26 February 2013

Liberia: Educational System Must Empower Learners


Considering the irrefutable fact that education holds the key to the development of any nation, including Liberia, it was unsurprising when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in near lamentation over the poor performance of the education sector in this country, silenced applauses at the Liberia Development Alliance retreat over the weekend with the bombshell: "My thinking is education is a big mess that needs a total overhaul."

Whenever economists seek why education makes a difference, empowerment is the usual answer that flashes out. No doubt Nelson Mandela once described education as "the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world.

President Sirleaf, being amongst Africa's political leaders that really understand the critical importance of education for the future of these countries and for the hopes of their children, wants a total overhaul for the national educational system, which she often criticized for not targeting development needs of the country.

Liberia is amongst African countries facing the epidemic of youth unemployment, which experts warn could convert our teeming youthful population from an economic opportunity into a demographic time bomb.

Africans found in any poor rural village or urban slum share the view that education has the capacity to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

And, desperately poor and vulnerable people across the region rightly see education as a pathway out of poverty for their children.

President Sirleaf, who is in a hurry to restore and build a system that will catapult Liberia to catch up with middle-income nations by 2030, has worries galore that things are moving too slowly in almost all spheres of development.

Relying on facts that one additional year of schooling in a poor country can add 10 percent to a person's income; children of educated mothers are more likely to be inoculated against childhood diseases, she gets annoyed seeing education incapable of inducing the performance of these tasks.

The holders of terminal degrees in education placed in charge of national education disappointed the President by producing hallowed plans they said could revamp the education system. But non-implementation caused their downfall, thus continuously reverting to the drawing board.

It becomes alarming when less than 2 percent of high school graduates fail to enter division two in WAEC, while 3 students and 1 graduate as engineers and medical doctor, respectively, amongst nearly 2,000 candidates put by the University of Liberia last December.

Bluntly stated, our education system is failing our children, and the mushrooming of colleges in Monrovia and the counties, no doubt, provides a recipe for putting out many diploma holders without life skills empowering them for sustainability.

The President critiqued many government agencies including the education ministry, but some experts have warned African governments against viewing the education crisis as a problem for education ministries.

In today's knowledge-based global economy, education failures affect every section of society by undermining economic growth and reinforcing social inequalities. They deprive young people of jobs and hope, and industrialists of needed skilled work force.

Finance ministers who believe that growth performance by their countries can be sustained just through sound macroeconomics, incentives for investment, and spending on infrastructure, they must study the examples of South Korea that built economic growth on education.

Growth prospects in Liberia will be determined not by our natural resources, but by our human resources that will properly manage them with equity. The bottom line is: quality education today is the springboard for tomorrow's economic growth and shared prosperity.

What children are able to achieve in education should depend on their effort and abilities, not on whether their parents are rich or poor, on whether they are rural or urban, or in which part of a country they live.

It is time to get serious not just about getting kids into school, but about making sure they have textbooks, equipment and teachers equipped to help them learn in school.

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