The Reasons For Early School Calendar In Liberia Part IV
Scholastic Article on Educational Planning in Liberia
By Sonkarley Tiatun Beaie
• None prediction of global warming;
• Shortages of local food products;
• Exclusion of grown-up students and former child fighters;
• Achievement of universal primary education; and
• Increase in city theft and armed robbery.
6.1 None prediction of global warming
The prediction of global warming, where climate changes had caused the rainy season in Liberia sometimes prolonging beyond October, was seemed not to have been considered in the decision to change the calendar.
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. As such, there are variations in the enrollment of students. Thus, at each individual level, the discrepancies in the coverage of the curriculum content, among other factors, are presently resulting to weak academic performances of our children.
6.2 Shortages of local food products
As mentioned in the previous section, the production of Liberia’s local food products is not mechanized; nevertheless, it provides approximately 75 percent of the feeding needs. For example, the green vegetables, local rice, eddoes, plantains, cassava, livestock, cattle, protein source such as fish, etc., are mostly produced by our traditional farmers. Participants in the production include the entire members of the household, which comprises the children and the elderly people. Consequently, having school during the beginning of the farming season, would mean, an exclusion of the student population as previously mentioned.
The followings are likely seen as possible envisaged negative implications:
• Increase in the population food dependency ratio. The change may exert pressure on the national government to divert capital investment to subsidize importation of food, particularly rice, or increase the price of our staple food, rice, thus, making it difficult for low income earners;
• Increase in the daily wages of job-cutters . Due to the overwhelming demand for laborers, which may exist in the agricultural industry, as a consequence of excluding nearly 50 percent of the total population from farming activities, wages of job-cutters would be expected to rise;
• Increase in the prices of basic food commodities. In the absence of agricultural mechanization, the prices of basic local food commodities would be expected to increase; and
• Increase in rural to urban migration. The essence here is that, the urban sectors would be seemed to probably have easy access to the imported products. And, because cost of traditional farming method would rise concomitantly with the demand in wages of job-cutters, people would migrate to urban areas, where these basic consumption goods and services would be available, and at relatively cheaper rates.
6.3 Exclusion of grown-up students and former child fighters
The civil war in Liberia started on December 24, 1989, and had series of failed ceasefires until August, 2003, when the hostility finally ended after President Charles Taylor agreed and resigned and went into exile. The length of time the war lasted added additional years to its survivors. For example, babies born during the onset of the war were nearly fourteen years by the time the war ended, and in that sequence, those who reached five years, the official age for school enrollment, were nineteen years, etc. Except for children who fled along with their parents into exile, and those in urban cities, particularly Monrovia, there was no school for the rest of the country. Also, there was no greater impact on learning for rural villages and towns that attempted and opened schools due to lack of teachers, instructional materials and incentives for teachers.
On the other hand, there were thousands child soldiers found at war fronts in various factions, in which UNICEF report indicated that approximately, 21 percent (4,306) of the combatants disarmed under the provisions of the Abuja Peace Accords to be child soldiers under the age of 17 years . Many of the people surviving the war were at one time or another victim of torture, intimidation and atrocities by fighters, some of whom were child soldiers. Parental care and control had eroded significantly for such children; unless international organizations or government take the full responsibility for their education, many wishing to attend school would have to bear their own education costs.
The report also noted that, “many youths remained traumatized, and some still were addicted to drugs and the number of street children in Monrovia, and abandoned infants increased significantly following disarmament”. In summary, the report concluded, “Although pressured by the government to cease their programs, international NGOs and UNICEF continued retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters. These children were vulnerable to being recruited in sub-regional conflicts, since most had no other means of support” . Apart from this, Kofi Annan” said in a report to the Security Council that, “adult combatants who were trying to attend schools have been expelled due to a failure of the disarmament commission to pay their school fees, while another relief organization said, "We are able to break the chains of command when the children go home, but they are not going home. They are staying in Monrovia because there they can engage in petty trade” .
These findings significantly show that direct support to the grown-up or aged children and the vulnerable former child soldiers can surface only with little success. Indirect approach, such as, improvement in the rural based agriculture programmes, support to petty trade, etc., that may provide sources for self-employment, would have greater impact. These activities may engage the grown-up students voluntarily in meaningful integration programmes to help in financing the costs of education. Hence, the September entry calendar would jeopardize the initiatives, because the dry season’s fruitions are necessary to support such indirect method.
