This text is about the importance of providing a vibrant and culturally relevant curriculum and locally published textbooks in rebuilding the educational system of post conflict Liberia. It is about the proper preparation and provision of appropriate instructional supports for post war Liberian students and teachers. Hence, by “culturally relevant curriculum and textbooks” I mean providing and designing a set of courses that are interrelated to the texts, culture and political history of individual learners and their immediate environments. I also mean a combination of germane courses and contents that may broaden the intellectual horizons of learners and empower them to transfer knowledge gained from said courses not only to improve their own lives but also to use their expertise for the common good of society.
The Ministries of Education and Culture Must Promote the Literary Works of Liberian Authors
Also, a curriculum cannot be vibrant unless there are appropriate and adequate textbooks available that will reflect the ideals and philosophies the curriculum aims to accomplish. Unfortunately, there are not that many available locally published textbooks written by Liberian authors. In fact most of the time the Ministry of Education very rarely approves and recommends works written by Liberian authors to be used in Liberian schools and universities. In many instances, it is not because some of the locally published texts are faulty or substandard. Instead, the works of Liberian authors are rejected by authorities at the Education Ministry for several reasons: one, because of plain jealousy; two, because some gatekeepers in charge of curricular matters and approving textbooks may demand a cut before he or she can approve the literary work of his or her fellow compatriot; three, because contracts at the Ministry of Education are based not on the competence of Liberian authors to produce fine quality of literary works that may meet curricular requirements; but rather, because contracts are awarded on the basis of political partisanship. And four, sometimes the literary works of Liberian authors are rejected and not promoted by officials at the Ministry of Education because the author may be critical of the unlawful and corrupt acts of those presently in power in Liberia. Thus Liberian teachers and learners are deprived the use of much needed culturally relevant textbooks written by Liberian authors that meet the curricular requirements as well as the teaching and learning needs of Liberian teachers and learners due to corruption in high places in Liberia.
In addition, if the textbooks were produced by African authors, the problem might be that the life experiences presented in the texts may not necessarily correspond with the lived experiences Liberian learners are accustomed to or that Liberian learners may specifically identify with. Further, the use of incorrect textbooks may create a very difficult teaching experience for teachers who wrestle with the issue of filling in the blanks where information presented in the texts are inadequate and incorrect.
Some Reasons Why Not Fitting Textbooks Should Not Be Used in Post War Liberian Schools and Universities
The use of not fitting textbooks that are opposing to the curriculum in any given school system may have a negative rippling effect on learners. For instance, it may have the propensity to demoralize and brainwash students and may also make them misjudge or underrate their innate potentials and abilities to strive for excellence. In addition, not providing students with culturally rich textbooks may also cause students to develop different mindsets, cultural values, and mores that may be contrary to the value systems of their native settings. It may as well cause learners to develop self-hatred or disrespect for their own country and fellow countrymen and women (as Liberians commonly do to one another due to sheer lack of self-knowledge).
In most instances as well, important cultural and historical information about the larger underprivileged populations are omitted in the framework of the mainstream curriculum in Liberia while the history and culture of the privileged few are highlighted. Consequently, this may create a loophole in the teaching and learning processes of both privileged and underprivileged learners and consequently lead to lack of basic self-knowledge as well as lack of a deep sense of patriotism and deeper appreciation of cultural diversity. In consequence thereof, products of what I would term ‘quack school systems’ might end up becoming policymakers in real life situations in which they may afterwards demonstrate their inadequacies by making faulty decisions that may not benefit the greater masses of the people they rule or serve.
In view of the foregoing, most of the textbooks in Liberia are not written by Liberian writers. Instead, they are written by western scholars and researchers that usually promote an underlying motive and agenda of racial discrimination and white supremacy purposely to discredit the immense contributions (inventions and innovations) made by African scholars and civilizations. Also, textbooks published by foreign writers may not be in compliance with the local curriculum because the information contained in the texts may be thwarted to portray a negative image of Africans or the Black Race. In other instances foreign based texts may provide inaccurate information that does not present the real picture of events that occurred in Liberia or elsewhere on the continent of Africa.
Therefore, the importance of a vibrant and culturally relevant curriculum and an efficient educational system for postwar Liberian students and teachers cannot be overemphasized. Hence, the central theme in this text implies that a well-defined syllabus/curriculum is needed for post war Liberian schools in order to dictate the appropriate types of lessons post conflict Liberian learners should be taught in order to learn about themselves and the others around them. This educational process may subsequently foster mutual understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity in Liberia. In view of the above, it is also implied that post war Liberian teachers should be provided the necessary incentives they need (medical coverage, pension plan, manpower development and training opportunities, regular salaries that are commensurate with their workloads and responsibilities, and instructional materials) to perform their teaching tasks expeditiously.
In addition, the publication and distribution of appropriate locally produced textbooks that reflect and enhance the course contents, along with laboratory equipment and other instructional supplies like computers and manipulatives, etc., are also needed to motivate teachers to facilitate the learning process while at the same time empowering students to become active participants of their own learning experiences. From this perspective, it is safe to assert that an effective curriculum and efficient educational system may also create a milieu for post war learners and teachers in Liberia to have access to equality of educational opportunities and teaching resources that may transform lives and mindsets of all post war Liberian citizens (whether in the diaspora or in Liberia). Subsequently these teaching and learning experiences may make possible peaceful coexistence among persons of varied ethnic, political, social, economic, and religious persuasions. Of course that is the outcome that is direly needed in post conflict Liberian society today.
Furthermore, home-school congruity or fostering cordial and active working ties and interrelationships among teachers, students, parents and stakeholders is a must because it may serve as a fulcrum of self-empowerment, national unity and reconciliation. It may also aid students play an active role in their own education and eventually empower them to make informed decisions and to become forerunners of their own destiny.
Therefore, what we include as contents in the national educational curriculum of Liberia should correspond with the texts that teachers use to facilitate teaching and learning activities in post war Liberia. It may make a significant difference in appropriately molding the minds of productive and patriotic post war Liberian citizens. Nevertheless, this process can be achieved by including information and concepts that reflect the historical and cultural backgrounds of those for whom the curriculum is targeted so that learners may acquire sufficient self-knowledge. The rationale for this assertion is because self-knowledge empowers an individual to know who he or she is in order to develop self-confidence and self-pride—all of which are basic components that lead to deep appreciation of oneself and deep patriotism for one’s patrimony and fellow countrymen and women.
Against this backdrop, a curriculum can be a very vital tool of national development, rehabilitation, reconciliation, and national unity if it is properly structured to include the history and culture of all individuals and stakeholders within a given country or society. On the contrary, a curriculum may foster division, oppression, and denigration of the culture and history of the underprivileged, i.e., it may be divisive: it may set one group of citizens against another based on the contents that are selected to form part of the syllabus. Consequently, this may create a deficiency in the teaching and learning processes of post war Liberian students and also demoralize underprivileged students who in most instances may constitute members of the majority population. In view of the foregoing, I recommend that we re-conceptualize our national curriculum so that it may be inclusive and culturally relevant to all learners in post war Liberian society. Further, I recommend a national curriculum that will comprise a set of courses that help students acquire basic knowledge, vocational and technical skills in order to connect what they learn in school with what transpires daily in their immediate environments.
By: Rabbi Joe Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
13 May 2015