Education and national decision-making*

 By Togba-Nah Tipoteh, PhD

The most vexing perennial and pervasive problem in Liberia is mass poverty. Mass poverty has become a principal pretext for violence, including war, as was seen in the Liberian Civil War. Out of this Civil War has emerged the clear Mandate of the People of Liberia, indicative of lessons well learned from the experiences during the Civil War. This Mandate remains: WE WANT PEACE! NO MORE WAR!

This Mandate demonstrates that mass conscientization has taken place to the point where the People are motivated to express themselves in the drive to make their lives better. The conscientization did not occur by accident. It emerged from the People’s experience with dismal living conditions, like the brutality of the hut tax and its attendant poverty generation, as well as from the sharing publicly of knowledge about the dismal conditions by intellectuals/advocates/activists in civil society. 

This Mandate is hailing mainly from the People, most of whom are illiterate. The management of the Liberian State continues to view illiterate people as being uneducated people, and, therefore, they are devoid of any significant participatory role in national decision-making. This non-participatory role is also assigned to women, who are more often than not considered to be bearers of babies and housekeepers.

Amid mass poverty, where the only way out of this dismal condition is for national decision-makers to respect the masses by encouraging their participation, especially in getting their approaches to societal problem solving, such disposition on the part of State Managers remains nonexistent. Witness the continuation of the colonial system of production of raw materials for export, where there is no emphasis on value addition, mass poverty, as seen in mass unemployment, especially youth unemployment, prevails. One cannot help but be reminded about the high and rising violence-oriented expectations of the unemployed youth. 

The idea that education is about knowledge attained from western schooling rather than from gaining awareness (the Greek concept of Educere), or learning about living with people (John Lewis, 1916) or learning to solve societal problems, especially those facing the poor (Paolo Friere,1970), is inconsistent with democratic institution building, which promotes mass participation, the indispensable factor for mass poverty alleviation. 

This definition of education that promotes mass participation in national decision-making is rooted in culture. It is through the appreciation of the People, as seen in their music, their languages, their tales/stories, their wearing that provide the self-respect and image building posture for making lives better. This late-day meets some persons on the national broadcaster not being able to pronounce Liberian names correctly. This definition of education at once promotes unity and stability for making lives better for an increasingly large segment of the population.

Most, unfortunately, the educational system in Liberia, as promoted by the government, remains western-oriented and is not Liberian-culture based. This is precisely why the educational system is a MESS, as described by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. When a culture does not define and operate the educational system, the system becomes a MESS. When we do not know about our problems, we do not know how to solve our problems. Our educational institutions, especially the higher educational ones, teach more about the problems of western countries and this precisely why the students learn to solve problems of western countries. 

Recently, I went to Sinoe County for the funeral of a great person, a Liberian, Mrs. Frances Mayson, who performed a great patriotic deed from teaching students’ civics, where they learned about Liberia. Civics has now become a study not found in our schools. On the way back to Monrovia from Sinoe, my vehicle got stuck in Rivercess County, near Grand Bassa County, and it took two caterpillar machines to pull my vehicle out of the mud. Then, I made it my business to talk with many persons about why some part of the Grand Bassa-Sinoe Road was right, even in the rainy season, when another part was terrible. The answer that I got was: the big shots were taking too much money from Stony Rock, the Liberian Contractor who built the all-weather laterite road, to the point that he became tired of the corrupt officials and got out of the contract, which was then given to a corrupt Contractor, who did the bad part of the road. The point here is that we have Liberians who can build all-weather laterite roads, but corruption prevents them from building good roads. With the bad roads and no roads, transportation and food prices rise, and mass poverty increases.

In demonstrating knowledge about solving problems in western countries, State Managers, operating within the “greed” mode mimic the mistakes being made by the State Managers in the western countries. Witness the poor economic policies and practices that have resulted in the widening gap between the poor and rich within countries and between poor and rich countries to the point where 82 percent of the income and wealth of the world is accounted for by one percent of the world’s wealthy persons. This greed led to the Great Depression of the early 1930s and the global financial crisis of 2008, pointing to the unsustainability of the dismal relationship between the poor and the rich. In effect, education, as defined here, tells us that the poor cannot look up to the rich to get the poor out of poverty because the rich will not do anything to end the sources that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Liberia is now the second poorest country in Africa (African Development Bank, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), the fourth most impoverished country in the world (World Bank, International Monetary Fund). It has the world’s worst record (62%) of children who should be in school but are not in school (UNICEF).

The prior knowledge informs us that intensive education/conscientization of the masses is indispensable for the motivation of the poor to utilize peaceful means to take themselves out of poverty and get into the land of progress where mass poverty is alleviated sustainably. 

*This brief perspective paper titled Education and National Decision-Making was sent to the Ministry of Education, Liberia, 2018 National Educational Summit, scheduled to be held May 21 to 25, 2018.

About the Author:

Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Ph.D. is an accomplished African economist; former Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, a former consultant for the United Nations, and a retired veteran professor at the University of Liberia.

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