“An Educated Nation is a Strong Nation” ~Unknown~
he right to education is a fundamental right declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26 of International Law, asserting that everyone has this right and that it should be free, and compulsory in the elementary and fundamental stages. [i]
In a world where a college degree is now considered as basic as a high school diploma, one must wonder if the next generation will all be PhD holders. This fact however, only resonates if one resides in the United States of America or any other developed nation, unlike Liberia where the literacy rate remains less than 50% for the entire population.[ii] For a child living in Liberia, especially a female child, access to education means a sacrifice of youthfulness. One either must sell goods to be able to afford it, or sell their body to access and achieve it.
“It tells me that the educational system is a mess.” said our current president H.E. Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
A mess where all 25,000 high school students failed a national standardized test. A mess where children are still sitting on broken chairs if there were any in the school. A mess where schools are not held when it rains because the only decent structure is the wall holding up the blackboard, or where someone who barely finished high school is a 6th grade teacher. A mess where goats, sheep, and chickens defecate in classrooms and animals sleep at night because the doors are broken. A mess where a lappa separates classrooms, which is something special because often multiple grades share a space and a teacher.
A mess in my opinion, is putting it mildly. The age-old excused is the impact of the prolonged and destructive civil upheaval, now coupled with the recent Ebola outbreak. However, we see remarkable investments in hotels, night life and entertainment when there is minimal investment in education. So much that the minister of education was ready to totally outsource all primary education to the private company Bridge International.
“Your greatest investment is the children,” said Eric Wowoh of Change Agent Network, a man who has built some 14 schools in Liberia as he recently tried to motivate me to continue this work. If you want to change the future of Liberia, you cannot go to those in power and try to change their minds because many are set in their ways and have their own priorities. You must educate those children, many of whom will be voting in elections ten years from now, and in twenty years those children will be the ones in government, entrepreneurship, and all sectors in the country. The impact you have now, will be the influence you will have later, said Mr. Wowoh.
As we look to the upcoming elections, our future leaders ought to be reminded that an investment in education is an investment in the future of Liberia. Our economy will certainly be strengthened as statistics have shown that countries that have educated their citizens are far more prosperous. When you consider those countries, it is evident of their robust commitment to higher education and a push for quality universal pre-college education. It is why issues about education are on local ballots during election time, and why presidential candidates always have a platform on how to support or make changes to the affordability and access to higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spends at least $620 billion on education; whereas the Liberian budget has $83 million allocated towards education.
I believe that for Liberia, it is as simple as a realignment of priorities. This starts with finding ways to include the children that are currently out of school, hiring more teachers, and providing them ongoing training, educational materials, and an effective curriculum. The legislature with its oversight responsibility on education, and the Ministry of Education should then make certain that the various County Education Officers are qualified, and invested. They ought to be the greatest advocates for each school in their respective county, with a thorough performance report each marking period in order to remain in the position.
The next step is as simple as the physical facility. There is a saying, if you build it they will come. I am always amazed that students do attend schools with so much zeal even when the physical structure is dilapidated. What more can one expect with a school that has the basic necessities such as chairs, desk, bookshelves, blackboards and doors? If one person, like Mr. Wowoh from a single charitable organization can build fourteen schools, or Mrs. Brenda Moore of Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), who have reached hundreds of students in the rural areas and established reading rooms; what then would it take for the government to REbuild schools in various counties?
It can be done! There are many Liberians like myself who are working on this very issue. Through Senwah Foundation, we have renovated the Mani Public School, provided chairs, and installed new doors and a porch to keep the animals out. Each year, we provide school and teaching supplies to the school along with other area schools, and programs. We have reached some 400 children in the last three years with our annual school supply drives. We established the Senwah Foundation Reading Room, and hired a teacher to run a literacy program, as well as teach at the school that originally had four teachers for over 200 students. We also run a teacher’s training program conducted by Pastor Varney Freeman of the Betty Memorial Institute.
Currently, we are working to build a modern bathroom for the children at the school. In the future, we hope to renovate the old burned down building in the town, and establish a resource center with a focus on science, technology, and the arts. We must all get involved in being the change we desire to see in the world and that is the very reason Senwah Foundation was established. Our mission is evident when we receive reports of the improvement in reading skills of children at the school, or when our team visits and there are more children than before as they are now coming from nearby villages because we provide school supplies. We look to partner with others doing the work conscientiously because we cannot have students like Victoria F. at the Mani Public School, in this century, tell us that they have never seen a computer.
We must begin to teach children in these schools for the twenty-first century. Science and technology must be offered if we, as a country are to compete in tomorrow’s civilization. If our crime rate and dependency is to descend, our educational opportunities must surge. If our future is to be certain, our educational system can be neither muddled nor messy. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon correctly emphasized, “Education must do more than produce individuals who can read, write and count. It must nurture global citizens who can rise to the challenges of the twenty-first century.”
Jassie-Fredcia Senwah is the Founder & Executive Director of Senwah Foundation, a 501(c) (3) organization. She serves as Vice President, and Youth Liaison of the Liberian Community Association of Boston, Massachusetts. She holds dual masters from Suffolk University in Public Administration and Crime and Justice Studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Albright College. She is a recipient of numerous recognitions, and awards. She believes that her education was not just a means to a prosperous life, but her avenue to change the world. Ms. Senwah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.senwahfoundation.org.
[ii] World Fact Book