On Education: my reflections and the ongoing summit

Education reform seems so simple but it is one of those areas you wouldn’t know where to start after examining the depth and reach of the problems. I don’t envy our colleagues who have been called to tackle this challenge.

The ongoing education summit is, no doubt, an exceptionally good thing and much needed. And I say this without trying to suggest that such submit has never been done before. I remember vividly that one such summit was at the Cuttington University campus a few years ago. However, due to the challenges that we face in education, there is always a need for the professionals to meet and try to figure out what we really need to do to fix this situation.

I remember raising a few issues about education when I sat around the table and I still believe those issues to be relevant today:

  1. ┬ábecause the challenges in the educational sector are systemic and structural, I have repeatedly caution against measuring the performance of those who manage our educational reform by the “next WAEC score.” I think it is unfair to them when we think they have failed simply because there was mass failure in WAEC. The fact is that, a minister or a team appointed in January can do very little to change the WAEC score in December. Those sitting for the WAEC that year are products of several years of learning and those gaps in their knowledge cannot be filled within the last year of school. And so faulting the Minister and/or his team who took over a year or two ago is an unfair assessment of their performance. I argued, when I could, that we should a take a long term approach to education rather then the next WAEC scores or UL entrance exams.
  2. Funding for and management of tertiary public education. I have observed that usually, the ministry of education has not paid much attention to tertiary education especially when developing sector plans. The focus has usually been on primary and secondary education. I have usually asked, “is tertiary education not part of the sector and who represents them at the level of cabinet or with development partners?” It has been difficult to get answers and so I can only hope that the ongoing submit try to address this issue of watching out for tertiary education in the entire planning process. the other side has to do with financing for tertiary education. there has to be a model for financing public tertiary education. I don’t know what it should be but some smart group of people have to think about a way of doing something because it is not adequately funded at all.

Now, from a non expert perspective, here is what I think happened to our educational sector. I think in the immediate aftermath of the civil war in 1991, this country, all of included, decided that we would we risk the long term quality of the educational system in exchange for PEACE. During this time in our national history, we decided that we needed to take the guns from young people and to ensure that they didn’t go back into bushes, we should put them in classrooms. At that point, we didn’t care who was in the classroom teaching; all we wanted was that young people should leave the streets and bushes and lay down their guns.

Because I lived this era, I can clearly remember that less than qualified instructors went into the classrooms because they needed to earn a living to feed their families; we needed them in the classrooms to demonstrate that school was in session; and also we needed a place to confine the kids after taking them from the streets and bushes. There are instances where sophomore students at the University of Liberia were teaching Physics and Chemistry at Tubman High. Some of my high school classmates were teaching Mathematics at other high schools (night classes). We even experienced 9th grade dropouts becoming principals and teachers at Junior High schools in some remote parts of the country.

I believe that we knew or should have known that putting less-than-qualified people in the classrooms would have long term detrimental impact on our educational system. But again, what choice did we have? The greater good was that we needed peace and then from there we would rebuild everything. At least, we hoped!

Well, since the end on conflict and the return of peace, we have not been able to make the kinds of investment needed to reverse the damage that we all did to the educational system. That system we all agreed to create in the early 1990s, have been producing products with diminishing qualities and these diminished qualities have been the ones passing knowledge onto others and so you can imagine how the value chain has been affected.

I don’t envy those charged with the responsibilities of reform the educational system because I wouldn’t even know where to start: pre-school? primary? secondary? tertiary? fire all teachers? shut all schools down? close some and keep some open? get qualified teachers from other places while we train ours? remove all qualified teachers from the classrooms? who will go there?

The challenges are enormous and complicated. My advice is that we give our educational sector leaders chance to do their job and also let them build on what those who came before them did. The problems are not easy and even after they are gone, there will still be problems…

my reflections…

My Reflection on the Issues, the Resources and the Rules

The Cabinet retreat over the last few days brought back memories and deep thoughts. From afar, the problems seem very easy to solve and many times we wonder why those before us didn’t solve them?

Here are my honest observations:

  1. the problems are too many. it is unbelievable how the problems are all over the place. in every sector or ministry or agency, there are just too many problems. sometimes it seems like for every problem that is solved there are many more that pop up.
  2. the resources to address the problems are very limited. trying to rationalize the distribution of resources sometimes makes you feel stupid. its like you don’t know what you are doing but the truth is that it is not easy. the size of the resource envelop when compared to the size of the problems, you don’t know where to start.
  3. and then the rules. we spend a lot of time trying to obey the rules that the small resources don’t do much. in fact, obeying the rules have also put strain on the resource envelop. it is now costing a lot in money and time

Truth be told, I don’t envy those who have the herculean task of brining all those things together: solving multiple problems with very limited resources within a very complicated rule-based regime.

I tell people, imagine fitting a request for 2 billion into an envelop of 500 million. at certain point the distribution has no science, no rhyme and no rhythm. the distribution defies reasoning. there are times when we have to cut support from “revenue generating” entities simply because we don’t have; not because we think they are not important. we know that they are important but then some “cost center” or “social service” or “security” will not be funded. but then again if we don’t fund the “revenue generating” we might not be able to raise the resources to fund the other stuff. this stuff starts to drive you crazy…

Because I sat there before, I know what they are going through and I can only wish them the best.