The blame game in Liberia’s academic arena



When students failed massively in the West African Examination Council (WAEC)-administered Liberia Senior High Certificate Examination or the entrance and placement test of the state-run University of Liberia in consecutive years recently, public opinion apportioned the greatest blame for the failure to the students. Public outcry has been that students failed because the children in Liberia nowadays have not been serious to learn and do not want to study their lessons; writes D. Yadeh Chea.

Interestingly, as queer as it may seem, one needs to come to grip with the fact that there has never been a time or place anywhere in the world where on the average students, at least young people in grade school, are independently serious to learn and want to study. Rather, students in grade schools, if not in other schools, everywhere at all times are made serious to learn and to want to study.

Students’ seriousness about their lessons and wanting to study in the teaching-learning setting is a dependent variable, a variable dependent on other seriousness variables – seriousness of teachers, seriousness of administrators, seriousness of policymakers, and seriousness of parents and guardians, among others.

Every student who is more or less conscious of promotion wants to be promoted, but to be promoted, a student must pass the tests or examinations. To pass the tests or examinations, a student must show evidence of a level of learning or achievement, but to do so, a student has to study. To study is a core identity activity of the student; that is, it seems, the reason the pupil is called a student, a one who is devoted to study. However, to study is a very difficult and time-consuming thing to do. So every student who desires a pass or promotion tends to look for alternatives, complements or outwits to studying.

Since a student wants to pass, he or she will study to show proof of achievement and obtain a pass on a test or examination, if there is no alternative, complement or outwit to obtaining a pass and promotion. A student who can get a pass and promotion by cheating will not be serious to study; a student who can get a pass by offering the teacher a favor, whether sex, money or any other kind, will not be serious about studying for the test or examination; a student who can get a pass by getting some influential person(s), parents or guardians to “talk to the teacher” will not be serious about preparing for the test or examination; a student who can get a pass and promotion to the next grade by getting parents or guardians to transfer him/her from a school where he/she has failed to another school and register him/her for the next grade will not be serious to study for the test or examination to get promotion; a student who can find a school administrator to admit him or her to the next grade in another school after he or she has failed in one school will not be serious to study for test or examination to get promotion; a student who is made to believe that someone will leak the test or examination items with the answers will not be serious about studying for the test or examination. So when teachers, administrators, policymakers and parents and guardians are serious about playing their roles well, then students are made serious about their role.

However, this theory seems not to hold water here. Though there have been allegations that some teachers are giving grades for money, sex and other forms of favor, that some school administrators for some gifts or returns do admit into the next class students who fail in other schools, and that some parents and guardians transfer their children who fail in one school to another school and register them for the next class, every allegation of that sort has been debunked by all stakeholder groupings as derogatory, unfounded and baseless. They fire back that it is just a handful of people who may be in such practices. Indeed, the minority seems to be casting the winning votes! That our education system turned out as what it is said to be as a result of the malpractices of a negligible handful of people beats reasonable thinking. So one may never be sure of whom to blame for mass failure of students in standardized tests and examinations, but certainly the students themselves are not to blame.

Students in those nations whose education systems are considered gems by the people who dub our education system “a mess” have more enticing entertainment centers and activities than our students in this squeezed-up coastal patch; they have televisions to watch in more homes than in homes here where television is a luxury; they have more open access to mind-polluting internet services than our students in this place where e-technology suffers periodic headache; they have more advanced and sophisticated electronic gadgets to carry to school than our students on these disadvantaged hot stuffy shores; they live in a more permissible society where the “people just spoil their children” than in our African cultural norms and values trotting  society; they have a more open society for youthful emotion-tearing romance than our students in this tight African  love nest. Nevertheless, they are made serious to study and to come out with good results in their schools.

Of course, the education systems in the other countries have their own woes, yet the very people who say Liberia’s education system is “a mess” do admit that their education systems are pearls. A graduate from a school, even if it is a diploma mill, in any of those countries is considered more qualified than a graduate from the best school in Liberia. 

A child, christened unserious and not wanting to study from Liberia placed into the education system of any of those countries suddenly starts to show “seriousness” and to experience great achievements. Our people fight to send their children to those countries for school.  If the children are inherently not serious about learning and do not want to study, it seems irrational to send them to other places, because wherever they are, they will still not be serious since “not-being-seriousness” is in their DNAs. So it seems reasonable to conclude that there is no inherent “not-being-seriousness” and “not wanting to study” syndrome in a child in the school system in Liberia.

Of course there are other factors including unfit teachers in the classroom, lack of textbooks, dearth of instructional materials, and over-crowdedness in the Liberian classroom, but the students are not to blame for those either. So in the blame game in the academic arena in Liberia, students are not to blame. One must look for the culprits elsewhere.