The current academic year, which started in March this year and was to last until December, is plagued with serious confusion and uncertainty, causing misunderstanding or bad blood between the Executive and the Legislature of the government, between the government and school authorities, between the government and parents, between the government and students, and so forth.
This is how it all began. As you may very well recall, after schools had been closed for about eight (8) months as a result of the presence of the Ebola virus disease in our country, the Executive Branch (headed by the President of Liberia) announced in January that all schools should reopen in February. This was after many parents had been without jobs and money for months, with many people surviving on money sent from caring friends and relatives abroad. This was compounded by the Christmas and New Year’s Season during which parents went through a lot of expenses for Christmas food and clothes and other activities for their families.
Reflecting on their own condition, parents appealed to the President and the officials at the Education Ministry to postpone the reopening of schools, but they refused. Parents begged and begged, but the government was not willing to listen. Having no other choices, some schools opened according to the February schedule, while others opened in March. Most parents were grieving as they paid their children’s tuition and fees, as they went through tough – and, sometimes, pitiful – conditions to get the money for that purpose. Those parents who could not afford just told their kids to sit at home, and they have not entered school up to this time.
Then in early April, the President appointed a new Education Minister named Mr. George Werner. He and his team pre-maturely announced in mid-June that all schools should close on June 30, that no students should be promoted and that a completely new school year should start in September because, according to them, the government would like to use July and August to institute some improvement measures in the education system before reopening in September.
Parents, students and school authorities got furious over the government’s pronouncement, with most parents asking: “Then what becomes of our hard-earned money we have already paid for our children? If the government knew that it would not be able to continue a full school year, why did it force us to find money to pay our children’s tuition and fees? The government should not make fool of us. If this government is not careful, this could bring about serious social unrest in the country.”
The pronouncement from the Education Minister angered the lawmakers of the Lower House of the Liberian parliament. And sensing the inherent danger of the pronouncement, the lawmakers summoned the Education Minister to their session to question him about the decision to close schools in that manner. During the session, the Minister was told to rescind his decision and allow schools to continue to run, which, it was believed, he agreed to. He left the lawmakers’ presence with that understanding.
However, about a week later, the same Minister announced that all schools should close on July 31 and reopen on September 7. Of course parents, students, school authorities and the lawmakers of the Lower House oppose it. And as if to add insult to injury, the President wrote the Education Minister to ignore the words of the lawmakers.
Furious over the President’s letter, the lawmakers cited the President and two of her ministers – the Minister of Education and the Minister of Information – to the Capitol on July 6 to explain their words and actions. Many expected a clash between the Executive and the Legislature. But the President sent a letter to the lawmakers, saying that there was a need for them to dialogue because, according to her, she knows that they (the lawmakers), too, have a role to play in the process.
On Monday, July 6, the day on which the President and her two ministers should have appeared before the lawmakers, she had a trip to the United States to attend a donor conference on the three Ebola-affected countries. On that same day, it was reported on radio that she had called and informed the lawmakers, through the Chairman on the Judiciary Committee, Representative Wesseh Blamo, that schools would remain open while consultations go on concerning the way forward and that the Minister of Information would publicly inform the nation about this latest decision. However, the President took the Information Minister with her to the United States on the same Monday, and so no clear-cut announcement has been made from the Ministry of Information.
And, as if the situation was not already more confusing, journalists of the Liberia Broadcasting Corporation (state radio station) called Mr. Jerolinmek Piah, the Press Secretary to the President, and asked him if he was aware of any such communication from the President to the lawmakers. Mr. Piah said he was not aware of any such decision or communication coming from the President.
Most people are confused, not knowing exactly what the real situation is: whether schools will close on July 31, as was announced by the Minister of Education, or whether schools will remain open as the President is believed to have told the lawmakers during a telephone communication shortly before her trip.
Meanwhile, many schools have already closed, while others are planning to do so at the end of the month. Others have not taken any definite decision.
Help Liberia Foundation Community School has just completed its first semester exams, and we are studying what course of action to take concerning the closure of our school. We will provide you with more information later.