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Education

Despite improvements in educational facilities, increases in their number, and expanded school enrollment during the era of the Tubman and Tolbert administrations, the educational system at the time of the 1980 coup was marked by significant inadequacies in the quantity and quality of schools, teachers, and educational materials. In the early 1980s primary education was still far from universal, and secondary education reached only a small proportion of those between 12 and 20 years of age. As a result, the literacy rate for the population aged five years and older was estimated at about 24 percent.

Although few people who settled in Liberia in the nineteenth century had much formal education, many were convinced that the success of their venture and the personal success of' their children required it. Public primary and secondary schools for Americo-Liberians were therefore established early, as were church-sponsored schools and institutions of higher education. Generally, these schools were expected to provide a primary and secondary education that would permit the recipient simultaneously to work in offices or to study for professions such as law and theology. In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, little attention was given to the education of Liberia's indigenous population. Americo-Liberian governments were not financially in a position to consider educating the entire country, and their control over the indigenous peoples on the coast, let alone the remoter portions of the Hinterland, was nonexistent or precarious. Moreover, schools would have had to contend with Poro and Sande training classes and other "bush schools," which was not an easy task under the conditions of the pre-Tubman era. There were a few mission schools in the nineteenth century and several more in the first third of the twentieth, but only a limited number of indigenous Africans benefitted from them. Of the few local Africans who were educated in the first century of the republic, most were wards of Americo-Liberian families.

In 1912 a centralized educational system under a cabinet-level official was established. It encompassed only the five coastal counties, however, and chiefly served the Americo-Liberians living there. Beyond the establishment in 1929 of the Booker Washington Institute (a vocational school) and a teacher training college- by a combination of both American philanthropic and religious interests- little else of significance in education occurred until the World War II era and Tubman's inauguration. Before the war private and mission schools accounted for more than three-fourths of the educational facilities in the country. Mission schools, more numerous than they had been at the turn of the century, provided whatever education Hinterland Africans (other than the wards of Americo-Liberian families) obtained.

For the most part, formal instruction at mission schools was limited to the primary level. In the pre-World War II period and later, children o the Americo-Liberian elite (and some of the more promising wards) were sent to neighboring African territories or to Europe or the United States for secondary education, partly because of the prestige of doing so and partly because Liberian schools were not highly regarded. There were exceptions, however, one o which was the College of West Africa, a Methodist secondary school long established in Monrovia.

In the post-World War II era, economic growth and an awareness of social developments elsewhere in Africa stimulated government involvement in the education o indigenous Liberians and with it the reorganization of the school system in 1961. That reorganization, which included mission and private schools, established a structure that persisted into the 1980s, At the base was pre-primary education for children aged four and five; six years of elementary schooling for children aged six to twelve; junior and senior high schools, each level having a three-year curriculum; and post-secondary education (see fig. 7). By the early 1960s more than half the primary and secondary teachers and students were in government-operated schools. That shift having taken place, however, there were no major changes in the proportion of government schools until after the coup, despite the growth in absolute numbers. In 1980 a little more than 58 percent of students in the primary and secondary grades were in government schools. Of the remainder, the pupils in mission schools slightly exceeded those in privately managed institutions. Government-managed schools were particularly prevalent at the primary level. At the secondary level the missions were more active; there were nearly as many mission-managed senior high schools (tenth through twelfth grades) as there were government-operated counterparts, although the number of students in the latter was substantially greater than that in mission schools.

In 1981, the first full year after the coup, the number of students increased slightly, but the proportions shifted markedly. About 66 percent of all students were in public schools, and the remainder were divided between mission and private schools; the proportion in the former was a little greater than in the latter (see table 3, Appendix). The proportional change was a function not only of the increase in the numbers attending public schools but also of a decline in the numbers attending both mission and private schools. The change reflected the elimination of fees for public school attendance and a promise to lower the cost of textbooks.

The expansion in facilities was soon reflected in the growth of enrollment. In 1963 fewer than 70,000 pupils were in the pre-primary and primary grades; by 1980 that number had more than tripled. The increase in secondary school pupils between 1963 and 1980 was eightfold, a consequence of the growth in the number of schools and in the pool of primary-school graduates. In that period indigenous Liberians had come increasingly to accept the utility of an education, and the societies that controlled the bush schools had adapted to the change. Where the initiation period had once lasted for several years, it had diminished in many communities to less than a year.

