Lewis Browne Writes House Plenary

The Information Minister, Lewis Brown, has reminded the House of Representatives that presently the main issue before the conscience of the nation is the quality of education to which the Liberian children are currently exposed.

Minister Brown said, “It is noticed that during these disagreements, the focus often slips from what matters the most to all of us; to what matters the most for some of us including the narrower interests of our political affiliations.”

In a letter addressed to plenary yesterday, the Information Minister rubbished assertions made by Representatives Solomon George that the Minister of Education had recruited him in what amounts to an orchestration to diminish the role of the National Legislature and thereby set that august body for public humiliation and a grand design to castrate that body of its constitutional responsibilities.

He explained that the settled position of the Liberian Government on its continued commitment to the foundational Doctrine of the Separation of Powers to the extent that the Liberian President can no longer instruct the Chief Clerk of the House to undertake what is a function reserved for the Legislature just as the Legislature cannot directly instruct agents of the Executive to perform Executive functions was pronounced based on the fact that the constitutional limitation does not diminish the role of a Branch of the government.

He said Liberia’s problems are myriad and that the announced reforms are not proposing to resolve all of them at once therefore government needs to summon a combination of passion, reason, resources and creativity to urgently wade through and overcome these difficulties adding, “We simply cannot resign ourselves to essentially doing nothing.”

See full text below:

MICAT/LGBII/97/’015/RL

July 6, 2015

Madam Chief Clerk:

I acknowledge receipt of yours conveying an invitation to appear before the full Plenary on Tuesday, July 7, at 10am based on a communication from a member.

In his communication, Representative Solomon C. George asserts “…it was therefore astonishing for the Minister of Education to recruit the Minister of Information in what amounts to an orchestration to diminish the role of the National Legislature in the governance of our country, and thereby set this Honorable Body for public humiliation, in a grand design to castrate this body of its constitutional responsibilities.” (Emphasis mine) Please permit the following for ease of reference and the record:

On Claims of Orchestration to Diminish the Role of the Legislature

The roles of the various Branches of the Liberian Government are firmly established by the Constitution.Unarguably, since 2006, respect forthese roles have improved so much so that today, where it was once thought that the totality of power and leadership resided only in the Presidency, the Legislative and Judicial Domainshave become relatively enviable places for the independent exercise of theseparated but coordinated powers of the Liberian State as was intended.

At the MICAT Press Briefing to which the Representative referred, we pronounced the settled position of the Liberian Government on our continued commitment to the foundational Doctrine of the Separation of Powers to the extent that the Liberian President can no longer instruct the Chief Clerk of the House to undertake what is a function reserved for the Legislature just as the Legislature cannot directly instruct agents of the Executive to perform Executive functions. This constitutionallimitationdoes not diminish the role of a Branch of the government.

It rather upholds and protects the triaspolitica from possible abuse and tyranny to which our human nature may be prone.

Lest we forget, back in 1788, as the world’s newly-established Republican form of government struggled with similar teething challenges, in Federalist 51, James Madison urged America against the accumulation of all powers, Legislative, Executive and Judicial in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective. He pronounced such accumulation as the “very definition of tyranny” which young democracies such as ours must always avoid if we are to thrive.This was the essence of our public pronouncement.

On Setting the Honorable Body for Public Humiliation

I can do no such thing. However, itis I – and I daresay some members of the Cabinet – who have been at the receiving end of repeated public derisions from some members of the Legislature. We have been publicly ordered to come in for tutoring; we have been invited, summoned, cited, humiliated anddisdainfully instructed and dismissed via public broadcasts; andwe have been entreated with contempt as if we do not know what we are doing nor do we ‘care enough’ about our people.

At the Ministry of Information, against our best wishes but as a duty, I and my colleagues are oftencompelled to address public rebukes or unfair criticisms of the government from within the governmentespecially from some members of the Legislature. Often these public rebukes and criticismsseek to wrongly impress the public that the government does not comprise three branches or that as members of the same government, we lack the means of shedding our individual or group disagreements through available channels, leadership meetings and consultations without seeking to publicly bash the government of which we are a part.

