Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic was once a safe haven for Africa brightest minds. Students from across the continent came to Liberia to study because of Liberia strong education system at the time. One of the oldest colleges in Africa, Cuttington was Liberia first private college and was once a prestigious institution at the time. The University of Liberia (LU) was Liberia first college and is the largest public institution in Liberia today. It is the only University in the country that offer MD and PhD in select fields. In the late 80s the “Liberian civil War” broke out and the light when dark on Liberia. Liberia was competing with institutions across the continent as all the former colonies were now independent and the drive for educating the masses were a priority for most of the Francophone and Anglophone former colonies when the light went dark.
The civil war did two imperative things to the Liberian education system. The educated were either killed or flew the country. This was the period Liberians refer to as “the brain drain” when educated Liberians left the country for survival reasons and also to find greener pastures in other nations. When the educated left, the education system collapsed. These people were the foundations within the education sector.
There was a vacuum left and it had to be filled because Liberians have this love for education that people were still going to school in the most deplorable conditions. Doing the peak of the civil war, Liberians still saw light at the end of the tunnel; it felt like there was a powerful gravitational force pulling them into jam pack classrooms with bullet holes in the walls. It was normal for schools to be open today and closed the next day because the rebels/government soldiers were in the town/village or city. This was a perfect place for recruiting more young men and women to fight their war.
This educational vacuum was filled by relatives, friends, classmates and those that sincerely wanted money at the time. Liberian schools were being taught by high school drop outs, colleges were being taught at the time by college students or drop outs. Most if not all class material were outdated, I will like to say that Liberia was at the time completely cut off from the rest of the world. Those that wanted fast ticket out of schools bought their way out. Teachers openly asked for bribes for grades, this lead to poor performing students that can not proved their grades in national and WAEC (West African Examinations Council) exams.
Liberia has bright students and teachers, but they’re overshadowed by poor performing students, corrupt teachers and school administrators. Life is hard as a Liberian student, in addition to these many concerns I mentioned above, students walk miles to schools, no lunches are provided; benches for students to sit on are non-existent. The schools are pack like spam, teachers are not well trained. No text books are provided to teachers, all these should make a student stay away from classes, but the gravitational force is enormous and it is pulling students to classes regardless of school conditions.
Today, Liberia school system is still the same, with few teachers that are qualified to be called that name. Government is trying, but it is not enough after the civil war, enrollment of girls and boys has skyrocketed, students are still standing in classrooms. Mud houses are built to accommodate these students, “colleges” and “universities” are being open at homes most of them given accreditation without regard for the lack of facilities, qualify instructors. Most of these schools are in the business to make fast money out of students because of government inability to provide a better alternative. The recent WAEC exam was a disaster, there was mass failing within the country with government schools being the hardest hit.
While this is a poor way of looking at the Liberian school system, the Liberian students should be admired because of what they go through daily to obtain their diploma. Teachers are now going through thorough vetting process and training. Liberia will come back again, the communication system in Liberia has improved remarkably and it continues to do so. Students and teachers are not harassed going to school, Liberia has a beautiful future now, but she has long way to go. With the current energy she shows, Liberia will continue to emulate her neighbors. She will continue to educate the masses and impress the international community.
The future of Liberia’s education system seems bright since Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president.