The schools are failing in Liberia, nearly everyday the newspapers give examples; just that week (August 20, 2013) The Inquirer revealed that “all of the… 25,000 candidates who sat the [University entrance] examinations failed…. and all of the candidates failed English.” That is to say that they scored under 50%. “It is a really big problem here,” the Deputy Minister said, “The literacy and numeracy rates are low – even in the University.” He shook his head despondently as he told me how bad the University of Liberia was, in his opinion, “The University is good for paper only. Too many students graduate without any knowledge, they just have a certificate – sometimes for subjects the University can’t even teach.” According to him the University has been graduating people from courses like Science when they do not even have a laboratory. “You see, here, you pass if you can pay. People who actually study don’t even get their passes if they don’t pay.” He was referring to the extra cost of bribing tutors to get their results.
I had come to him to talk about therapeutically led educational projects, hoping that he would point me in the direction of some. In theory such work should fall within his remit under both Vocational and Special education, in practice he could think of no relevant governmental programs. When I told him about my own work he clicked his fingers, saying, “Yes, this is exactly what we need. You see these ex-combatants, these young men – on the apprenticeship programs, they did not stay.” He gave me an example of a road building program he ran the previous year. He said that there were fifty participants who were taught basic construction skills on the job. He expressed his disappointment that they all left the program early, some staying barely a few hours before they lost interest and walked away. “It is as you describe your pupils – they could not concentrate, they were disrespectful of authority. It was very difficult to manage them. We have a lot of that here, these traumatised young men and women. What we need in Liberia is a therapeutic model.”
While I am grateful that a state education official has confirmed this for me, the fact that no viable models currently exist within government programs is worrying when you consider that half of the population are under 25 years old and a high percentage of them would be traumatised (war-affected) as well as unemployed. But given the amount of resources a school like my own requires to support just ten pupils, it becomes obvious that for a therapeutic model to succeed it will require a highly creative and adaptive approach.