School Not Going So Great? These Liberian Students Can Sympathize

There may be no freshmen at the University of Liberia this academic year, after all 25,000 students who took the university entrance examination failed the test. One university official is quoted on BBC as saying, “The students lacked enthusiasm and did not have a basic grasp of English” (English is the official language of the country). However, the root of the problem lies in the overall appalling Liberian educational system. Unless major actions are undertaken to overhaul the entire educational system, universities will have only unqualified students to admit. And even if those students do reach colleges, the universities in Liberia need major improvements to reach world average.

Liberia may be recovering from a civil war, but that only explains the limited number of educational institutions in the country, not the quality of the available institutions. The recent failure of all students to achieve a passing grade on the university entrance examination is a sign that available schools are not providing the quality preparation needed for college enrollment. In fact, Liberia is notorious for students at both secondary and tertiary levels paying for grades with money or sex. The so-called “sex 101” or transactional sex, which refers to the practice of lecturers having sex with female students for good grades, is one of the only ways many students make it through the educational system.

Even though President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has acknowledged that the Liberian educational system is a mess, she has done little to provide the quality education children in Liberia deserve.  My Aunt Fatu, who lives in Lofa County, foresaw this educational disaster a couple of years ago when she sent her two sons to her brother in Sierra Leone to finish their high-school education. The two boys have done remarkably well in the Sierra Leonean school system, which rather unfortunately is not so far ahead of the Liberian system. In fact, just a year ago the Sierra Leonean school system implemented one additional year of school in response to the high rate of failures on the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, a university entrance exam. Instead of three years of senior secondary school, Sierra Leonean children now spend four years — a remedy I don’t believe solves the problem of poor-quality schools.

In an attempt to address the current educational disaster in Liberia, the University of Liberia has now promised to admit 1,800 of the students who failed the test after talks with President Sirleaf. Instead of solving the problems of lack of resources and poor quality teachers, the government has opted for a band-aid solution that leaves foundational problems with the educational system untouched. If indeed the university set a higher standard for admission this year as President Sirleaf claims it has, it should have stayed that way and those students who failed the entrance exam should have repeated. Admitting unqualified students to college only transmits the problem from one institution to another.

In her own memoir, This Child Will Be Great, President Sirleaf wrote that “as we strive for national reconstruction and renewal, education of all the children of Liberia, especially the neglected girl children, must occupy a place second to none in our national priorities.” President Sirleaf is also a leading member of the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Committee, a 26-member committee responsible for creating a development vision to succeed the MDGs. However, the present state of education in Liberia goes to show that Sirleaf has yet to heed her own advice when it comes to prioritizing education. Liberia and all other African countries have to realize that their commitments to continental development will remain futile if they to fail to invest in quality education as a priority second to none. 

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Joseph Kaifala

Joseph Ben Kaifala is founder of the Jeneba Project Inc. and co-founder of the Sierra Leone Memory Project. He was born in Sierra Leone and spent his early childhood in Liberia and Guinea. He later moved to Norway where he studied for the International Baccalaureate (IB) at the Red Cross Nordic United World College before enrolling at Skidmore College in New York. Joseph was an International Affairs & French Major, with a minor in Law & Society. Joseph is also a Human Rights activist, a Rastafarian, and a votary of ahimsa. He speaks six languages. Joseph has served as a Davis United World College Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies; a Humanity In Action Senior Fellow; and a Tom Lantos-HIA US Congressional Fellow. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Syracuse University, a Diploma in Intercultural Encounters from the Helsinki Summer School, and a Certificate in Professional French administered by the French Chamber of Commerce. Joseph was an Applied Human Rights Fellow at Vermont Law School, where he completed his JD and Certificate in International & Comparative Law. He is recipient of the Skidmore College Palamountain Prose Award, Skidmore College Thoroughbred Award, and Vermont Law School (SBA) Student Pro Bono Award. Joseph is a 2013-2014 American Society of International Law Helton Fellow. He served as Justice of the Arthur Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International.

MORE FROM

Johnny Depp jokes about assassinating Donald Trump

"It's been a while," Depp said, "and maybe it's time."

Trump says he finds special counsel Mueller's relationship with James Comey "bothersome"

Trump says "virtually everybody agrees" that there's been no collusion or obstruction of justice.

'Hot Mic' podcast: GOP Senate health care, Comey tapes, 2016 election data stolen

The important stories to get you caught up for Friday

Watchdog groups sue Trump for deleting tweets, allegedly violating Presidential Records Act

Trump's deleted tweets may come back to haunt him.

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.

Johnny Depp jokes about assassinating Donald Trump

"It's been a while," Depp said, "and maybe it's time."

Trump says he finds special counsel Mueller's relationship with James Comey "bothersome"

Trump says "virtually everybody agrees" that there's been no collusion or obstruction of justice.

'Hot Mic' podcast: GOP Senate health care, Comey tapes, 2016 election data stolen

The important stories to get you caught up for Friday

Watchdog groups sue Trump for deleting tweets, allegedly violating Presidential Records Act

Trump's deleted tweets may come back to haunt him.

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.