The Reasons For Early School Calendar In Liberia - PART I
A Scholastic Article on Educational Planning in Liberia
By Sonkarley Tiatun Beaie
• Justification of the change
• Reasons for early school calendar in Europe;
• The colonial imprint on school calendar;
• The intentions of early school calendar in Liberia; and
• The envisaged repercussion of the change.
2.0 JUSTIFICATION OF THE CHANGE
Three main reasons prompted the Liberia’s ministry of education to recommend a change in the early March to December school calendar to September to June. These include:
• Regional cooperation;
Avoidance of bad weather condition; and
Regional cooperation: Earlier, Liberia had accreditation system in which national exams were administered to grades 6, 9 and 12 by an independent national examination body known as the National Examination Council. Within the course of times, this national body was changed and replaced with a regional governing council called West Africa Examination Council (WAEC). One main reason was to enable Liberia to benefit from the membership of the regional grouping in West Africa, but a key requirement for such merger, was a change in the school calendar from the beginning of the year to from September to June of the succeeding year, which is practiced in the other member states.
Avoidance of bad weather condition: Another reason cited by the ministry of education during the period of the civil war was bad weather, where it was mentioned that the September entry schedule would avoid the peak of the raining season, which seemed to pose severe hardship on students.
International comparability: Other reason was international comparability, in which according to the then Liberia’s Secretary of Education John Payne Mitchell, said, “The school year had been changed to coincide with that of most countries in Europe and America; the transitional period planned for the beginning year to consist of three semester of school work after which would follow the normal two-semester year beginning in September of one year and ending in June of the succeeding year” . This was approved and passed into hand bill, but was shortly rejected by the public, and in his following report to the national legislature in 1963, he said, “We felt that the school year which had been introduced in Liberia was not suitable to the national interest. We therefore recommended to the President that the school year return to the original as we felt this is in the interest of the Liberian education” .
Opinion on the Earlier Decision: Some key elements which seemed not to have been considered in the decision to change the calendar were:
• Global warming, where climate changes had caused the pattern of the rainfall unpredictable, with rain sometimes prolonging beyond October in Liberia;
• Season of economic viability for parents to prepare their children for school; and
• Inculcation of needs and demands of citizens into planning process rather than yielding to the wishes of regional or international communities.
First, within the old system, experiences show that bad weather in Liberia was manageable up to July, and second semester which commences early August, the peak of the wet season was seen as a new phase in the academic calendar; as such, school requirement was only limited to rain outfits. Secondly, since annual vacation was set at the peak of the economic production, there were more opportunities for parents to earn income and settle their children’s school requirements such as uniforms, tuitions and fees before the commencement of the school year.
On the contrary, the September entry schedule is set at the peak of the rainy season, and therefore, imperative that all requirements including rain outfits be in place from the onset of the academic year. Students unable to meet these requirements wait to enroll during the second semester or manage one way or the other to enroll after the Christmas and New Year break.
3.0 REASONS FOR EARLY SCHOOL ENTRY IN EUROPE
Historical evidence shows that the times coinciding with major agricultural activities and the season where the peak of production of goods and services occurred were largely responsible for the early decision to have summer time as vacation period in Europe.
It had been proven that civilization started in the Nile valley in North Africa , and gradually spread to Europe and other parts of the world, indicating that our present developed nations didn’t become prosperous overnight, but passed through transitional stages similar to the levels, trends and patterns observed in less developed world today. Practically, these countries were mere agrarian societies which went through stages of demographic transition , and lived in small rural towns and villages, and primarily depended on subsistent farming. Since the farms were not mechanized, they began during a suitable season, so that nature can provide good weather necessary to sustain the growth of their crops. This evidence is supported by the history of the agricultural development in the Nile valley, where the traditional Egyptians could not begin their faming until after the annual flood of the Nile River .
The Europeans too are no exception, and used to commence their major farming activities in summer, which has fine weather, and considered as the period of fruition and fulfillment . They harvested their crops during summer, and stored the surpluses for consumption during the winter.
Generally, winter season has a cold weather, sometimes with temperature ranging up to minus 30 degrees Celsius or even more for some countries in Europe. Because of the freezing temperature, labor force participation rates in winter were dull; as a result, the highest peak of production of goods and services were in summer. Many concessions and individuals often halted their productions to service their working equipments or reduced production quota to fully resume operation after the worst winter season. These patterns of productions are still observed in Europe today, although advances in science and technology had reduced the large gap which existed between the two seasons in the past.
It is practically believed that studying the mode of production of goods and services, the earlier European education planners decided to have major vacation period in summer. This was somehow intended to provide the children good atmosphere for recreational facilities, as well as enhance the older students the opportunities to work during vacation or find some form of income generating activities in agricultural plantations or family’s enterprises that could enable them supplement the costs of their education.
Also, before the resumption of classes, which proceeded harvest time, the parents were presumed to have earned enough incomes either from the sales of their agricultural products or other sources of employment, apparently to meet the school requirements for their children. For example, according to David Swift , “women were often employed to teach in summer because only younger children attended during the early times in the United States, and during the winter term, when grown boys came in from the fields, it was the practice to hire men”.
3Arab Republic of Egypt (1977) Background to Egypt Five Thousand Years of Civilization, the Press and Information Office, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, London
4Bhende, A.A et al Principles of Population Studies Himalaya Publishing House, Bombay, India
5Arab Republic of Egypt (1977) Background to Egypt Five Thousand Years of Civilization, the Press and Information Office, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, London
6Fernando de Mello Vianna et al (editors) The American Heritage Desk Dictionary, published 1981 by Houghton Miffin Company
7Swift, David W. (1971) Ideology and Change in the Public School, Charles E Merriel Publishing company