University of Liberia Graduation 2010: Challenges and Prospects

The Case of the College of Science & Technology

By: Prince D. Quayeson

The rapid developments unfolding at the University of Liberia (UL) are commendable. The institution is operating smoothly as compare to previous years, given that the academic semesters are regular, there’s complete absence of strikes by lecturers, and the disruption of classes by students, etc. As the UL graduates more than 2000 students with various degrees on December 22, it is important the nation benefits from these graduates. The UL charter provides that the mission of the University, amongst other things, is to build the human resource needs of the country. Today the University strives to live up to this mandate. This is evident by graduation convocations every academic year.

The Emmet Dennis-led administration is making strides to ensure that the UL is brought on par with other universities around the world. It must, however, be made clear that change does not come on a silver platter. One way or the other, someone must pay the price. This is where the Government of Liberia must come in with strong and sustainable financial commitments. The College of Science & Technology must be a priority because science is the wagon that drives all the government functionaries, be it financial, social, economic, etc. While Dr. Dennis is ensuring that the myriad of constraints facing the nation’s highest institution of learning is ameliorated, there are key factors that must be taken into consideration by the government.

The Thomas J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology at the University of Liberia, which will confer undergraduate degrees on more than 500 students, remains one of the underserved colleges within the University. The science college lacks basic laboratory equipment. Equipment and laboratory apparatuses are either obsolete or not functional. The Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Biology, etc. all suffer the blunt of the inadequacies within the science college. Laboratory equipment needs by these departments are only read about but never seen. Reading a science course at the University of Liberia is not only a challenging task but unarguably frustrating one. It takes determination, passion and courage to proceed. The science students are mainly those from underprivileged backgrounds. The learning of science at the UL puts more emphasis on theoretical with little or no practical. While it is true that students reading the sciences have, to some extent, graduate from using charcoal pots as brazen burners, it is important that those equipment that are used in other universities’ science laboratories must be made available. Prior to the civil conflict, the College of Science and Technology was blessed with abundant of equipment and laboratory materials. Now the situation is different. At some point, the absence of chemicals, among other circumstances, delayed the offering of course(s) to the next semester. The University of Liberia’s science laboratories, which should be serving as referrer laboratories for the nation’s scientific problems, is compared to a big referrer hospital without specialists, equipment, trained personnel etc. It can be considered one of the least in the world!

Our country should prioritize science education. Priority has to do with not only pumping in financial resources but ensuring that the benefits are received by the nation; resources are allotted toward specific scientific programs, students are encouraged to study sciences, etc. While it is true that running a science education is very expensive, history and experience have shown that no nation on the planet is advanced or developed without prioritizing science education. The countries that are considered the world’s super-power are not only considered so because of their economic strength, neither their political weaponry, but also because they continuously build and sustain sophisticated science programs that contribute toward their economic and financial muscles, thus making them world superpowers. Cuba, for example, is noted for producing the best medical doctors in the world. This is because the Cuban Government prioritizes science education. More importantly, because of the importance of science education, other countries have set aside specialized institutions/entities aimed at exploring the sciences and finding avenues to solve scientific-related problems. The creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology in some African countries is a vivid example. More beside, evidence available shows that these countries that have special government bodies focused mainly on science and technological programs are the developed ones or ones that have the minds to develop.

The priority given to science education by national governments has contributed greatly toward the infrastructure and basic services in many countries. Ghana for example is speeding the path of progress. Tuesday of last week, Ghana counted herself as one of the producers of oil in West Africa. This progress of Ghana is not because of their rhetorical eloquence, neither was it because of their economic power, but due to the interest of the country in science. Liberia today, to some extent, largely depends on Ghana or Nigeria for benefits from their scientific program. Many at times and from time in memorial, Liberians of good financial background are flown to Ghana or Nigeria for ‘advanced medical treatment’ where they are heavily billed. This is saddened! As the oldest republic in Africa, it is a pity. The John F. Kennedy (JFK) Medical Center that once served as the referral hospital in West Africa has mainly general physicians. Specialists are hardly seen. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare statistics prove that the number of Liberian medical doctors does not reach 100. With a country of more than 3 million people, we must be serious.

Attaching priorities to science programs in the country must be one of the pillows of political aspirants in the forth coming general and presidential elections. Our country has suffered too long the rhetoric of politicians. Politicians must understand that it is scientists that create the platforms on which they propound their sugar-quoted speeches. It is evident that in the developed world, scientists are the ones that create the basis for political debates. Many at times, politicians do not realize the importance of science at their political gatherings. Discussing the financial issues and evaluating how government losses or gains revenue do not go on without science and technology; commenting on the mineral exploration agreements and adequately understanding their intricacies do not go on without science and technology; call for the provision of doctors in the remotest parts of Grand Kru does not happen when science is not given priority. We must act and act rightly!

