President Sirleaf’s Unfortunate and Disappointing Statement

The Issues Desk wishes to comment on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s recent statement made in relation to the start of the 2012/2013 academic year that Liberian children or school kids who behave rudely or who continuously engage in disturbances at school will not be allowed to enroll in any public schools.

The President minced no words. She was forceful in her expression that Liberian students who indulge in disturbances on school campus will be denied enrollment in any public school.

We at the Issues Desk believe that this statement coming from the President of the Republic of Liberia is not only unfortunate, it is very disappointing. First of all, the President is a mother. Social workers would say that throwing the child away in this manner is not the right thing to do.

Second, the President is the mother of the nation. She should know the state or condition of her children and use the nation’s resources to help, including providing rehabilitation projects that will extract the baser character in the children she is referring to, refining them in the process. Rejecting them in this fashion is not befitting of a national mother.

Third, the punishment is both too harsh and arbitrary. If they President really believes in the rule of law, let her subject those engaging in campus disturbances or violence to litigation – court prosecution – so that, as people would say, the law can take its course. By the way, why not apply similar punishment to corrupt official in her government? Why doesn’t she throw them out and bar them from working in any government? Let her submit that bill soon. There are reports that she does reappoint individuals accused of corruption or engaging in the act, failing to act on audit reports indicting them or linking them to corruption? This kind of strictness on violent Liberian students would be more appropriate for all those engaged in corruption in her government.

Fourth, since the President’s decree is that Liberian school kids who engage in campus violence or disturbances will be denied enrollment in public school, the only option available to such students is private school. Is the president suggesting that private schools should have space for such students, but government schools should not? We thought it should be the other way round. The irony is mindboggling. Also, is the President indicating that she is not concerned or perturbed by disturbances occurring on private school campuses? If no, then why didn’t she say such students will not be allowed in both private and public schools? Why bar them from enrolling only in public school? Are private schools the “dumpsite”?

Fifth, President Sirleaf’s statement has the proclivity to drive many Liberian children out of school. It is inimical to the drive to get as many Liberian kids as possible in school. Since President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf does not want the kids she has in mind to enroll in public schools and since the tuition and fees in private schools are unbearably high, the President’s decree could be the end of education for many of the nation’s children. If it weren’t for the opportunity provided by the existence of government schools, perhaps, many of us would not be where we are today. Most of our education sojourn spins around public schools – defunct Ellen Mills-Scarborough Junior High School, William V. S. Tubman High School and the University of Liberia. The only option available to many parents and students is public schools. But, already, many of those Liberians who can somehow afford to send their children to private schools are complaining about the arbitrary and exorbitant increment in this year’s tuition and fees. In fact, some have not registered their children because of the situation. In view of these facts, the President’s decree could force kids out of school. We believe the President can do better than this.

Sixth, the President’s decree ignores the usual we-are-just-coming-out-of-a-fourteen-year-war argument that she and her supporters are fond of using to dismiss the slow pace of development. Doesn’t the President realize that if she and her government need more time to “change things around,” the children of Liberia also need more time to sublimate their baser character, especially considering the fact that the fourteen-year war has given us a trauma-laden society? A recent report had it that many of us Liberians are traumatized as a result of the war. Our national leaders are not exempt. Their words and actions somehow indicate that they, too, are traumatized. We need to be helping one another, and the President is one major character that should be doing more helping in this direction.

Seventh, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s statement seems to ignore the future of the children she has in mind – the children that she says should not be allowed to attend public schools. If these kids are barred from enrolling in public schools and if they lack the money to enroll in private school, what kind of future does President Sirleaf, the mother of this great land, want them to have? The statement also seems to trivialize the consequences of having a lot of uneducated people in the society. In our view, what the President ought to be doing is work with trained social workers and public school authorities to devise measures that will make these children a better people. Let’s not forget that vicious rebels and child soldiers were talked to during the civil crisis, and they denounced violence and disarmed volitionally. Let’s talk to our kids to eschew violence. Let’s formulate policies and programs that will transform our children. Throwing them out of school is not the answer – it is a wrong approach.

To conclude, it is important to make this clarification. The comments or arguments presented in this article do not in any way presuppose that we should condone violence. We detest it. We condemn it. That said, we refuse to accept that stopping Liberian children from going to school because of continuous rudeness or violence is a prudent corrective measure. It is this same mentality, we believe, that causes our prison centers to be overcrowded, and this is why we throw people in jail for quite trivial reasons. Our leaders believe in punishment, instead of helping people to be rehabilitated.  This seems to be the same mindset that is leading the President of the Republic of Liberia to say that Liberian children who indulge in continuous disturbances or violence at school will not be permitted to enroll in government schools. Then where do they go?

Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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