Using Technology to Address Liberia’s Education and Teacher’s Deficit
by Ciata Victor
This week the news has been all about the nearly 25,000 Liberian High School Graduates that failed the University of Liberia entrance exam, with officials saying they did not have a basic grasp of English. I am sure they also don’t have a basic grasp of Reading, Math, Science or Literature.
As gloomy as the education system in Liberia looks at the moment, hope is on the Horizon. The ACE submarine cable network became a reality on January 18, 2013 and the recent approval by the Government of Liberia to provide the sovereign guarantee necessary for LIBTELCO to acquire the funds needed to construct the country's first Metropolitan Fiber Ring, should place Liberia in position to begin to utilize the technology to help the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration make the dream of e-Education a reality.
The Metropolitan Network is suppose to extend LIBTELCO’s existing Duct System, which currently runs from Freeport, through Central Monrovia to Catholic Junction. The proposal that LIBTELCO has sought funding for will extend the Freeport end of the duct from Freeport along Somalia Drive to Red Light. The Catholic Junction end will be extended along Tubman Blvd through Congo Town and Paynesville up to Red Light and ultimately extending to Fendell, Firestone and RIA airport , creating Liberia’s first Metropolitan Fiber connectivity and the first leg of a national fiber backbone.
If this phase of the network is completed as proposed, it will make broadband accessible to many schools along the main road in Bushroad Island, Central Monrovia , Sinkor, Congo Town, Paynesville, Gardnerville, Barnesville, Steven Tolbert Estate, the Black Gina area and up to the new University of Liberia campus in Fendell.
What the government should next focus on is connectivity. The Government of Liberia in conjunction with private schools should develop a connectivity plan that will not only connect Elementary, Junior, High Schools and Universities to the submarine cable, but to equip these schools with the equipment, software, hardware and other required devices to facilitate long distance learning.
While connectivity is occurring, the government of Liberia and the Ministry of Education should engage international organizations and partners to develop and identify long distance learning programs for all levels of students in Liberia to participate in.
With the assistance of microphones, cameras, LCD monitors, Internet Access, and computers, Liberian Students can get access to qualified teachers anywhere in the world. The India Government already ran a pilot program at the University of Liberia.
The thousands of currently unqualified teachers can themselves be required to undergo e-education while serving as teachers-aid. They can be reassigned to give the students their assignments, oversee and collect tests, and interact with the long distance teacher via telephone, email or video to plan the curriculum for the next day, week or month.
Liberia has acquired the technology, but not much is being done to ensure that the Government of Liberia begins to utilize it to help transform the country and solve some of the stubborn problems that persist due to lack of capacity.
The ACE Cable is here, but for us to realize it’s full potential, we MUST build the Distribution Network. This means the current duct system must be extended and fiber optics placed in them. Concrete Plans and policies need to be developed to connect Government, Schools, Hospitals and Clinics to the Fiber Network which will give them the opportunity to utilize the latest technology and utilize e-Education and e-Medicine. We must equip these institutions and we must train the people who will support the use of Broadband and the Internet to speed up the recovery process.
One of the big challenges for the Liberian Government will be how to accomplish this task. No funding has been earmarked for connectivity. Each ministry is in charge of its own budget. Few of them consider this a priority. One option for the government of Liberia, may be to develop a budget and find funding to create a special, one-time project to connect all Government Ministries, Agencies, Government Schools, Government Hospitals and government run clinics within access of the duct. After each has been connected, equipped and a support staff trained, the project can be handed back to the organizations that will then be responsible to support it in their budgets and manage it beyond that point.
Liberia needs help with education, let Liberia invest in the development of an e-Education program. Technology won’t solve all of the problems, but it can make available qualified teachers who don’t have to move to Liberia to help and it will provide access to vast amounts of education resources. That is the advantage broadband connectivity to the rest of the world offers and the beauty of Distance Learning.
Ciata Victor is a business woman and technologist currently living and working in Monrovia.