Primary Education: A Wise Investment for Government, Partners and Parents
By Martin K. N. Kollie
A speech delivered by Martin K. N. Kollie at the graduation ceremony of the Belenie Christian Foundation School System, 72nd Junction, Somalia Drive, Paynesville City.
I bring you profound compliments from my family, my party (Student Unification Party), conscious students of the University of Liberia where I currently study Economics, and the masses of our people including thousands of vulnerable children across our nation who have no opportunity to access quality primary education. I am grateful to the management team of this great institution for inviting me as this year’s speaker on a graduation program such as this. In the midst of tight schedule, I just could not turn down this invitation because it has to do with our nation’s precious jewels – THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW.
As I go through my message, I am very optimistic that the Belenie Christian Foundation School System shall continue to demonstrate unyielding dedication and allegiance to Liberia by molding the minds of our ones – the ones I usually refer to as ‘THE FORTUNE’ of our nation. BCFSS must continue to shine and make the difference in Paynesville city. Even in the midst of prevailing challenges, this institution must preserve those fundamental values and academic virtues upon which it was given birth to.
BCFSS must do all it can to remain on the path of academic excellence in order to breed Liberia’s best brains. It is not impossible at all for the next President, Vice President, Speaker and Chief Justice to come from this great institution. It is not impossible at all for some of Liberia’s best economists, doctors, engineers, geologists, computer scientists, accountants, managers, journalists, statisticians, public administrators, environmentalists and teachers to come from BCFSS. I see a bright future for these graduates and surely they are stepping into it with self-confidence and self-assurance.
Madam principal, from what I have seen so far through the brilliant performances of these students and future leaders, I encourage you to maintain this momentum and even increase your effort to academically shepherd these young minds. Thank you Madam Principal and your industrious team for successfully completing yet another academic year and producing these bright brains in whose honor we have assembled in this hall this afternoon. I have come to encourage and inspire us never to abandon this genuine cause. By doing so, we will be neglecting not only our future, but the future of our nation. Never must we choose this route – never must we forsake our duty to instruct, discipline and mentor. There is always a reward at the end of the tunnel especially for those who choose to demonstrate hard work, dedication and loyalty to nationhood.
Madam principal, when I received your invitation to serve as guest speaker on this historic program, my inner spirit was immediately provoked by the very low output of our messy educational sector evident by prevailing indicators nationwide in this sector after almost 12 years of democratic rule under Africa’s first female President. As I read through dossier of statistics every day on education in Liberia and even visit some of our schools in urban and rural communities, I usually bleed within as I see our nation’s future drowning.
In Sinoe, Grand Kru, RiverCess, RiverGee, Maryland and Grand Gedeh, our students share classrooms with animals especially goats, cows and pigs. Some of these classrooms have no desks, no text books, leaking roofs, no black boards, no instructional materials, no teachers, etc. I know what I am saying because I have visited some of these mushroom schools mostly in rural communities. The situation is even worse in Gbarpolu, Grand Capemount, Bomi, Bassa and other regions. Even in urban communities, it is not still better! Just imagine for moment, there is no public high school in this country with a science laboratory and modern library. Even the great Tubman High and D. Tweh Memorial we know are lacking these basic academic facilities. If our premier state-run university is yet to have access to even internet facility up to now since 1862, then it speaks to the widening leadership deficit that has engulfed our country. It is time for nationwide reflection, revival, renewal and reformation. It starts with everyone!
But again what hope do we have when a sitting education Minister (George Werner) writes on facebook “Da book we will eat?” Without understanding the scope of the position he occupies, he discounts the value and power of education to accomplish his selfish motive and parochial agenda. In my mind, such a Minister is the most incompetent since 1847. With this minister managing education in our country, Liberia is heading towards a perishable end. This minister needs to understand that education is the ultimate source of wealth, economic equality, social security and national prosperity. As we aggressively pursue a society of more literate citizens, Minister Werner and those who think that education is of no essence must be sent at the back to only follow, and not lead.
As our nation transitions this year, we cannot ignore the fact that there exists a very wide gap in our education system ranging from poor academic facilities, untrained and underpaid teachers to budgetary constraint and academic malpractices, just to name a few. After 170 years, Liberia still has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Madam principal and members of the faculty, can we find solution to this sad narrative? Yes I believe so, and the Belenie Christian Foundation School System is treading on the right path. In union strong, we shall triumph one day. This is the hope that continues to keep us aspiring for a glorious height.
With this unshaken desire and patriotic spirit to find genuine solution to our existing dilemma, I have come to revive our hope and re-echo a patriotic call to all of us (The Government, Parents, Guardians, Administrators, Teachers and Partners) to reconsolidate our energy and resources in addressing those pressing challenges facing primary education in Liberia. Sometimes, I find it very difficult to re-examine our nation in terms of its strive towards primary education because it is not just easy to comprehend the sad narrative of primary education in Liberia.
