Wednesday, May 20, 2015


By Amjad M. Nyei

On an Airbus A380 heading from Beijing to Brussels, after my undergraduate studies in China, I shared the same seat row with a lady from Zimbabwe. This lady sat by the window while I was in the middle seat. She is paranoid about flying and asked me to exchange seat so that the window view won’t make her feel thousands of feet above the ground.

The flight was 7 hours, very long and tiresome. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, she told me her name, Anotida Chikonda and we opened a long conversation. We spoke on variety of subjects: education,business and economy, sports and entertainment and of course a bit of politics. Anotida is a Zimbabwean middle level government official in her late 20s and was heading to another official function in Helsinki, Finland after just participating in a weeklong meeting in Beijing.

As our conversation intensified my “travel companion” paused and asked about my education level and where I have been schooling. I replied, “except for about 2 years of primary education in Freetown, I had all my basic education in Liberia and just about concluding my undergraduate studies in China”. Interestingly, Anotida had just followed that news that all students who wrote the 2013 entrance examination of the University of Liberia failed. So she flattered me by saying “hadn’t it been for your ‘very young look’ I would have thought you are working on a doctorate degree”. Well, I should have actually begun a PhD program as far back as 2010- but factors such as instability and personal choices couldn’t permit. Anotida added that she hope Liberia could one day be like Zimbabwe were young people have very good appetite for seeking knowledge. Not surprisingly, I found out later that Anotida works in the education sector and so we began talking about the possible causes of students’ dismal performance in the UL entrance examination. She asked of my opinion and I outlined the following:

• Lack of Motivation: Students and teachers alike at all levels have lost the taste of academic motivation. Students on their part have found grave interest in other immaterial aspects of life such as: all week day entertainment, alcoholism, sexual relationships and assuming early family responsibilities- most high school students are mother and fathers. On the other hand, teachers do not feel challenged by students anymore- I remember during my days in school Andrew Jallah, Fred Fundo, Muniru Nyei Martina Woto and myself, just to name a few kept teachers on their heels. We made teachers to come to class every morning fully armed intellectually because they knew the strength of their audience. This challenge had long been lost in Liberia and one of the probable causes of bad quality of high school graduates.

• Government Spending and Supervision: It is only in Liberia that the accumulative salaries, allowances and other benefits for legislatures is more than the money allotted in national budget for education in a country that has a huge youth population. Government has to be real on the paradox that it prioritizes of education. You can’t say education is a top priority and yet the money in national budget (2013) is infinitesimal to meet the targeted goal. If vegetable is good for your health as compared to fruit, spend more on the former.
Another issue is the poor supervision of academic activities by the Ministry of Education. MOE has sat back and watched government-run schools go in the drainage and reluctant to come down hard on private schools, especially for keeping tuitions at certain reasonable standards. It is important that MOE set parameters for tuitions in private schools, in view of the fact that some private schools are given subsidies by government. With the sky-rocketed tuition cost, parents are for the most part, finding it very difficult to maintain their kids in school. It has resulted into dropout and early pregnancies and parenthood. To curb these and many more, government has to dispense more money into education and have strict supervision to include monitoring academic performance.

• Corrupt mentality of Students: It is sad when some young people with potential to enrich their minds but will voluntarily act lazy because of connections to people for job hunting. Some depend on the prominence of their parent, “sugar daddies and mommies” and other relations for better paid jobs. Imagine these negative thoughts popping through the minds of young people; it just sickens our society academically. We as young people need to step up our game, be independent and rely on our personal abilities, not that of others. Look deep inside yourself, the hero you looking for lies in you. We should compete in the class room to adequately advance ourselves for the struggle ahead.
In Hong Kong, academic challenge and pressure commences when you are a toddler. Toddlers of about 8-9 months old go through study camps to prepare them for nursery schools interview . Parents want their kids to enter the best nursery school and eventually lead them to the top primary and secondary schools and ultimately high ranked universities. So maybe Liberian students should copy cat the hard work of these toddlers who are not reliant on their parents wealth- Hong Kong is one of the regions in the world with more affluent citizens, billionaires.

After my lengthy opinion of what is unfolding in the Liberian education sector, Anotida thanked me for sharing with her and showed appreciation for my passion for structural reform in our education system. She told me that her country, Zimbabwe, was at similar point until 1980 when education became free and affordable.

Top 5 High rate Literate Countries in Africa
No. Country Rank Literacy Rate
1 Zimbabwe 1 90.70
2 Equatorial Guinea 2 87.00
3 South Africa 3 86.40
4 Kenya 4 85.10
5 Namibia 5 85.00
6 Liberia 34 57.50

Zimbabwe spent about $750Million on education and related matters in 2013 and has got a very vibrant regulatory and supervision policy for quality in both public and private schools. Being number one in terms of number of educated people in Africa, it is not surprising that the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, is amongst the most educated world leaders rating.

As early as 1967, Zimbabwe had some 91.5% of youth aged between 5-14 years old enrolled in school. Meanwhile, Time Magazine reported in 2008 that in the mid 1990s Zimbabwe National O-Level pass rate was 72%. Liberia on the other hand performs poorly in WAEC every year. The failure rate has been increasing since 2006.

Zimbabwe had had its own problems in recent years due to hyperinflation and economic crisis; this has led to many rural schools closure because of unpaid and or low teachers’ salaries but they still strive to maintain standard.

It seems Anotida Chikonda has been following developments in Liberia since our encounter in the sky. She wrote me regularly during the height of the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in Liberia. Recently she wrote me on the subject of 10,000 University of Liberia students being placed on academic probation. This news has again pointed to the fact that structural changes in education- increase spending, building motivation and stepping up supervision and evaluation are needed to save Liberia.

It is sad and it’s a shame that 10,000 student at you leading state run university can be on probation but it is also a sign of good leadership by the university’s authority. We hope that this exercise will lead to quality and encourage students to keep focused and spend more time on their studies. May this system also be introduced in other universities and technical institutes to ensure maximum efficiency in our education output.

Amjad M. Nyei is a Liberian student in China, Msc candidate International Economic and Trade. He is a diplomat-in-training and speaks fluent Chinese. Amjad is also studying German as his third foreign language.

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