Today, more than two decades after the civil conflict, Liberia’s education sector and systems remain broken down, a pale shadow of our prewar status. Besides the untold damage to school buildings, furniture and equipment, a lot of trained staff were either killed or forced to flee, thereby causing severe brain drain of experts in the field. As a result, the current government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirelaf inherited a broken education system, same as other sectors of the economy.
Fixing the Mess
Apart from the mass failures of our students in sub-regional examinations, the substandard level of our education system has become serious cause for alarm. President Sirleaf herself has said it. And by firing several of her education czars over the period of five years really spelled the seriousness of the “mess”.
Sirleaf’s latest education minister seems not to cut from the old school cloth. His actions have incited the wrath of school administrators and parents; like his adjusting school calendars around the country right after the Ebola crisis, his cancelling of WAEC exams and readjustment of the status of Ebola-era junior high school students into “4-G seniors”, and lately, calling on school teachers to undergo evaluation exams.
But all of these perceived maladjustments pale to Minister George Werner’s recent decision to introduce a Public Private Partnership scheme into our primary education system as a means of attacking the problem from the root.
Despite the huge outcry about the PPP project from local and international stakeholders, Werner has maintained that the system will eventually benefit Liberia.
The PPP program, Werner says, will explore opportunities in which private institutions can be contracted to “run primary and early childhood education schools on the performance basis and to also generate interest, advice and funding from partners for the proposed Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) for improved quality in primary and basic education.”
Contrary to public opinion that the Ministry of Education is relegating its statutory mandate of monitoring and supervising the education system to private owners, Werner and his deputies have debunked his critics that this is not the case.
“The government of Liberia does not have the resources, the expertise nor structures to routinely train all our 19,200 teachers. Partnership schools offer a model to change that. Partnership schools will employ existing government teachers but will harness the teacher training expertise and capacity present in the non-government sector to help improve government teachers”, says Deputy Education Minister for Administration Aagon Tingba.
Learning from the Best
The International Community College is a pre-secondary private school based in Accra, Ghana that runs the British curriculum. A Christian boarding school, ICC was established to provide quality education to all students in Ghana. The school has launched a Science Technology Engineering Art and Multimedia (STREAM) project base learning aimed at teaching students to come out with a product to solve problems.
Because of its innovative educational reach, the ICC Ghana experiment is becoming a model of change and success for West Africa’s education sector. “If we don’t change in the next 20 years, we will still be in poverty. To do that, we have to change our education sector,” says Richard Kwaku Dedzi, the ICC administrator, currently visiting Liberia to explore means of establishing branches in the country. According to Dedzi, ICC Ghana already has a Liberian student in its programs who is doing exceptionally well.
The Way Forward
For those of who have been exposed to our country’s prewar education system, I am really gung-ho for anything that means well for my children and the future of the children of my beloved country. If Werner and his team at the Ministry of Education will remain true to their innovative spirits and vision, they should continue thinking out of the box and encourage new ideas like the ICC that could complement Government’s effort at taking our messed up education system to a higher level.