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Educational Reform: Change Management

It appears that everyone has forgotten the “epidemic” destroying our nation’s future. Said differently, our broken educational system.  Perhaps, next year when the University of Liberia and West African Examination Council publish another awful result, we will then start to think about it again.  Do you want to wait for that moment? If not, then take action and act now!

A few months ago, the President made an amazing announcement through her Press office.  She promised to manage the project herself – reform in the educational sector.  This is a great move, moving from leadership to management.  We say management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things. As an Advocate for better education  this gives me some hopes that we are heading in the right direction.  But I warn that this is a long and complex process.  Quick fixes always fail in education because of  the massive size of the enterprise. Interestingly, reform or change is more about people than it is about policies, institutions, and processes. And most people, not only teachers tend to change slowly when it comes to attitudes, beliefs, and ways of doing things.

Change management requires thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, and above all, consultation with key stakeholders.  Stakeholders are all those that are affected by the process.  For example, teachers, parents, local school districts and change management project team. It is important to note that only teachers can provide the insights that emerge from intensive and direct experience in the classroom itself.  Based on this,  it is fair to say that teachers should serve as the engine of  change in our society.  So if they do not embraced the proposed changes, they are unlikely to implement them vigorously. If they do not fully understand what is called for or have not received sufficient training to introduce new ways of teaching and behaving on campus, all reform measures will fail.

Therefore, reforming our teachers’ training program is a good starting point, and it may contribute significantly to educational reform in Liberia. Before I proceed further, I would like to clarify one thing:  Thought teachers are the main agent of reform in this case, they cannot be held solely responsible for achieving it.   For example, teachers alone cannot change our textbooks, curriculum, assessment and testing procedure and policies already in place.

They cannot easily get policy makers support, or the public to understand why reform is really needed. So it requires collective collaboration among stakeholders. This brings us to the role of the media, which I will not discuss in details. Because it is time we challenged “Media institutions” to start to think about what role they can play to promote reform or change in our broken educational system.  Media institutions can shape public opinion and values.  Often, where there is a clear shift in public opinion and values, there will  be a change in society.

It is also interesting to note that every stakeholder must understand the need and urgency for change or reform in our broker educational system. If not, our effort, sweat and resources allocated for change will be wasted. Professor John Kotter agrees, and maintains that 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail because they often do not take holistic approach required to see the change through.  He went on to say that by establishing a sense of urgency in inspiring stakeholders to see the need for change will help organizations succeed in delivering change.  The bad news is that, the sense of urgency for reform or change is yet to be established, because we only talk about it when there is a massive failure in exams.

And then, the debate dies down after a few weeks. Are we failing? Yes we are all failing as a nation. Remember educational failure is a necessary and sufficient condition for economic failure… Arguably, we cannot sustain our current growth and create a large middle class society if our educational system remains a mess.  You will certainly agree that it is only through a standard education we will be able to develop the necessary skills and talents needed for our dream middle class jobs, for instance project manager, geologist, mining driller, community developer, development planner, anthropologist or medical doctors, and you name it.

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To ensure that reform or change does happen, we need to continue more constructive debates. And public support for educational reform is essential. Teachers should also serve as the main agent of change. Simply because they have more insights of what is unfolding in classrooms. The media, political bureaucrats, and parents also need to play crucial role in the process.

Our schools, our solutions and future…

Musa V. Sheriff
Master candidate, Project management
Curtin University, Australia

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