By these actions, we often leave an already historically suspicious public even more distrusting of the actions and intentions of their government of which we are all ranking members. This culminates into an increase in the inherited trust deficit between the governed and the governorsespecially at a time when for the important purposes of enrolling the governed into the ongoing processes of change and development, we desperately need to bridge as opposed to widen thishistorical gap.

Unfortunately, we have seen that during these disagreements, the focus often slips from what matters the most to all of us to what matters the most for some of us including the narrower interests of our political affiliations.

While these are unwelcomed developments, we entreat them as maturation challenges of the new democratic governance model which can be overcome because beyond the remarkable divisions of the powers of the state, an added genius of the Republican form of government is in the shared duty to consult upon our common good as well as coordinate our activities in such a manner that in the exercise of the three appropriated powers of the state, our people derive maximum benefits and security in freedoms and liberties.

Of course these consultations and coordination need not be arbitrary or provocative. The orderly manner and form for such interactions are established by law and by long-held practices. Our adherence thereto will ensure that wemay disagree without permitting our disagreements to obscure and compromise the best interests of the governed, increase the trust deficit, or recreate an unnecessary imbalance in the tripod architecture of the government.

On Grand Design to Castrate the House of its Constitutional Responsibilities

I assure you that no “grand design” exists or is being planned to “castrate this Body of its constitutional responsibilities”. However, from time to time, by the nature and intent of the construct of the triaspoliticatensions especially between the Legislative and Executive Branches are bound to arise. Such tensions ought not to be perceived asnecessarily presenting moments for ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. We are urged toembrace these moments to be constructive and contributory because such tensions can serve to remind all of intended limitations –strengthening the governance system of check and balance, promoting the democratic health of a nation,and securing cherished freedoms and liberties by which the values of citizenship areenhanced.

And so whenever we publicly posit, like we did in the referenced Press Briefing that our nation has arrived at a teaching moment, we do not do so in jest or in intended disrespect.We do so in honest celebration of the arrival of yet another opportunity to challenge ourselves into becomingbetter.

We are often reminded that the enviable American democracy which we greatlyadmire was built on the foundations of many years of such tensions as well as the courage in leadership to fashiondisagreements into the continuous search for “a more Perfect Union”. We can do the same by permitting such political and constitutional tensions to enable our reasoning through theongoing political transformation and rededicate ourselves to strengthening the foundations of our own governance model so that it remains enduring and responsive to the needs and aspirations of all Liberians.

Madam Chief Clerk,important as I believe them to be, so far, I have belabored you and the Plenary with clarifications aboutthe ancillary issues arising out of the main. The main issue before the conscience of the nation is the quality of education to which our children are currently exposed. In some places far removed from Monrovia, the available evidence is that the educational system has nearly collapsed.

This is not to suggest that nothing has been done in the educational system. A lot has been done: Amongst others, we have built more schools; enrolments including of girls have increased; year on year, we have increased budgetary support; teacher training programs have been revived; technical vocational training centers and programs are operational; across the country, community colleges are complementing tertiary education; early childhood learning and development established in many counties; and a new and improved curriculum developed. However, the truth still is that we still have some ways to go to ready our children to compete for opportunities at home and abroad.

Like many Liberians, I am deeply passionate – and some have misconstrued my passion for ‘belligerence’ – that we simply cannot continue to roll out our children who are agreeably unprepared not necessarily because they lack the required mental aptitude but because amongst other things, they especially lack the basics for their learning needs. The choice of essentially doing nothing to change this is misleading. I know that to change requires courage and will be difficult. But change we must.

Undoubtedly, the change we seek will burden us with costs that we must together share because the alternative of bringing up uneducated children – of leaving many especially in rural communities so far behind – willbe a higher cost for all of society to unavoidably bear. This is why I am deeply persuaded by the announced reforms in the educational system.At the very least, it attempts to do some right things, right. We do not believe the reforms to be perfect nor are we naïve to believe that they will get us the quality we desperately need in the remaining years of the administration.

However, we strongly believe the announced reforms will establish stronger foundations upon which we can begin to catch up and to build in a way that we leave no child behind.The reform measures and interventions will give all of our children a fairer chance to compete and succeed in their educational sojourn.