In the early 1980s there were still significant differences in school attendance between certain coastal counties and some of the rural ones. Despite the growth in Liberia's total enrollment, only a little more than one-half the six-to-12-year cohort was in primary school in 1980, a proportion smaller than that common

At the junior-high level, additional attention was supposed to be paid to science and mathematics, but much of this work was remedial. In addition to a standard academic course, vocational, agricultural, and commercial instruction has been offered in the senior high schools. The oldest of the vocational schools is the Booker Washington Institute; but others have been established, and some of the mining companies offer training in mechanical and electrical work to small numbers of students. This service has reflected the need for trained workers that was not being met by other schools. Data for the early 1980s on enrollment in the several alternative paths in senior high school were not available, but the bulk of senior high school students, having made it that far, tended to choose the academic curriculum, hoping to find either white?collar work or an opportunity for postsecondary education upon graduating. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was much official emphasis on manpower planning and related training, but the effects of that activity on secondary school courses were not clearly discernible in mid?1984.

Government expenditures on education were low compared with those of other West African countries. Moreover, much of what was spent went to postsecondary education, leading to improvements in its quality but leaving primary and secondary students lacking materials and adequate teachers. Most of the funds for primary and secondary education were expended on salaries for teachers, but these were so low that the best educated of them went on to other jobs as soon as they could. Much was made in the 1960s and 1970s of the textbooks often imported from the United States, which contained material that had little relevance for life in Liberia. Whatever the validity of that criticism, a problem at least as great was the sheer lack of textbooks. It was estimated in the late 1970s that 60 percent of the students had none. Also widely lacking were such simple teaching materials as blackboards and erasers. Even scarcer were laboratory facilities for secondary?school science classes.

There were plans and programs in place in the early 1980s to deal with these problems. Teacher training and the development of adequate textbooks were given particular priority. The teacher training institutes established in the 1970s were turning out far more teachers than had been the case a decade earlier. Nevertheless, the number being trained annually in the late 1970s and early 1980s was not enough to meet anticipated requirements for an expanding school system or to replace the many inadequately trained teachers. Moreover, programs for in-service teacher training had not been developed. The effects of the textbook program were not discernible in mid-1984. In 1984 there were three significant postsecondary institutions in Liberia: The University of Liberia, a government institution in Monrovia; Cuttington University College at Suakoko, which was administered and financially supported by the Episcopal church with help from a government subsidy; and the William V. S. Tubman College of Technology, a government institution founded in 1978. The largest of these institutions was the University of Liberia, which in 1981 had more than 3,300 students. Established after World War II, it incorporated Liberia College as the college of liberal arts. Other faculties included business, science and technology, agriculture and forestry, medicine, and law. Business attracted more than one-third of all students, followed by science and technology and liberal arts; most graduates in 1981 took degrees in business. There were more graduates in liberal arts than in science and technology, however.

Cuttington University College, reestablished in 1949 after having been closed in 1928, had between 500 and 600 students in 1981. They were enrolled in fields of study that ranged from economics to theology to nursing. The largest number of students studied economics and, slightly fewer, business, education, and nursing. Together, these four programs accounted for nearly 70 percent of all students. The fewest number of students majored in such subjects as history, theology, languages, and literature.

Only three years old in 1981, the Tubman College of Technology then had fewer than 200 students, most of them in the first year of study. The institution was expected to award associate degrees in engineering technology, and it offered specialization in civil, mechanical, electrical, and electronic engineering and in architecture.

Until the Tolbert era, the early 1970s,the University of Liberia offered little more than a secondary-school education and not a very good one at that. In contrast, Cuttington University College had higher standards for admission and for graduation. Moreover, because it drew upon the indigenous population for most of its students, the college had a student body that did not regard a higher education as a right conferred by social status. Many children of Americo- Liberians went to the University of Liberia as a rite of passage, however, and graduation in a given year was often the basis for the formation of social clubs that played a significant role in political life.

In the decade before the coup, the Tolbert administration apparently encouraged the university not only to grow but also to improve its standards. Much of the improvement involved the participation of indigenous Liberians who had acquired graduate degrees abroad, often in the United States, as faculty members. By the mid-1970s a substantial proportion of the student body was of tribal origin. The improvement in the quality of the faculty and the student body and the change in the social and ethnic background of many students led to sustained questioning of the social and political orders in the Tolbert era as well as the generation of opposition movements (see Parties, Associations and Factions, ch. 4).

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