The effect of culture and tradition on education in Liberia

For one to argue about the effect of “culture and tradition on education”, it’s worth to first state the relationship between culture, tradition and education; explain their roles in society reflecting on historical perspectives in context.
Culture and tradition is practiced in every region of the world, with Africa being no exception, but what is amazing is that the belief pattern varies according to ethnic and region. African tradition and religion-culture is an integral component of African gradation school system that is being taught based on ethnic and regional belief.

Although there are variations in the practice, but the core objective is that it is served as a basis for early childhood development and it sets the standard for administrative and governing structure, especially for determining ascendency to power and enforcement of laws. Although culture in every region of the world serves as a core that ignites a value of unity and humanity in its members, the practices are not the same based on ethnic and region and Africa is a continent with over 33 countries with more than 350 different languages each with its own culture. One of such culture is the poro society cultural practice in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Poro is an African traditional gradation school system that primarily focuses on training young men with the skill of administration, farming, hunting, fishing, caring and love. The teachers who teach in this school don’t teach from a written manuscript instead, they orally present their lessons and the new initiates are expected to memorize. All teachers of this school are very retentive and new initiates are graded based on their oral presentation and retentiveness. It’s a culture that teaches its members to be brave, truthful and secretive but to remain respectful to authorities and caring for humanity.

The initiation period of this practice sometimes goes at variance with formal education/school time which in many occasions has hindered quality from both ends. It also affects girl’s education especially when they are to spend more time in traditional school (in the bush) during the time of initiation, especially when formal school is in session.

Tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. For examples holidays or impractical but socially meaningful outfit (military uniform); the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings.

Traditions can persist and evolve for numerous of years-literally geared towards the meaning of transmitting cultural information using different approach based on region and ethnicity. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether be it political or cultural, over short periods of time and several disciplines also use the word in a variability of ways.

The traditional and cultural marriage pattern of Liberia has evolved from arrange marriage-in Liberia traditional society, this union is arranged by parents. Arranged marriage is the process of the parents selecting mate for their children. Preserving tradition and introducing modernization has caused difficulties for many change makers and thinkers in many parts of the world, including educational institutions.

The perennial problem has been joined by several new problems due to globalization and huge migration of people in all regions of the world. For example, prior to the arrival of the emigrants who arrived in Liberia from 1820 to 1843, (Colonization 1821–1847) the governance system of Liberia was monarch and the way of education was through Poro initiation for men and Sando for women.

Culture is the content of education. Accordingly, education has to draw its content from culture. Education transmits culture through formal and informal curriculum. Formal curriculum comprises of the various subjects taught such as languages, mathematics, sciences (chemistry, biology, physics, etc.), social sciences, technical subjects and Religious studies.

For culture to be transmitted, it must have content. The values that the school transmits can be seen as the culture of the society. It is culture that forms the content of education. In promoting culture, therefore, the school curriculum through the various subjects promotes and enhances the learning of culture. The subjects taught transmit certain values. Therefore, it’s essential for society to provide its members with the implements of communication language become crucial for education. Liberian schools teach English as the major languages of communication. 

Society must teach its members skills and knowledge related to material culture. Disciplines, like agricultural science, natural sciences, vocational education are taught in schools. Visual values are taught through arts, music among others. Mystical or moral education is taught through religion and by principle. Members of the society learn about their environment by studying geography and natural sciences.
Individual learns how to live in society through study of history, sociology, anthropology, government procedures and laws, political science and others. Many Liberians are today blaming the breakdown of society value to the speedy at which western ideas/education is being presented. The social order in Liberia was dominated by a group of Americo-Liberians. Although descended from peoples of African origin, the ancestors of Americo-Liberians had been born in the United States for generations before immigrating to Africa; they held American cultural, religious and social values, shaped by their own heritage (Americo-Liberian and indigenous segregation, 1847-1940). Even the constitution of Liberia was changed and it enshrined into it that Liberia is a circular state-meaning the country is opened to any religious and cultural practices that might have not been part of the old tradition (Article 14, Constitution of Liberia, 1986).

Education is the practice of sustaining learning, gaining of knowledge, talents, values, principles, and tradition and acquiring it involved different methods which include storytelling, dialogue, coaching, exercise, and fixed investigation. Education often takes place under the management of instructors; however, apprentices may also acquire it by themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings and any knowledge that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational.

Society, culture and education are strictly interrelated and each one is necessary for the continued existence of the others. Society has the responsibility of producing and preparing its members well to keep the society going. To do this, it expresses its culture and teaches it. In this way, transmitting culture becomes education in itself, as education is not possible without a living culture and society Education transmits culture in a number of ways, for example; coaching & mentorship, oral or written, use of signs and symbols, etc.

Many historians believe that most of the indigenous people of Liberia migrated there from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries AD. Portuguese explorers established contacts with people of the land later known as "Liberia" as early as 1462. They named the area Costa da Pimenta (Pepper Coast), or Grain Coast, because of the abundance of melegueta pepper, which became desired in European cooking. This historical information suggests that Liberia existed before the coming of emigrant brought in by ACS in 1821.

But they have however, been able to redirect believe and thought patterns of indigenous Liberians to suit their Western style. This has led to the complete breakdown of Liberian civic, culture and the tradition of the country has been polarized. Between 1847 and 1980, the state of Liberia was dominated by the small minority of black colonists and their descendants, known collectively as Americo-Liberians. The Americo-Liberian minority, many of whom were mixed race African-Americans, tended to marry within their group. They had established plantations and businesses, and were generally richer than the indigenous people of Liberia and exercised overwhelming political power.

