A Case For More Educational Financing

“All I have to say is, no nation has ever been able to establish and maintain a strong government with a poor ignorant population. Much of our progress in the future will depend upon the rapidity with which we mass educate our people now” – Didwho Welleh Twe, July 26, 1944 National orator

We can only reap that which we sow.

This truth is as old as time. Another truth, with which we must contend, is the need to continue to improve the quality of education on offer to our children in Liberia. From qualified teachers and administrators to improved learning facilities, improving the quality of education in Liberia is a need around which all Liberians need to be united. It defines the future of our country we believe to be possible, and stands at the heart of all that we can achieve together.

Recently, the Ministry of Education (MoE) made an appeal to the Legislative Budget Committee. They are asking for at least 10% of the national appropriation for education. As a participant in the educational sector and experiencing the dire needs, I cannot but add my voice to the  MoE’s appeal to our lawmakers.

Please, increase the priority of education in the national budget.

Of course, it can be reasonably argued that all of our challenges in the educational sector does not amount to money. But it can also never be argued reasonably that money is not urgently needed to recruit qualified teachers and retire older ones. Nor can it be argued that students sitting on the floors – some of only dirt and unprotected by invading goats and chickens – to be taught, and many of the run-down makeshift facilities – some of which are housing multiple classes in a single space with a single teacher – are not in need of repairs, especially when the rains come pouring!

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Students at a public school in Monrovia sitting on floor during a testing period (2016)

It is also true that for the size of the challenge in the educational sector, 10% might amount essentially to a drop in the ocean displacing the gigantic body of water with little to no calculable effect. However, I believe the educational authorities are thinking if we cannot get what we really need, at least we can ask for what may be possible. In their minds, 10% increase, while still a far cry from what is needed, may be possible to actually give. And so, if not the pie in the sky, why not just ask for pepper kala!

Analogies aside, education is our collective responsibilities. The Pro-Poor Agenda correctly identifies the ongoing human capacity deficits as a looming challenge to its successful achievements. Lifting a country out of poverty is no easy feat. And yes, it takes time and investment.

A former President once identified ignorance, disease and poverty as the triple-headed monster stalking Liberia’s growth and development. When President Tolbert identified this problem, many of the neighboring countries around us were struggling behind us in terms of development. Today, while we still argue the intervening war years which some of the neighboring countries similarly endured, some of these countries appeared to have moved leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of their development.

More than anything else, one common feature stands out to explain our decline and their rise: Overall, their people are more educated than we are.

As a proud Liberian, this is not a fact I accept without bowing my head in shame. But it is a fact we must accept because knowledge of a problem is half way toward a solution. They have consistently and steadily invested in educating their people. We have not. Economically, politically and socially – all across the facets of human developments, these countries are reaping the rewards for their years of investments.

The stubborn truth is that all is not well in the educational sector. And whether its 10% increase in allocation, or training an army of teachers – whether its reworking the curriculum and strengthening technical/vocational education – we must lift problem to a level of national imperative. And we cannot say it is serious and a national imperative until the national budget backs this. After all, the national budget lists the order of our priorities.

If education is the best path to reconciliation, economic growth and development, and is the safest and surest way of ensuring our democracy is protected as it thrives; if an educated society is less likely to destroy itself than it is to build and continuously recreate itself, then education cannot assume any less a priority in our ordering of national priorities.

Invest in roads and buildings, and a country invests in the facial beauty of a country. Its okay to look beautiful. Some would argue that in fact there are economic multiplying effects to these investments in roads and bridges and buildings. However, it is the people that must seize upon the “multiplying effects” before they become realizable. The people will not until they are educated – qualitatively and functionally – to do so.

Educate the people, and a country invests in beautifying more than its body. Education beautifies the soul of a nation.

Nothing can be more important!

Education is security.

before and after JLM
Before and after photos of a public school library that was renovated by KEEP Liberia

Education is the sustainable ‘light in darkness’.

Education is hope – it inspires real beliefs in a better future.

Education is the future.

That future cannot be bright when out of 2611 public schools, only 306 have libraries.

That future cannot be bright, nor are we truly independent, when we expect donors to fund up to one third of our educational budget, according to current budgetary estimates.

The only politics that should be associated with education, if any at all, is the question of how best we improve the quality of education, year-on-year, so that our children have the chance they deserve to compete with children of the West African sub-region, and all children of the world, in the international labor marketplace. Our children deserve to, too!