Even though some gains have been made to promote primary education, but the non-gains are even more. The achievements in this sector are far less than the non-achievements. The demerits are more the merits. The challenges far exceed the successes. The dilemmas are even more the non-dilemmas. Yes, I know this for a fact, because I have travelled to almost every region in this country as a youth activist and a patriotic young citizen. Only in Liberia school-going kids would prefer spending 5 hours on the beach on super Friday than spending even 1 hour in the library. The students of today are becoming more addicted to gambling, alcohol and drug abuse than quizzing, debate and spelling competition. Either we change this pattern now or risk a future of societal liabilities and academic handicaps.
Madam principal, members of the faculty, parents, distinguished guests and our brilliant students, this unique occasion affords me yet another opportunity to cautiously share my thoughts about what confronts us as a nation and what we must do now to secure a new future of prosperity for all through social justice, academic freedom and peace. Yes, it is a moment for all of us to genuinely reflect on finding appropriate answers and sustainable remedies to our poor system of education.
I have travelled to the north, west, east and south of this country, and I know what primary students endure – I know how primary schools look like – I know what quality of teachers most of these schools have – I also know the type of academic facilities they have. The hard fact is that access to free, compulsory and quality primary education is yet too far from our shores even though this is a fundamental human right that every child is entitled to according to Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What then can we do to jealously protect this right and secure a brighter future for Liberia and generations yet unborn? What must we do as a people and a nation to guarantee quality primary education for every Liberian child? As these questions run through our minds, they must remind all of us that we have a sacred duty to this country. And this sacred duty is tied to our collective resolve and deep sense of solidarity as nationalists and patriots to act now and salvage the future our nation.
If not now, then when? If we cannot invest now in primary education, then when? If we are unwilling now as parents and guardians to pay our children’s tuition, then when? If our government cannot take concrete steps now to address this prevailing mess confronting primary education, then when? If our teachers, communities, churches, mosques and civil society organizations cannot buttress government’s effort now by promoting academic excellence and instilling discipline in our kids, then when?
If our partners or donors do not increase their support to primary education now, then when? If our students themselves are not willing to study and research for hours, then when? I ask again “Then when will we get rid of this mess” in order to safeguard our nation’s future. All of us have a responsibility one way of the other to get rid of this mess once and for all. The government, partners and parents have a leading role to play. If this tripartite alliance can increase their support to primary education, the desired change we are yearning for can become a reality in this century. This is why I have come for us to briefly consider the theme “Primary Education: The Wisest Investment for Government, Partners and Parents”.
Madam Principal and distinguished guests, I primarily chose to focus on the government, partners and parents because they are like a triangle in terms of investment towards primary education. Without the support of these 3 key groups, the impact of primary education would be infertile. If only these 3 groups can recognize that they are the most significant architects and leading actors of quality primary education, there would be an educational renaissance throughout our nation.
What investment is wiser than quality primary education? What investment is wiser than investing in our children’s future? All through my life, I have not seen any investment more valuable than the investment in quality primary education. Building a strong foundation is more crucial than building a strong roof. After all, there is no roof without foundation. After 170 years, Liberia still has the highest proportion of children missing out on primary education worldwide, 65% of them, according to UNICEF. Though Liberia has an enrollment rate of 1,531,489 students with a total of 5,181 schools and 44,250 teachers, but quality education still remains a major challenge.
The Government, Partners and Parent must fix this mess and ensure that Liberia gets back on track even more than its pre-war status. 63% of Liberian girls between the ages 15 and 25 still remain illiterate. What are we doing about this? Vulnerable groups such as the BLIND and the CRIPPLED still have difficulties in accessing our schools due to unfavorable environments. This has to end as well. It is time for our government, partners and parents to rigorously prioritize goal #4 of the SGDs, Article 6 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, Article 26 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11 of the 1979 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 28 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2011 Children’s Law of Liberia.
If these provisions are patriotically pursued, I am very sure that a messy education system in Liberia would be a story of the past. The need for our government and partners to increase support to public and private institutions in Liberia cannot be overemphasized. I call for increment in the budgetary allotment of primary education in Liberia. Madam Principal and our distinguished audience, having said all of these, we want to congratulate these graduates for moving a step further in their academic sojourn. This journey may seem long or rocky at some point, but you must never give up. There is a crown at the end for every one of you. Hard work, discipline, humility and perseverance can get you there.
I want to encourage the parents of these students to never stop paying their fees. Surely, the investment you are making today will pay off tomorrow and give you a decent retirement package. All of us today must keep in mind that primary education is the wisest investment of all. Madam Principal, I want to extend my earnest gratitude to you and your hard working team for inviting me and may God continue to bless this great institution and make it the LIGHT in this time of darkness. May God bless our nation and its people as we look forward to a new era of prosperity for all. Thank you very much…..
Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth and student activist, a columnist and an emerging economist who hails from Bong County. He currently studies Economics at the University of Liberia and is a Lux-in-Tenebris Scholar. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org