Information seeping out of the University of Liberia Faculty Senate ahead of Academic Year 2016 has it that everything is being done to improve the standard of education offered at that tertiary institution. The first step in this direction as agreed in a resolution by academic dons at the close of 2014 was to embark on an unpretending stock taking.
It took the Faculty Senate no time to conclude that the overall quality of education at the University of Liberia is taking a downward trend. Professors and educationists were unanimous that the declining academic standard at the once acclaimed pioneering citadel of learning in Africa can be attributed to poor instructions in English. By extension this swipe laid the blame on the English Department of the Liberia College or College of Liberal Arts. English being the language of instruction in all subjects is a core course all students are obliged to pass, if they must proceed to matriculating in other professional studies. Above all, it is a rule, every applicant for admission to the University of Liberia as well as every student enrolled in the seven colleges, including the T. J. Faulkner College of Science and the College of Liberal Arts, must earn at least nine credit hours or three semesters of English to earn an undergraduate degree. In view of this prerequisite, the English Department has been venerated with a reputation for being the floodgate or bouncer against gate-crushers at the University of Liberia. Perhaps, this was what spurred some members at the all-important Faculty Senate meeting referred to supra to attribute the lapse in the performance of students at UL to the English Department. Of late, there has been massive failure in English at the UL entrance examinations. The trend forced the UL administration to lower the bar on passing grade in the entrance test from fifty to forty in 2013-2014, yet over 97 percent 20,000 candidates flunked. In spite of this good argument, it has rattled many alumnae of UL. A senior English instructor at the Lux InTenebris has been inflexibly defensive. In a discourse with a friend, he unreservedly rejected the notion that the fault lies with the English Department at UL. His argument turns the knife, noting that the root cause of the ‘messy’ education system is in the foundation. “Education is like climbing a ladder,” he said, adding a visual analogy that one must climb this ladder in gradient one step at a time. “Learning begins at the lower grades, to junior high and senior high. By the time a student enters a tertiary institution, he/ she should have learned the basics such as subjectverb agreements, the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs and so on. ” A close analysis of the performance rating at the University of Liberia entrance examinations in the past three years shows that something is fundamentally wrong with grade schools. But then, the poor performance of employees in professional areas, especially those requiring skills in the usage of English, suggests that the problems are beyond the remit of grade schools. How else could one explain the failure of broadcasters and print media journalists with bachelor degrees to speak and write grammatically correct English? Some frequently misused words such as lose or loss; why and while; straight and strict; sing, sang and sung etc. Imagine a journalist saying on radio: “The reason why I asked that question is because…” the sort of tautology that is offensive to the trained ears. There was a time a large number of Africans relied on the radio and read newspapers to learn standard and impeccable English. During the administrations of Tommy Raynes, Eustace Smith and Alhaji G. V. Kromah at the Liberia Broadcasting Corporation (ELBC), unforced errors in pronunciations on air attracted stiff penalties, the least being suspension from the airwaves. Some thriving print journalists might recall with relish the good old days when The Daily Observer’s Managing Director Kenneth Y. Best, in his prime was unforgiving with employees who crossed his redline by reporting misinformation and/or through negligence left errors in news scripts or feature pieces. Best’s application of the “hot stove rule” made many journalists who worked at the Observer Corporation sit up. Today, some of them are acclaimed as the best or most celebrated journalists and publishers in Liberia. Speaking English as it should is very important. As a lingua franca in Liberia, it is an indispensable tool for effective communication. In this strive, one does not have to as proficient as Ronald Reagan, who is notched in history as the “Great Communicator”. Yet, there can be no denying that messages are clearer in well-spoken English. It must be said that anyone who wants to speak good English must make efforts to do so. The thumb rule is to endeavor to listen to the best speakers and read the best writers.