Saturday, October 17, 2015

Education: The Role of the Youths in Sustaining Peace in Liberia

By: Amjad M. Nyei

Liberia has proven to the world that our dark years of violence and vandalism are now a history that can only serve as a lesson for the direction and future of the state. Twelve years and counting, Liberians have had no reason to weak up in fear of gun battle or fear of whether they will remain alive till the end of the day. I recall when stray bullets and rocket propelled grenades brightened the night; the question was not only about the survival of the fittest, fastest to run, but also the survival of the luckiest. Our lives were at the mercy of the bullets. Sad moments! Weren’t they?

Retrospection on these bloody days and hopeful of the future, Liberia is thankful to God and very grateful for the intervention of the United Nations for the organization’s tireless efforts that have brought us peace. Particular tribute must be paid to the gallant men and women in sky blue berets that have served and continue to serve in the UN Mission in Liberia. Their sacrifice to stay away from their beautiful families and enter a terrible Liberia in 2003 is beyond dedication to humanity and mankind.

Twelve years on, Liberia is still not in absolute peace until the youths of this “glorious land of liberty” take on their role in sustaining the peace. Most commutators and blogger have argued that the creation of employment opportunities by government is the ‘golden answer’ to bringing stability among the youth and in essence driving the nation to evergreen peace.

However, my take on the above argument is a ‘NO’ to employment opportunities first, and a massive ‘YES’ to better, improved and affordable education environment and opportunity to all Liberians as a key imperative to sustained peace and economic development. This national campaign should not be limited to secondary and tertiary education but also a very vibrant vocational education- thanks to the Chinese government and people for the reconstruction and expansion of the Monrovia Vocational Training Center.

I understand the problem of unemployment has been a major component of Liberia’s macroeconomics genetic for a long time and also has to be solved. However, when jobs begin to flow in Liberia; we can be assured that fewer than 10% of the youths will be prepared for those jobs. Evidence of this calm is vivid in on going concession companies’ employment structure. Young Liberians are for the most part, not employed in technical areas that require university education or at least 2 years of advance vocation education. They are left vulnerably employed to harvest rubber in Firestone and LAC, off load and arrange palm nurseries for GVL and Sime Darby and perform other unskilled or semi-skilled task for Mittal Steel. With these developments, the preference of job over education is a half bark solution or a quick fix that could potentially deny the human capacity growth of Liberia.

Statistics from LISGIS informs that Liberians 35 years of age and below amount for an alarming 75% of the country’s population. This revelation advised that government has to be more practical, systematic and ‘hasty but slow’ in transforming the education system which has more than often been duped as ‘messy’.

In all fairness, this regime has shown more commitment to education than the previous 2 regimes (NTGL and Taylor) combined. The size of the education budget, attention paid to state owned and private universities, management and delivery of foreign and local scholarships are among other examples to give government credit in its commitment and enthusiasm for education. However, there remain some major and serious efforts to clean the system to which I shall like to proffer few humble suggestions later.

The paramount role of the youths in sustaining the peace in my view is to simply get educated- take ourselves at the level of our mates in Ghana, Kenya and Namibia where young people are making headlines in science and technology and business. But we can only take on this role with real, committed and coherent government legislations, if you will policies, to improve the system.
I have seen on social media few computers being provided by the Ministry of Education to selected schools in South-Eastern Liberia and paraded as a milestone deliverable. That’s a generous move by the esteem Ministry of Education in it struggle to take science and technology across the country. I also see it as a God given opportunity to kids in that part of the country to have access to computer. We need to answer our problem with everlasting solution which calls for commitment and set aside window dressing the issues. Liberia, confront the issues of education head on!
My humble suggestions:

1. A rebirth to the culture of education: a committed campaign, not one to put money in anyone’s pocket, but a campaign that would encourage parents to sacrifice their today for the future of the kids. This is a campaign to the communities on radios, billboard pictures and slogans depicting the benefit and essence of education for a better Liberia. Other countries succeeded on this, Liberia too can.
2. District Schools and learning Centers: this is a step by step process because it will involve a lot of finance. So we could get started with the most populous counties, say Montserrado and Nimba counties. All the electoral districts in Montserrado for example, should have a government owned and fully supported primary, secondary school and a library. Children in each district will attend the school in their district. With this, the district’s inhabitants will take these schools are their own and rally moral support for its up keep. It will ease the livelihood of people as well. My neighbor’s 4 year old daughter won’t have to wake up 5am to leave from Chocolate City to attend J.J. Roberts United Methodist School in Sinkor. It is indeed a very ambitious plan and capital intensive but just 5 months salary of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Martine, an entity of no real essence in Liberia, can at least secure a land to initiate the project in a single district. Rome was not built in a day.

3. Curriculum, Syllabus and study Material: What are the kids being taught? Is my nephew’s Nursery School in Gardnerville teaches the same thing as his peers’ in Gbalasuah, Tubmanburg? We need a coordinated educational system wherein a 9th grader from Lutheran will be at the same level with a 9th grader from Special Project. The Ministry of education most monitor and supervise schools to ensure all schools use the same curriculum to maintain standards. The Ministry should also take charge; own a printing press. If operating one is expensive, it should order for printing of study materials abroad.

We pre 1990 youths, remember very well the Blama and Konah Doe books. What has happened to a story like that, that is connected to Liberia? It makes learning fun. The names and characters are all unique to your own society and culture.
Science and Mathematics, English and Literature, History and Geography study materials for elementary and high schools should written by specialized Liberian professors under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. Students will study from these book undiluted and not summarized into pamphlets. This could reduce the exchange of monies on school campuses between teachers and students.

4. The knowledge givers, teachers: Mr. Kemi Weeks in his 2006 independence oration said: “I visited schools in Liberia were teachers made multiple spelling errors...” Now this is a shame on the system. We need a system wherein teachers will be trained and evaluated before they stand before students has more than before become important. A standard board under the Ministry of Education if not in existence be established to administer exams to would be teachers after which certificates will be awarded to successful candidates satisfying them to teach in Liberia. In this process, schools will be monitored to ensure all teachers are certificated.

5. The ultimate, strict but easy university matriculation: Like the Bush ‘no child left behind’ policy in America we should encourage large university turn out but we should remain attentive to students’ admittance into programs befitting their potential and talents. Encourage the few academically deficient into equipped vocational programs and professional studies institutes.
Liberia, with the firmness of our development partner by our side and patriotism and nationalism we can overcome most of our problems in education, employment, food security and all other important sectors of society that would be helpful in sustaining the peace. Among all these sectors named, the huge uneducated youth population has always been our problem and as such; it should be government’s number one priority in realizing better and peaceful life for all.

Amjad M. Nyei is a Liberian student in China, Msc candidate International Economics and Trade. He is a diplomat in training, speaks fluent Chinese and studies other foreign languages during his spare time. For other articles and opinions of the author, you can kindly visit: