Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began... Helen Keller (emphasis mine)
One of the places where I spent most of my time while in Liberia was at the John Wesley School. This K-12 academy is one of the best in Central Liberia -- if not all of Liberia. It is wholy run and supported by the church. The churches in Liberia (Catholic and Protestant) run more schools than the government. The Methodist Church alone runs more high schools (9-12 grades) than the government. And as many schools as there are, there simply are not enough.
I visited a few different schools while there. J.V. Government School is quite literally falling down -- there are not walls between many of the nine different classrooms. I can't even imagine how classes can be held in there. How the students would be able to focus and the teachers be able to teach. It felt hopeless just being there. I had a chance to speak with a member of Congress and he explained that the country desperately wants to reestablish education, but they have bigger fish to fry first. There are no roads to get to the schools. There are no jobs; therefore, no one to tax. Anyone familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs may remember that feeling safe and physically cared for (i.e. having a roof and food to eat) comes before a student is able to learn. It comes before the government can provide education, too.
J.V. Government School, behind
I'm having trouble tracking down up-to-date statistics, but I'd like to pass on what I have found as well as what I heard while I was in the country. Right around half of the adult population is literate -- that means only one out of every two adults is able to read and write in English or their tribal language. Less than half of school-aged children actually attend a school. Kids are in and out of school all the time because they all charge tuition -- even the government schools. When the money is there, they are enrolled. No money, no school.
John Wesley is in a unique situation because of the amount of American support it receives. Most of the students at John Wesley are attending for free or are on a scholarship. The free students are attending at the personal expense of the principal and the D.S. of the church: two very Godly men who are stretched as far as their means will allow. Children traveled from huge distances and sleep in the classrooms at night so they can attend. The school has a huge emphasis on finding certified teachers to fill the classrooms.
Children selling dried fish in Weala