President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says education, and decentralizing it, remains the centerpiece and priority of her administration. "Our aim is to make sure that all the other counties will also have their community colleges where students do not have to leave their hometown if they do not want to," she said adding, "That's the objective of this government, and we call on everybody to support this. Already, there are six community colleges all over the country that are now operational and functional."
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the remarks at the formal dedication of the David A. Straz, Jr.-Sinji Technical and Vocational College of the University of Liberia, situated in Garwula District, Grand Cape Mount County.
The Liberian leader indicated that although Montserrado County is hosting Liberia's 165th Independence Anniversary, where development projects are usually dedicated during this period, it was proper and befitting that the College, though situated in Grand Cape Mount County, be dedicated during this period since the philanthropist who provided most of the funding for its rehabilitation and construction, Ambassador David Straz, Jr., also Liberia's Honorary Consul General to Florida, in the United States, is a guest at this year's Independence Day celebration. The College is expected to open its doors in September.
President Sirleaf recalled that, three years ago, they broke ground at the College, realizing the importance to have a center of learning to provide technical and vocational skills for young people - people who are thirsty for knowledge and want an opportunity to participate in the reconstruction of the country.
She thanked the people of Grand Cape Mount County for providing the 1,000 acres of land on which the facility is situated, and those who assisted during the period the facilities were being constructed.
President Sirleaf, however, warned that with the abundance of land given the institution, it must feed itself. "Our subsidy to boarding institutions will be based upon their ability to become self-sufficient, particularly in food." She noted that the Cape Mount is known as a "book" county, but that the people there "don't make farms."
The Liberian leader appealed to the international community to contribute to the College, but urged Liberians to take their destiny in their own hands by taking primary responsibility for their own development. "I call upon some of our foreign friends, but they are just secondary; we will have to do it for ourselves," she said.
In his remarks, philanthropist Straz said he was proud to have been able to contribute to a project where youth would acquire both the skills needed to attain meaningful employment, as well as in subjects needed to continue on in the University of Liberia system if they decided. Mr. Straz, who spoke of his passion for education, said he was touched by all who came to share in this special day - "special for me, special for the county, and special for Liberia."
Speaking earlier, the President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, in presenting the initial phase of the David A. Straz, Jr.-Sinji Technical & Vocational Center, termed the dedication of the College as another milestone of President Sirleaf's administration towards education.
Dr. Dennis recounted that since his ascendancy as President of the University of Liberia, about three years ago, nearly all the infrastructure on both campuses has been renovated, including the construction of a brand new Fendell Campus. He said, "So much time, energy, goodwill and money have been invested in recovery as a nation. We must do everything necessary to guard our sacred cow", the Republic of Liberia.
Continuing, Dr, Dennis said that Mr. Straz donated the funds necessary to renovate the three original buildings - the Administrative Complex, Cafeteria and Library/Classroom Building; and that the Government had added the two dormitories (boys and girls), a powerhouse and the water tower. He noted the urgent need for a laboratory/classroom facility and another facility for skills development.
The University of Liberia President disclosed that the College, which will begin with an enrollment of nearly 500 students, will begin in two directions - one leading to an Associate Degree, and the other to a Certificate, but noted that all programs will be "demand driven."
For the first year, Certificate programs will include: Estate Management, Hospitality Management, and Computer Literacy. Each would go to the Associate Degree level in the near future.
Only three Associate Degree programs will be offered during the first year. They include: Agriculture (Agronomy and Animal Science), General Engineering, and Teacher's Education. "For all of these degree programs, entrepreneurship and ethics will form part of the curriculum," Dr. Dennis said. Students graduating with an AA Degree will have to take two and half years to complete the degree because nobody will graduate from there without a skill.
For the second year, for non-degree, the College hoped to include in the curriculum: Refined Carpentry, Plumbing, Auto-Mechanics, Electricity, Sculpture and Welding. "A student leaving Straz-Sinji must be employable, capable of opening a business or going on for a Bachelor's degree," Dr. Dennis said.
He emphasized that the College's academic programs will be the prerogative of the attending four-year college at the University. Admission requirements and tuition will be the same as at the University of Liberia, while students opting for residence in the dorms will pay a fee.
Before arriving at Sinji, President Sirleaf dedicated a 12-bedroom Health Center, Nurses' Quarters and a hand pump/water tower in Gbondoi, District No. 17, in Montserrado County. The President thanked all those who contributed to the project. The facility will provide medical support to about 30 towns in the area beginning August 1st.