6.4 Achievement of universal primary education
The number of Liberian adults, 15 years old and above, that cannot read and write or in other word, illiterate, is estimated at about 70 percent. Majority of these people live below poverty line in small rural villages and towns on subsistent farming, and some in overcrowded urban households depending on petty trading as their mean source of livelihood.
In the rural areas, most of the parents engage their children on the farms as cheap laborers, while those in the urban and semi-urban towns, visa-vi utilize their children in petty trading, particularly during the vacation period. The introduction of calendar, which coincided with the beginning of the farming and the petty trade booming seasons respectively, would have adverse effect on the total enrollment ratio, particularly enrollment of grown-up children (15-24 years) and other adult students, as well as the former child fighters, who may rely on the success of their gains during the dry season to supplement the costs of their education. As such, Liberia would have difficulty in bolstering the enrollment of the adult children, who were affected by the civil war, as well as achievement of universal primary education by the year 2015, as spelt out in the Millennium Development Goals.
6.5 Increase in city theft and armed robbery
A research conducted by UNICEF/DATAWARE in 1998 on rapid assessment of children in five randomly selected urban cities in Liberia, revealed that 93 percent of the street children interviewed were literate, that is they can read and write, but were mostly elementary school drop-outs (i.e., grade 6 or below). Also, the survey report showed that all those detained minor children were literate, but were mainly elementary school drop-outs, and about 63 percent of them went to jail for stealing and armed robbery. It was then concluded that, “the fact that those involved in these city thefts were the semi-literate ones and not their illiterate counterparts nor the secondary graduates, should be a concern for attention”.
These findings are inserted to show as an example, the adverse effect of the change and the negative influence it may have on the behavioral pattern of our children. Upon this background, the former dry season entry calendar can be seen to have multidimensional educational goals. For instance, the entry season does not only expose students to classrooms learning activities, but also engage them to physical work discipline outside the school environments. Because the vacation season is set at the peak of major economic activities in Liberia, desirous students can therefore, engage themselves in the field or at least assist their parents on the farms, small scale family enterprises or whatsoever activities their parents do during the vacation period. These activities occupied children; hence, they do not only consider vacation period as a leisure time, but period where they could functionally be engaged in practices, which cumulatively, helped to determine their future careers. As a result, students who dropped in low grades were easily swapped into agriculture or other micro-businesses, which they did or saw their parents doing from time to time, while on vacation, instead of hopelessly roaming the streets, as it would likely be the case for the present September entry calendar in the long run.
Note that prior to our civil war or even up to date, Liberia has the least recorded cases of city theft and armed robbery in the sub-region, which in part, can be linked to possible correlation between the dualism of our former school calendar.
I am pleased to recommend the followings, which when implemented, would help to safeguard and bolster our educational system:
A).That the Liberian government restore the former dry season entry calendar to help with the following:
• Bolster the enrolment of grown-up children and former child fighters, who did not have the opportunity to attend school during the course of the civil war;
• Indirectly reduce city theft and armed robbery, for it may engage the drop-outs meaningfully to be self-sufficient and would not hopelessly roam the streets;
• Increase local food production;
• Provide means for self employment for children who may have low academic background or who may drop earlier in school;
• Reduce future rural to urban migration;
• Stabilize wages for job-cutters in the rural areas;
• Stabilize prices for local food commodities;
• Align our entry calendar to the peak of our economic production in order to reduce stress on low income families in the provision of school requirement for their children; and
• Bolster the academic performances of our children;
B). That the Ministry of Education promotes adult literacy program, by attaching adult literacy program in about 25 percent of the total schools in the country, in order to bolster the enrollment of those who did not have the opportunity to attend school during the course of the civil war, as well as promotes the overall adult literacy program; and
C). That since West African nations seem to have identical climate and weather patterns as well as mode of economic production, Liberia should pursue them to adopt the late February to December school calendar, which would equally help them to generally reduce some of the negative effects of the school calendar which was imposed by the former colonial masters.