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In Defense of Education: Yes, Da Book We Will Eat

This election seem to have unearthed questions and some unsettling doubts. Liberia has now become fertile ground for debate and conflicting views on the value of education. Are we so far behind as a country that the most important foundation upon which to build our country has now fallen under attack? Are we so confused as a people that we now shun what we once held priceless? We now live in a knowledge-based century where increasingly the development of a country is linked to knowledge and information and the skills to use both.

That is why Japan is so rich despite not having any natural resource yet Venezuela is poor with so much oil. That is why cocoa is exported from Ghana and Ivory Coast and returned as chocolate for three times the price. That is why latex from Liberia is sold to us in the form of tires and other rubber products. Resources vs knowledge to turn the resources into something useful. Africa has the fastest-growing and most youthful population in the world. Over 40% are under the age of 15 and 20% are between the ages of 15 and 24 (African Development Bank). The World Bank estimates that 11 million young people in Sub-Saharan Africa will join the job market every year for the next decade. This increase in youth population will continue for the next 60 years.

Those that scorn education need to know that uneducated youths of today become uneducated older citizens of tomorrow. It seems unthinkable that some who are educated are leading the charge against having an educated leader. Some boast with pride “I am not a book man” as if he or she should get a medal because of this declaration. Education should not be an option but the most fundamental requirement, a non-negotiable. Yet we have “educated” people questioning the one non-negotiable factor in our process towards development. Like the Pope questioning Catholicism, it would be funny but for the fact that it is so very ridiculous. Yes, we are aware of the persistent cry that education has failed our nation. Far from it. Education has not failed us.

Rather, education has been circumvented, reconfigured and replaced by cronyism and nepotism under the guise of education in this government. Friendship and family ties bought you a place in the circle of power. We have clerks returning home to take up jobs as managers of corporations, Walmart greeters being assigned to some of the nation’s high offices and security guards being given positions of CEOs. We have some of our people returning home and behaving as if by simply crossing the ocean, they have forgotten how to say thank you, please, or even how to drive! We have people returning with dubious degrees given jobs where they are totally out of their depths. That is why those at home equate education with incompetence and arrogance. Education in its truest and purest form never fails. That is why parents work day and night to send their kids to school. When we poke fun, when we question, when we doubt its rewards we give lie to the rural farmer, the market woman, the cold water seller who toil under the scorching sun and the torrential rains to send their children to school.

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Photo credit: Jackie Sayegh
None of them hope that their child or children will join them in selling cold water or bending their backs with hoes to dig the earth. They want better for their children and they know that comes through education. We do irreparable damage to our young children when we question the very basis for which they get up each morning, braving rain and sun, lack of transportation, meals, and basic necessities all for a goal that now is being ridiculed by the same people who should foster and elevate education by their words and behavior. Education is the development of an entire person. It is not just to get a job or an assurance of an easy life. It is the acquisition of skills to view things rationally and with reason, to conduct oneself with civility and integrity, and to navigate the world through a knowledge-based lens. It is more than a meal ticket or a means to an end. ” If all the problems of economic and social life were solved and people did not even have to work, we would still seek knowledge” according to educator Dennis Hayes. He is right. Education is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself! By  Franklin Ben-Weller and Jackie Sayegh (University of Liberia alumni)
Main Pic: University of Liberian Fendell Campus

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