The future of Liberian children compromised

Kai Toteh | October 3, 2013

This week INSIGHT Newspaper published images that painted a grim picture about the future leaders of Liberia – children and the perpetuation of poor standard of Liberia’s education that risk comprising their future. Liberians who saw and read the paper about school children sitting on pieces of concrete blocks, car batteries, crossed planks, and other makeshift seats were not surprised, and authorities at the Ministry of Education were not surprised, too.

The reason why those who saw and read the story are not surprised is the standard of Liberia’s education, is because it is on record for being neglected to the lowest measure.

On the other hand, there are lots of surprises about the images in the October 1, 2013 edition of INSIGHT. The surprise is if foreign dignitaries went to West Point and saw school children ages between four and 15 sitting on pieces of block, car batteries and crossed planks, and confronted authorities at the Ministry of Education, Education Ministry’s authorities would say they are surprised such a school is in the nation’s capital.

Second surprise is there could be hundreds of such schools in Monrovia that we don’t know about. The reporter, who captured this Stone Age school house, did not know such exists until he came across it while on his way to do another story on Liberia’s Fishing Industry.

Third surprise is teachers at that school told the reporter that they have been soliciting subsidy from government to improve the school, but government does not pay attention to their request.

Then here comes the fourth surprise. What about inspection of schools in Monrovia. It is a surprise government does not know some schools exist, and they are not supposed to exist; or if they must exist such as the school in question here, it must be the concern of the government to do something.

The fifth surprise is how pitiful it is to see children sit in such makeshift structure and at the same time sit on pieces of cement blocks, crossed planks, car batteries for seats.

After the fifth surprise, there could be many surprises outside of Monrovia. There have been reports about hundreds of Stone Age schools in the rural areas and even in the outskirt of Monrovia, especially schools that children and beginners attend.

This is what the opening paragraph suggests “Liberians who saw and read the paper about school children sitting on pieces of concrete blocks, car batteries, crossed planks, etc were not surprised, and authorities at the Ministry of Education were not surprised, too.”

Now, the last surprise is we listen to, write and read hundreds of speeches every day by educated people including government officials, NGOs, diplomats, opinion leaders, activist and human rights advocates concerning education.

The repeating themes in these speeches are “Education breeds successful leaders;” “Education is the foundation of the nation;” “The future of a nation depends on quality education;” etc.

But how sincere and practical are these speeches is the question everyone would want to ask; and the answer is hard to utter.

Besides sub-standard schools around Monrovia and in rural Liberia, there are overcrowded public schools in Monrovia. The overcrowded public schools carry thousands of students with about 125 or more students in a class.

According to investigation, there are two basic reasons public schools are overcrowded. The population of young people in Monrovia is enormous, and there is a small number of public schools in Monrovia. Private schools are so expensive that poor people cannot afford to send their children there.

Given the conditions at and scarcity of public schools, private schools keep raising their tuitions and other fees. Some individuals take advantage of the weaknesses of authorities at the Ministry of Education to monitor the educational system by conducting nationwide inspection of all schools.

Now the report is out concerning children schooling in a zinc shack and sitting on pieces of cement block, crossed planks and car batteries. Authorities at the Education Ministry got copies of INSGHT’s October 1, 2013 edition. I hope they did not only read the paper but should also act on what was reported.

In her lecture delivered at the United Nations University for Peace, in San José, Costa Rica, Liberian leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, speaking on the theme, “The Role of Peace in Youth Empowerment” said, “We know that to maintain the peace, we must make education and empowerment of our youth a paramount commitment of governance.”

The foregoing speech was well said, but like I said earlier, saying something is one thing and acting on what we say is not just another thing but very indispensable. And if we must be taken seriously by outsiders who wish us well in our national recovery effort, we should stop making empty speeches regarding youth and education.

The president delivered a one-page speech in San José, Costa Rica, concerning education and youth empowerment. In fact, speaking of education and empowerment is redundant, because when you are giving a child a quality education, you are empowering that child already.

Liberia’s children deserve better!

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