Now, I understand one challenge of investing in education is that its outcomes and returns are slow in coming. Sometimes, our society seems too eager for immediate returns. That returns and outcomes are not immediately impactful, however, does not compare, in the least, to the associated costs of not investing in quality education. The reality of the eventual socio-economic breakdowns, retardation and pervasive insecurities that ultimately follow the lack of continuous investments in quality education in a country are too frightening and too high a price to collectively and individually pay. The returns and outcomes may be slow but they are certain to come, and when they do, a society is better for it.

4 years ago, I visited a community in Gbarpolu County. A visit to Small Bong Mines Public School and I did not need to be told by any statistics on education in Liberia that Gbarpolu County had to sit amongst the under-performers in the country. I knew I could not change everything about their dire educational needs. But I could help the Small Bong Mines Community. And we have kept our promise to the community of bubbling children.

The Small Bong Mines Public School (Before)
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The Small Bong Mines Public School- After (Constructed by KEEP)

In a few days, KEEP will dedicate a new school edifice we have constructed for the community. And yet, I am troubled. I know that the new edifice is a vast improvement on the what the community had before. But the new edifice will not be enough assurance that the quality of education therein provided will be good enough to inspire the hope the families need that their children will climb themselves out of the cycle of poverty to which their parents and grandparents have been consigned for generations. I know they are excited and grateful for the new edifice. But the Small Bong Mines Town community needs more than the new edifice for the learning needs of their children.

They need qualified teachers. They need relevant textbooks and educational supplies. They need improved supervision and administration. They need a curriculum that works. And they need teachers who will teach with passion for the profession and love for the children.

The Small Bong Mines Community needs more than 10% budgetary increment to education. They, like many other communities all across the country, need and deserve more. Our commitment to quality education and to lifting our people from poverty deserve more investments in education.

Please, dear legislators, let us make the sacrifices we must for the bright future we seek.

2 thoughts on “A Case For More Educational Financing

  1. Thank you, Brenda, for this piece.

    With regards the educational challenges facing our country, the least said the better. As it’s always been said: LEADERSHIP IS CAUSE! ALL ELSE ARE EFFECTS.

    First of all, let me commend you extremely for the good work you’re doing without giving up. I gave up long ago when I was told in my face that because my credentials were not from the US of A so I wasn’t qualified to give back to my alma mater…even voluntarily.

    Now, to the main issue: I remember prewar Liberia had one of the best educational systems in West Africa. It was evident in the fact that most of the Liberian students who went to Ghana during the war topped their schools, academically, from primary to tertiary levels. Those were the days we were made to believe that Ghana had a better educational system than Liberia. The results, after schooling in Ghana then, proved otherwise. I for one broke a 15-year record in my school in the external English examination, short by only 4% to hit 100% because I spent time helping my colleagues. The standing record was 83%. This was in 1993.

    The question I ask myself today is: why isn’t our postwar educational standard not improving when it is being headed by persons from the prewar era? All the factors you enumerated in your piece are key critical factors that will contribute immensely to improving our educational system by 90%, however, if the most critical 10%…QUALITY LEADERSHIP…is lacking, I’m afraid that we will achieve nothing. We can have all the funds from the budget, have beautiful and well-stocked buildings, well-reformed curricula, well-made everything, once there isn’t that QUALITY LEADERSHIP to harness all of these in the right order, effectively monitoring their existence, implementation and maintenance, we’ll keep going round in circles nonstop.

    Look at how beautifully scripted your piece is. How many of our so-called graduates can “perfectly” put pen to paper like this? Listen to our citizens around…from kids to adults: bad pronunciations, bad tenses…confusing Liberian English for the Queen’s English. Even our media houses display that sad state of affairs in both the print and electronic media. Worse of all are the teachers WHO ARE TEACHING OUR CHILDREN. These are what we’re breeding educationally because of lack of good leadership in the educational sector. I thought the educational conference organized by the current Minister of Education, Prof. D. Ansu Soni at Kakata somewhere last year would be the catalyst for change. Unfortunately, things remain the same.

    Brenda, we need QUALITY LEADERSHIP TO TOTALLY OVERHAUL OUR EDUCATIONAL SECTOR. It will then help to shape the mindsets of the generations coming after us so that they will continue on the path of putting Liberia back on the education map to the state at which it was prewar, and perhaps better it than that. I sure know it is your prayer. It is mine too. I guess it is also the prayer of every well-meaning Liberian who has the blood of quality education running through his/her veins. Nonetheless, let’s keep contributing our little quotas as we continually pray for divine intervention for that QUALITY LEADERSHIP. Thank you, Brenda. God bless you, and God bless us all.

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