Here is why. Firstly, reacting to the over six-month absence of our children from school caused by the Ebola outbreak, we returned our school calendar to the March to November cycle. This, again, placed many of the school days in the rainy season which is proving to be getting heavier. Comparatively, for Monrovia and many of our urban areas, children and teachers can reach their schools blessed by proximity and public transport.

However, the same is not true for our children in rural communities. The heavy downpour has caused further disruptions to classes as both teachers and students cannot make it to the learning centers. In some places like Maryland, the roofs have collapsed under the weight of the rains and our children are mushroomed in places that are obviouslyunconducive for learning.

By ending this calendar around July 31, we can prepare to return to the pre-Ebola calendar beginning September 7 which will put more school days in the dry season of up to 210 for basic primary and secondary and up to 220 for early childhood development. During the current post-Ebola calendar, the maximum allowable school days range from 140 to 160. In rural communities, on account of the rains, these figures may drop to as low as under 100 real school days creating an unfair state of readiness for rural children all of whom are our responsibilities to educate.

Running the current post-Ebola school calendar beyond July 31 could do two things. Firstly, it could subtract from the lengthened days of the new school year of up to 220. We are lengthening so as to afford a catchup guided by the wisdom that he who is behind must run faster than those ahead. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we risk not completing the needed interventions to be made by the Ministry of Education and its partners so that we do not begin the new school year just as we ended the old – without the required interventions to improve the new. The Ministry and its partners will need the break to fix some of the things including damaged roofs and chairs that are crying out for our urgent attention.

What are the interventions to be made between July 31 and September 7 to ensure that we reopen schools with increased possibility to improve the quality of education provided to our children? Here are the deliverables the Ministry of Education announced it can achieve during the break:

  1. Books For All Students
  2. Distribute one million textbooks for Grades 5-9 in the core subjects of Math, Science, Social Studies and English for public schools
  3. Distribute 1.3 million Supplementary readers for Grades 1-4 nationwide to all public basic education schools
  4. Distribute secondary textbooks to all public schools for Grades 10-12 in core subjects of Math, English, Economics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry expected to arrive in the country by October 2015
  5. Additional Training To Support Our Teachers
  6. Train four thousand teachers in public schools in the use of the textbooks and associated curriculum
  7. Work with LTTP to run cluster workshops for teachers from some schools in selected counties
  8. Work with LTTP to run some workshops on reading for Grades 4-6
  9. Work with LTTP to run some continuous professional development workshops
  10. Other Learning Resources For Students
  11. Provide a variety of instructional materials (globes, geometry sets, science posters, magnets and instructional materials) to public basic education schools
  12. Work with UNICEF to provide 700,000 teaching and learning kits to schools across Liberia benefiting over 750,000 children and about 44,000 teachers in 4,460 schools
  13. Science Clubs: Great Teaching By Subject Specialists
  14. Science Clubs in all public basic and secondary schools will be initiated and conducted every Saturday beginning October 2015 for Grades 9 and 12
  15. Subject (Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Reading Comprehension and Writing) specialists from WAEC will develop aptitude tests for nearly 400 newly-recruited teachers who will teach in the Saturday Clubs which will be opened to all students, public and non-public
  16. WASH Facilities Improved
  17. With donor partners, visit, validate and implement the WinS project in all county and school districts
  18. Address Payroll Issues
  19. Completing the vetting and payment for private school teachers and staff
  20. Work with the Civil Service Agency, USAID and LIBTELCO to close the supplementary payroll for teachers and develop legal and procedural links to identify and pay the right teachers, principals, CEOs and DEOs
  21. Improvements To School Buildings And Facilities
  22. Renovate 259 schools
  23. Complete a comprehensive assessment for schools needing repairs and generate information for desks and chairs to identify actual need for country-based interventions
  24. Deployment of Math and Science Teachers To Rural Communities
  25. Seek support for the deployment of Math and Science Teachers in rural communities through the provision of additional incentives
  26. Prepare to deploy at least 24 Math and Science Teachers into rural communities through the kind courtesy of the Nigerian Government

As part of the reform measures announced, the Ministry of Education has also directed and taken action to postpone the West African Examination Council (WAEC) administered exams from October this year to May of next year. This may seem tough but we believe it to be realistic because the numbers do not lie. Recently, we experienced massive failures in the matriculation examinationstothe University of Liberia. This is compounded by a fifty-three percent failure rate in the WAEC Exams between 2013 and 2014.

If we are to represent the WAEC results in graphic terms, it would be that close to six of every ten students who sat the WAEC Exams in 2013/14 failed. In Grand Kru County for instance, the three existing high schools enrolled a total of 127 students in the WAEC Exams. Not a single student passed! Notwithstanding everything we continue to do, nothing defines the President’s descriptive of the educational system more than this chillingly sobering fact. And nothing should awaken us to the urgency of acting now more than this.

Of course the problems are myriad. The announced reforms are not proposing to resolve all of them at once. However, with continuous shortened school days especially in rural communities like Grand Kru coupled with the prevailingly acute shortages of math and science teachers as well as the lack of learning tools; how can we possibly enroll our children in the WAEC Exams in October of this year and reasonably expect better results?

Lest we forget, not only are performances on these and other scholastic tests the true measure of an educational system but also each student’s failure – whether that child resides in Montserrado or Grand Kru – is a failure of the government, the school administrators, the parents and the teachers. This is why I believe we need to summon a combination of passion, reason, resources and creativity to urgently wade through and overcome these difficulties. We simply cannot resign ourselves to essentially doing nothing.

The other issues which have provoked understandable concerns are the issues of promotions and reimbursements of tuitions and fees already paid by struggling parents and self-supported students.We do not pretend that this is easy or that a ‘perfect’ solution exists if perfection is defined, constrained as we are for resources but feeling the need to act urgently, to be a solution with which all will readily agree. But we also know that for the sake of our children, some of whom are paradoxically abandoning their schools and taking to the streets demanding to go to school, we must not sacrifice the good for the ‘perfect’.

And so the Ministry of Education has announced that as has always been done, promotions will remain within the province of the schools which will determine who may or may not be promotedbased on the learning objectives and outcomes achieved. Only students in both 9th and 12th grades who evidently need additional time to exhaust and prepare for the WAEC Exams cannot be the targets for such promotions. They have also announced that all students will be credited for their WAEC fees paid.

Notwithstanding the announcement of these decisions, the President is undertaking series of consultations with various stakeholders to further explore a “win-win” solution.

The harsh truth still is that in lieu of the quality in education that we urgently seek and our children rightly deserve,the cost is priming to be progressive on the government, school authorities and parents.By this I mean, as the quality improves, so eventually will the associated costs. There will be the cost of longer days; the cost of Saturday classes; the cost of integrating technology as a modern learning tool; the cost of libraries and science laboratories; the cost of incentivizing math and science teachers to move to rural communities; the cost of field trips to give our children the benefit of experiential learning; the cost of repairs; and we know the salaries of private and public school teachers will not be rolled back on account of payments made to the schools in the previous year. When one contemplates these costs, it truly tempts one to believe we are being presented with a disincentive to act, if not a reason not to act now to change this course.

Difficult as these costs are to bear now and in the foreseeable future, were we to avoid doing the right things because the costs are high, the future costs to the society of living withuneducated or half-educated citizensmay outweigh any costs we may have to bear today. In our homes and offices, either because of the years of neglect or because of the interruptions of the war and other civil disruptions, the evidence abounds that we will collectively pay higherpricesforleavingmany of our children behind. As we continue to see, thisthreatens the security of families and the entire society rising to become a real threat to national security. We should strive toavoidthis as best as we collectively can.

Madam Chief Clerk, on the much-needed reforms in the educational system, these are the profound issues the Liberian Cabinet considered and we have endeavored to articulate. I can only urge that we faithfully answer what truly is a solemn call to leadership on a compelling moral question and a national security imperative. I offer no pretense that it is easy. But I know it can be done, and that it must be done.

Faithfully,

Lewis G. Brown, II

 

Madam Mildred N. Sayon

Chief Clerk

The House of Representatives

Capitol Building

Republic of Liberia

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