17 July 2018

Liberia: The Ministry of Education Should Stop Making Policies On the Fly and Arbitrarily Overturning Its Own Rules and Regulations

The Ministry of Education's abrupt overturn of its regulations barring graduation exercises for 12th grade school leavers before the official release of exam results, or for those who failed the WASSCE but passed in their respective schools, have left the public in disbelief wondering just what to make of the Ministry's flouting of its own rules even after it had penalized some school authorities allegedly for violating the rules.

The Ministry's latest action lends strong credence to criticisms by school authorities and other stakeholders that the Education Ministry makes policies on the fly and it does so not through circulars and written directives but rather through radio announcements and newspaper advertisements.

For the past months, the Education Ministry has aired repeated announcements warning school authorities to desist from holding Grade 12 graduation exercises before the official release of the exams results or allowing students who failed the WASSCE to graduate even if they made a pass in their regular school work.

A case in point is that involving the Ministry's recent shut down of the Levi School Williams School System's closing exercises during the observance of its 25th anniversary program. Included in the program were graduation exercises for Kindergarten and 6th grade students (elementary school).

From available evidence, the Levi Williams School System has performed excellently in the WASSCE since its students began sitting the exams. According to the records, students of the Levi School Williams School System have scored a 100 percent pass in the exams since its first group of students sat the exams and has continued to perform to par.

Moreover, according to the records, on not a single occasion since its establishment has the Levi Williams School System been found in violation of the Ministry's rules and regulations and has in fact been a cooperative and reliable partner. Its founder and proprietress, Hester Williams Catakaw, had once served stints as Superintendent of the Monrovia Consolidated School System and Deputy Minister of Education.

This indicates that Education Ministry authorities and those of the Levi C. Williams School System did have a relationship both official and unofficial. And it is in this regard, according to our information, that the school authorities informed Education Ministry officials about its impending anniversary and closing exercises and assured them that graduation exercises were planned only for the Kindergarten and elementary school leavers.

What should have been a happy occasion for parents, well-wishers and school authorities alike, turned sour when suddenly and without warning, two top officials of the Ministry of Education showed up at the program not to share in the joy of the occasion but rather to smother it with a shutdown order, leaving everyone present in awe at such unwarranted display of naked power.

But success, it is said, often breeds complacency. However, in the face of available evidence, it can hardly be argued that school Proprietress, Hester Williams Catakaw, was perhaps drunk on the sweet nectar of success, and had become complacent to the point where she virtually ignored the Ministry's directives.

To the contrary, and from all appearances, 25 years of existence, the establishment of a school farm and active plans underway to expand, complacency certainly cannot be attributed to this enterprising and dedicated Liberian female educator.

As time has proven and as the evidence now shows, the action taken by Education officials against the Levi C. Williams School System to bar its anniversary and closing exercises was done for ulterior selfish motives.

If not, then how can the Ministry officials explain that in the wake of their public display of naked power, the Ministry has abruptly side-stepped and overturned its own rules? What message is the Ministry sending by abruptly overturning its rules and allowing students who fail the WASSCE to graduate from their respective schools?

Could the Ministry's decision have been influenced by pressure from above, by hopes of pecuniary gain, or just what? In similar fashion has the Ministry also overturned its rules on the length of time students are expected to spend in school daily.

For example, the Ministry's recent but sudden change of its rules requiring students to spend up to 7 hours rather than the usual 5 ½ hours daily, for example, directly affects the ability of school authorities to conduct afternoon sessions without impinging on the ability of public schools to conduct night sessions.

Another example is that of the Ministry's ever-changing posture on the opening and closing of schools. In one instance, school authorities are required to open school in September and close in June. Yet, schools are required to run sessions up to July for unexplained reasons far removed from completion of the curriculum.

Liberia's education system was once described by former President Sirleaf as a "MESS". Arguably, at the time President Sirleaf completed high school, in 1955, the country's education system was not in such peril as it is today. Sadly, she left the system much like she described it.

Recent results of the West Afrcan exams, in which Liberian students failed en masse, attest to the enormous challenges facing the country's education system and its very future. In this regard, the urgency for the Ministry of Education to up its game cannot be overemphasized.

It must play a leading and guiding role. Beyond that it should stop the practice of adopting policies, rules and regulations which it has no intention to honor and respect. It should encourage open and free flowing information between policy makers and operatives in the field, especially District and County Education officers who are too often left to their own devices, much to the detriment of students in particular and the education system in general.

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