Liberian Education: Designing the Future of Learning in Liberia

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After more than 14 years of civil war, which resulted in the total or near destruction of infrastructure and institutions as well as loss of life, Liberia is still rebuilding its damaged education system.  Structural issues and the recent Ebola crisis in 2015, have also contributed to challenges facing the education system. Due to Ebola, approximately 1.2 million children in Liberia could not attend school. A study conducted in 2018 showing the divergent paths of primary education’s expansion, based on the countries’ primary gross enrollment rate, the shares of children out of school, and the retention rates in basic education show that Liberia is placed among Group 4 countries: countries that have made limited progress on all fronts highlighted above. Liberia has one of the world’s highest levels of out-school children, with an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of 6–14 year-olds who are not in class. Just over a third of pre-schoolers have access to early childhood learning programmes and only 54 per cent of children complete primary education. Additionally, according to the World Bank, of children who enroll in primary school, 69 percent ‘survive’ to grade 6 and 59 percent ‘survive’ to grade 9. In the Education Quality and Access in Liberia (EQUAL) study, the mean score for Grade 3 oral reading fluency was 19.9 correct words per minute, compared to a mean score of 25 correct words per minute on the EGRAPlus assessment, and an average of 18.9 correct words per minute for Grade 3 students assessed by the

Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) II study. More troubling is the fact that international benchmarks associated with literacy and comprehension are set at an oral reading fluency of between 45–65 correct words per minute. Even though, the Government of Liberia has made some progress and initiated some reform efforts by developing the Getting to Best Education Sector Policy  Plan and the controversial Partnership School for Liberia policy (Africa’s first free national public partnership for basic education)  there is still a lot to be done.

Given this background, my article will discuss designing the future of teaching and learning in order to best prepare learners in Liberia to effectively participate and succeed. Education is at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims. In view of the aforementioned, I propose designing the future of teaching and learning in Liberia that is based on the following strategic aims: learning to live together, learning to know, learning to do and learning to be. In addition, this proposed design is approached through a cultural and psychological perspective of education. For example, the choice of which competencies should be included in our curriculum standards straddles the cultural perspective and the psychological perspective in that choosing which competencies to cultivate reflects normative choices resulting from cultural understandings about what is necessary, as well as psychological knowledge about what is possible and helpful to individuals.

Having mentioned the key pillars of education above, I will highlight three key reform activities essential in designing the future of learning and teaching in Liberia. They include reforming the early childhood education curriculum to include 21st century skills (I wrote extensively about this in a previous article), institutionalization of extra-curricular activities and reforming students’ assessment. I strongly believe these three reforms could serve as an over-all roadmap in ensuring an education system in the Liberia where learners are empowered to actively participate and succeed. Even though curriculum reform can be a catalyst for change, new curricula alone will likely be ineffective unless teachers are equipped to teach these curricula. Curricular changes highlighted above will therefore be accompanied by increased opportunities for teachers and school managers to renew their professional competence.  The goal of these proposed reforms are to ensure Liberia has a strong early education system, a reimagined and a professionalized teacher workforce.

Curriculum

There’s a growing awareness among stakeholders that the curriculum in Liberia needs to be reformed immediately. As mentioned earlier, this segment is drawn from my previous article on infusing 21st century skills in our curriculum. It is important that all learners develop new skills to solve tough problems, work together and express ideas in new ways.  A competency infused curriculum for basic education is therefore essential for all learners in Liberia. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified as key competencies: interacting in socially heterogeneous groups, acting autonomously and using tools interactively. Each competency has an internal structure comprising various domains, for instance, the ability to cooperate encompasses: knowledge, cognitive skills, practical skills, attitudes, emotions, values and ethics and motivation related to cooperation. Incorporating these skills including cognitive and socio-emotional objectives into our curriculum are also aligned with Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”  The future of learning and teaching in Liberia will therefore focus on ensuring teachers have the policy framework in place, in this case the curriculum to ensure they are preparing learners to be global citizens. The World Economic Forum defines global citizenship skills as those that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community.

The theory of change behind the proposed curriculum reform to include infusing competency is that a competency infused curriculum will lead to better learning outcomes for children and better prepare them to thrive in the 21st century. The competencies identified by OECD, which I highlighted above could be linked directly with subject specific competencies that are in the current curriculum.

Institutionalization of Extra-Curricular Activities

It is high time schools especially public schools in the country institutionalize extra-curricular activities including athletics, music, drama, newspapers, yearbooks and student clubs which could train students in life skills that are not part of the traditional subjects. In Liberia, most learners in the public school systems do not have access to these activities. In order to institutionalize these activities, efforts should be made towards the development of policies that will serve as a legal framework for inclusion of extra-curricular activities in the curriculum. Because public education is densely populated, extra-curricular activities will solve the problems associated with mass enrollment but also empower teachers, parents and communities to participate in the child’s learning process.

Reforming Student Assessments

Lastly, designing the future of teaching and learning can be successful if a comprehensive and rigorous assessment systems that contribute to quality education is developed. Education stakeholders can borrowing from one of the best education systems in the world, Shanghai Education System where large scale system level assessment are put in place to not only assess learning in the classroom but also ensure continuous evaluation of the education system. Stakeholders should also bear in mind that the main drivers that determines effectiveness of student assessments are enabling environment, system alignment and assessment quality. Particular emphasis should be made to encourage teachers to design formative assessments that reflect students’ learning outcomes and that track individual students’ growth, rather than focusing on comparing students with one another and ensure that teachers develop the necessary skills and expertise to carry out these assessments. Additionally, my proposal for assessment in the education sector is the development of an assessment module that can  diagnose student learning issues, provide feedback to students on their learning, inform teaching, communicate with parents about their child’s learning, and meet school-level requirements on assessing student achievement.

Looking Forward

The Millennium Learning initiative has studied successful examples at scale of quality education focused on mastery of core academic content and their framework identifies the following four features of successful cases of quality at scale: committed leaders, delivery mechanisms, finance, and an enabling environment. Designing the future of learning in Liberia will require commitment from political leaders, international donors as well as a well thought of mode of delivery. Additional efforts should be made to secure resources to ensure successful implementation.

Lastly, it is important to note that designing the future of learning in the country will require resource, collaboration, and the active participation of key stakeholders in the education sector.

About the Author

Laura Golakeh is a passionate gender and education advocate. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Gender and Peacebuilding and is currently a student at Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University pursuing a Master of Education in International Education Policy. She can be reached for comments or feedback at  lgolakeh@gse.harvard.edu or WhatsApp +231776834002.

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