Coincidence with the 14 years conflict that engulfed Liberia from 1989 to 2003, all fabrics of the Liberian society went to almost zero. Liberia’s wars also received world attention for their use of child soldiers. From the outset of the war, Charles Taylor’s forces recruited young boys, initially drawing on war orphans, who were indoctrinated to become loyal and fearless soldiers. However, most–if not all–other parties, including ULIMO, LURD and MODEL also used children to fight, commonly referring to them as “Small Boys Units,” or SBUs. 

Children reportedly were given drugs and alcohol and were forced to kill family members to isolate them from their communities. Young girls were abducted by armies into sexual servitude and also served at the front lines. At the time of the peace accords in 2003, an estimated 21,000 child soldiers needed to be reintegrated into society (Amnesty International, “Liberia: The promises of peace for 21,000 child soldiers”, 17 May 2004).

These actions greatly influenced the thought of pattern of today Liberian youthful population, break down the system of self-esteem syndrome of older ones; ignited corruption into the younger generation and reduced the thought of competition for quality. Because of these breakdowns, the educational system of Liberia is of less quality (AUGUST 29, 2013; Liberia's education system 'a mess' - President Sirleaf).

The school system of Liberia has been greatly disrupted by the two civil wars that ensued during the 80s up to the millennium. If the schools were not destroyed, the rate of enrollment was greatly affected as many people that time would not risk of go milling about when gun fire were being volleyed left and right.

The former President of Liberia, being educated from Harvard, had improvement of the educational system as priority sector. However, such efforts remain patchy. The emphasis of the education system is to teach people what the teacher knows. The framers of the education policy including the curriculum did not take into account the socio-cultural identities of the society and the learning desires of the learners. To simply put it, the country’s education system failed to take into consideration what the learners wanted or needed to learn.

The education policymakers decided the kind of knowledge and skills to give to their students. All the students are categorized into one group irrespective of individual learning ability. The teachers training programs in Liberia focus on the teacher’s ability to impact knowledge to his students who are considered a homogenous group of learners with the same level of learning ability.

Currently, a huge number of children and young people are denied access to quality education because of many reasons ranging from poverty, stigmatization, location and other social factors. Similar challenges are faced by young people transitioning out of secondary school who rarely access tertiary education or vocational training.

Many young people, therefore, leave secondary school ill-equipped to compete effectively in the labour market or earn a living with dignity, often becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty and social exclusion. However, the definition of education should go beyond primary schooling contained in the MDG framework and should include: access to

Majority of the school-goers go to public schools only because the privately-run schools are very expensive. One problem encountered often by students from public schools is that the quality of teaching is not at par with the private schools. The teachers are underpaid and so teachers don’t give much effort to do their job as they should.

However, right now, budget for education is improving slowly but until the economy really gets better, the quality of education from the public school sector would sure to increase, too. Thinking can be considered as the act of generating thoughts. Proving that thought is an ultimate human activity accustomed to everyone, therefore, there is no commonly known covenant to details as to what thought is or how it can be generated.

The fact is that thought triggers many human activities and collaborations, ranging from its fleshly and abstract heritages, methods, and effects have remained an enduring objective for numerous disciplines (cognitive theory). Thinking provides humans with the ability to sort logic of, construe, characterize, perfect the ecosphere and make forecasts about what they experience. Hence, it’s indeed helpful to  human as a guiding tool for setting up needs, goals, wishes and as tool for  making the agenda  in the pursue of accomplishing every dreams.

In every region of the world and with every human, development starts with thinking and education. When the citizens of a country become positively thoughtful, they will become patriotic and educated and will be adequately informed about their government and the affairs of their country. Thus, their ability to monitor, investigate and make the government functions adequately and more pro-actively will become easy and the affairs of the citizenry will be considered as a priority by the government. Adequate information sharing and quality education are very much cardinal to the growth of any country.

However, this needs to be put into a context so that it fits into the cultural dimension of a region or country in-order that the people who are perceived to be the ultimate beneficiaries can easily understand the methodological approach. Once you connect a new idea to what someone previously knows, learning will become easy (Constructivism philosophy of education).

When a leader of any country provides quality education and build policies that are developmental friendly, transformation and growth will force its way into that country. The way you think influences your behavior and the way you behave helps to direct your destiny. One of the core reasons for Liberia’s 14 years’ war was triggered by our thought patterns. Exclusion and marginalization has been huge due to tradition and cultural practices and belief-women were not allowed to go to school and even boys/male who didn’t have western name or a strong relationship with Americo-Liberians find it difficult to enroll at university or other higher institutions of learning (Americo-Liberian and indigenous segregation, 1847-1940). 

Employment rate and economic disparity is another factor. Liberia made significant economic headway during the decade (1970s-1980s) preceding the 14 years civil war. But today, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its economy is extremely underdeveloped, largely due to corruption, un-patriotism, lack of sense of ownership/belonging and lack of self-esteem and nationalism.

During the war (1989-2003), many people who were not college graduate arose to higher positions in the government, Non-governmental organizations, etc. This shifted the thinking of many Liberians about going for higher and quality education. Many parents see this as a tool to make their children not go for higher education. Early exposure to sex, teenage pregnancy and early marriage is a great factor negatively affecting attainment of education, especially for girls.

To the citizens in general, self-esteem, integrity and personal accountability should be the core guide in the quest for quality education. Building a social capital is vital in actualizing development. More coordination and networking among different kinds of professionals and sector is the bedrock and the road map through which ideas can easily be cross pollinated and solution can be found to those problems that existed before.

About the author:
Francis Egu Lansana studied Sociology and Political Science at the University of Liberia and he has over 10 years working experience with Non-Governmental Organization, Private Sector and Government. For further information, Francis can be reached through E-mail:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Skype: fraela79 and Phone #: +231886156316


Read 887 times Last modified on Saturday, 16 March 2019 21:52
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