funds, the Liberian girls in Lebanon and the country’s educational system, which she once described as a “Mess.”

Following the interaction, the two major issues that formed major headlines and issues of discussion were that of the GAC audit to which she admittedly said there might have been procedural errors and also that of the Liberian girls in Lebanon, who it is reported were allegedly being used as sex slaves.

Although there were other issues, these two issues dominated all discussions. Of the two, I did a piece on the issue of “procedural errors” because I observed that many persons, including some of our media colleagues misinterpreted “procedural errors” as shielding alleged corrupt officials. That, I disagreed with and maintained that procedural errors in no way suggest shielding corrupt officials, and that those who misapplied, misused or embezzled Ebola funds MUST be made to account for them.

Interestingly, thinking that all was now done with on the President’s interaction, yesterday, while en route to work, I heard TRUTH FM highlighting a portion of the President’s interaction relating to the country’s educational system.

It is based on this, which has now been highlighted that I have decided to featurise this portion by disagreeing with the President on the issue of massive failure of students in the West African Examinations Council {WAEC) test and University of Liberia entrance exams.

The President at the time acknowledged the challenges facing the system, describing it as a “tough one,” as this was the “macrocosm of everything in the country,” and that her government was making every effort to “turn it around” for the better.

Giving reasons for these massive failures of students, the President attributed this to the lack of opportunity to engage in exam fraud and malpractices. She said because there was no room created to cheat or share information that led to these mass failures of students in WAEC test. The President then called on the public to lend support to the Education Minister-designate George Warner.

In all fairness and with due respect to Her Excellency, it is this reason given by the President about the constant failure of students whether in the university entrance exams or WAEC exams that I beg to differ with the Chief Executive of the country.

To say this also gives the impression that those who made successes in these public exams in the past, did so because of exam malpractices or fraud. There have always been systems or methods in place to guide against such malpractices or fraud. Although some people would always try to “beat the system,” these measures serve as deterrent.

For me, there is a general problem with the nation’s educational system that needs to be determined, analyzed and a practical solution found. Why students in the past did not fail massively as it is today? Is it because they were involved in malpractices or exam frauds? Or that the educational system was up to standard that prepared these students in the past to perform well?”

I ask these questions because I do not agree with the Chief for the reasons given for the mass failure. There are problems with the system. They include poor facilities, lack of trained and committed teachers, lack of incentives and the general institutionalization of mediocrity in the society, as well as poor learning environment, as was published recently with students sitting on the bare floor in Margibi County.

Besides, scholarship programs in the past that were based on excellence have been commercialized, as the higher bidder takes it, in some instances. At one time, I agreed with the President when she said that scholarships are for scholars, but nauseatingly, this is not the order of the day as scholarships are now for flunkies or ill-prepared people.

I support those who want a national forum to discuss the probes facing the nation’s educational system. People are not failing because there are no rooms to cheat or engage in other exam malpractices. They are failing because of the system; they are failing because they are not adequately prepared; they are failing because of the lack of supervision on the curriculum and that they are failing because an unqualified or ill-prepared teacher cannot produce a qualified or prepared student.

This nation cannot reap what it did not sow; if we sow mediocrity, definitely, we are bound to reap mediocrity; if we sow excellence, we are bound to reap excellence. This is simple logic, as it is said, one will reap what he or she sows. Therefore, there is as need to overhaul the educational system to adequately prepare students for future challenges such as WAEC or university entrances.

Certainly, I agree with the President that education is the “macrocosm of everything in the country,”   but disagree on the reasons given for the mass failure. There are challenges facing the students which MUST be addressed, or else, such massive failures would continue unabated.

Until we realize that the country’s educational system needs a surgical overhauling, I REST MY CASE.

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