President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says it is only through self-discipline that Liberian students will be able to build acceptable characters and achieve their career goals.
The Liberian leader gave the admonition while making extemporaneous remarks at the Monrovia City Hall, last Wednesday, during an occasion marking the 164th Celebration of the National Flag Day.
Hundreds of government officials, school authorities, student representatives, and representatives of civil society and international organizations attended the Wednesday celebration.
President Sirleaf told the gathering that discipline, whether self-applied or administered by authorized persons, was a sine qua non for the molding of a law-abiding and productive citizenry.
She said, “For your own progress, for your own future, for your own professionalism, some of those old standing habits, like respect for others, like preparing your lessons, by making sure you go to school on time, and in school, you [must] apply yourself with discipline.
“These are the things that build character. These are the things that set you up in a place where you will achieve what you want to in this world. Those are the things that will make you successful where you can compete, not only in Liberia, but anywhere in the world, and you can be what you want to be.”
She told the students, who had paraded through the principal streets of the capital and executed the annual Military Pass In Review at a military square in central Monrovia in observance of the national day, that without discipline, it would be difficult for students to achieve their lives’ goals.
She recalled how school authorities and parents cooperated and collaborated in molding the characters and career goals of students by ensuring that students attended classes daily and on time, performed their curricular and extra-curricular duties almost religiously, and regarded their parents, teachers, and older people with due deference.
Whether modern life and human rights demands have lowered those bars of discipline and student commitment to homes and schools, President Sirleaf did not say, perhaps wary of misinterpretation and criticism from child right advocates.
She however expressed nostalgia about the return of that level of discipline to the homes and the schools.
“I didn’t say we would do it, ooo... I didn’t tell them anything; I’m just talking about discipline,” she said in Liberian parlance.
Recalling a conversation that she had with President Seretse Khama Ian Kama of Botswana recently in which he told her that the Motswana government and education authorities were still practicing capital punishment and corporal discipline, in that order, President Sirleaf wondered whether it would be a bad idea to restore some of the methods of discipline of the 20th Century.
The president said as a high school student, her typical day began at 5:30 am with an almost constant itinerary.
She said it began with the making up of her bed followed by morning prayer, the filling of drums with water, and the sweeping the house and/or yard.
Upon getting to the school campus at 7:30 am, she told the mesmerized students and the nodding school authorities in attendance, she attended the required curricular and extra-curricular activities, returned home to lunch, home studies, dinner, more household chores, and bed.
She said the school, as well as her parents, monitored each step of her daily activities and that they applied the cane as they saw fit, whenever she breached the regulations.
Some modernists and child right advocates would call such discipline or corporal punishment “cruel” and “child abuse”, for reasons that some misguided individuals often apply it with ulterior motives; but the president said discipline has its values that the blind pursuit of rights might obscure.
“They have their own values – the opportunity to sit and talk. Some of those old-fashioned values, we need to bring them back. Those things made us strong, they really did. That is what got us where we are today,” she said.
Corporal punishment is officially outlawed in Liberian schools, even though some school authorities continue to apply it based on what one junior high school teacher called “last resort”.
Whether by saying “we need to bring them back” President was implying that her administration would consider restoring rigid discipline, including corporal punishment, in Liberian schools, observers say appears unlikely.
They say that raises another question crucial to the issue of widespread indiscipline in the Liberian schools and homes, “What exactly was the president’s reason for the discipline sermon?”
With widespread student indiscipline occupying the vacuum left by the ban on rigid discipline; with orphans or self-supported children making their ways into Liberian schools following 14 years of war; and with the rising incidence of poor student performance in public exams, analysts say it is time rights advocates and school authorities worked together to safeguard the future of the Liberian child.