The absence of a strong science program is clearly evident. Many of our scientific-related projects and undertakings are done by foreigners. It was a pity and a shame, when in 2009 the caterpillar invasion occurred in Bong County, the government had to fly in ‘experts’ from Ghana and other countries to come and investigate and provide solutions to the problem. In addition, Ghanaians were contracted to carry on the first electricity project initiated by this government. This cost the government and her partners millions of dollars. More beside, due to the inadequate number of science teachers in the country, which one way or the other contributes to the poor performances of students in the sciences at public exams, the government had to fly in Nigerians instructors to help. Even though it is most times said that these teachers are coming on bilateral agreements, but the truth remains the Liberia Government incurs more cost in either haring the services of foreign science instructors or maintaining them on the ground. Those teachers’ respective governments might only be responsible for their salaries but their maintenance in Liberia is at the Government’s expense. Shortly this year, a skin disease in Grand Cape Mount County became another serious scientific issue. The spread of this disease may have been considered lightly, but evidence has shown that people in Liberia die of curable, preventable diseases. Furthermore, Liberians in search for jobs feel embarrassed when they see job vacancies such as Mechanical Engineer, Chemical Engineer, Petroleum Engineer, Geologist, Metallurgist, etc. advertised in the media. Our country can highly produce human resource in these areas. Whether our country has a functional central laboratory for many and varying scientific problems that may arise remains a matter to investigate.

The need for trained and experienced science professors is a must for science programs not only at the University of Liberia, but other institutions of higher learning. The science college of the University of Liberia is one of the tools needed to build the infrastructure of this country.

Ways to improve science programs in Liberia:

Throughout the world, science is very expensive. And, it is obvious that ‘the market woman will not say because lappa is expensive, so she should rap banana leaves around her’. In Liberia, we say: ‘not because my mother is dead, so I must suck bamboo’s teats’. There is a way forward. The fact remains that Liberia is not a poor country. Given our abundant God-given resources, couple with our population of less than 4 million, give anyone the impression that we are too rich to be poor.

Government must cut down spending on luxurious and expensive vehicles, etc. and use such funds for the purchase of scientific equipment or used to train scientists. There is no sense in an official riding a US$100,000 vehicle, when the x-ray machine, which serves more than 200,000 persons at a referrer hospital, is not functional. This is another form of deprivation and anti-poverty reduction. And the frustrating point is that when such official is ill, he/she flies abroad, at the expense of the government.

This year, Liberia receives millions of dollars from the World Bank for financial capacity building. This leaves a student learning the sciences to wonder as to when the government will receive such huge money for scientific advancement.

Learning centers must be opened for jobs that concessions companies demand. As the country attracts foreign investments that operate mainly from a scientific background, developing the human resource in the sciences must be of priority. Learning centers or even colleges must be opened for scientific fields that include Metallurgy, Chemical Engineering, Rail Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, Pest/Disease control fields, etc. Evidence has shown that because Liberia does not have human resource in the iron ore, example, metallurgy, ArcelorMettal flew away few Liberians to study such and different fields in South Africa. The same should be true for other large foreign concessions which either have to train Liberians or bring in expatriates. It must be a disgrace on us when an investment needs such engineers or professionals and Liberia cannot produce same. Consequently, such investors will have to hire the services/expertise of foreign workers; thus making Liberians spectators of investment in their own country. Let us use Ghana as an example in this case. It was not a mistake for the Ghanaians to create the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Kumasi. Today, that University serves as the reservoir of scientific and technological advancement in Ghana. The same is true with the University of Mines, where Ghanaians have the opportunities to learn different aspects of mining, etc.

If Liberia must be placed among the developed nations or at least the ones that have the minds to develop, we must think, act on improving our science program like those nations. Graduates from the science college must not only be mere classroom teachers as they have being considered. They must be encouraged to advance themselves. Opportunities must be given them to explore a career that will meet the human resource needs of the country. As these science students graduate, the government of Liberia must be finding ways and means to create opportunities for them to go further. A specialist scientist is not only a fist degree holder. He must acquire specialized training that will buttress the human resource needs of the country. While it is true that most of these graduates may be complacent with their first degree, because they have stayed more than the required years; some more than 10 years for a four-year program; there is a need for advancement.

The foreign concessions/investors must see reason in setting up institutions aimed at training Liberians in areas that that they (investors) require. If the need be, set up colleges to train Liberians in such field that are required. The government must insist that this happens. The exploration resources are not only met to give social services to the people as benefits but also building their human resource. If our natural resources are exploited, the country must not only see growth but development. Unlike in the past where there was growth without development, we must follow the examples of our West African counterparts. There are reports that oil drilling will take place next year, we do not have the human resource to benefit from job opportunities for this expensive and lucrative venture. We must think and act rightly!

As I congratulate my fellow comrades, especially from the science college, I want to caution them not to be complacent with their degrees. We must strive to excel and call on the government to open avenues for not only jobs that we may not be qualified to do, but also avenues and opportunities that will make us qualified for jobs in any parts of this world. On the other hand, as we express our gratitude to the government for its support, we all must recognize that the highest appreciation is not to alter words but to live by them. So we must act now!

About the Author:

The author is Prince D. Quayeson. He is one of those students graduating with a B.Sc. Degree in Chemistry from the University of Liberia where he served as Chemistry Laboratory Demonstrator. He currently studies Chinese language and culture at the Confucius Institute of the University of Liberia. He also studies Computer Networking at the Cisco Networking Academy at the Stella Maris Polytechnic. He envisage, if given the opportunity, to study Petroleum Engineering with emphasis in Petroleum Production. He resides quietly and peacefully at Central Freeport Community and can be reached at pdrubo@gmail.com

Prince D. Quayeson, pdrubo@gmail.com, 002316607407

This article was originally published on www.LiberianObserver.com on 22 Dec 2010