The war-torn nation of Liberia’s education system is “a mess,” according to none other than the African nation’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. But it now appears to have hit a new low, with the entire prospective freshman class failing their entrance exams to one of the country’s two state-run universities.
The flunked students — totalling almost 25,000 in number — were applying to the University of Liberia; each of the students paid a $25 fee to take the test.
While the BBC reports this is the first time all students taking the exam failed to pass, Liberia’s educational system has long struggled to overcome the country’s political and humanitarian strife. The country has suffered two civil wars since 1989, the second of which ended just a decade ago. According to the broadcaster, “many schools lack basic education material and teachers are poorly qualified.”
Many in Liberia responded to the news with shock and disbelief. Education Minister Etmonia David-Tarpeh compared the event to “mass murder,” and promised to discuss the mass-failure with university personnel. “I know there are a lot of weaknesses in the schools but for a whole group of people to take exams and every single one of them to fail, I have my doubts about that,” said David-Tarpeh.
However, James Dorbor Jallah, a consultant brought in by the university to oversee its admissions process, defended the school’s decision. Jallah told Voice of America he was hired to restore credibility to an exam that has often been victim to corruption, and that this year’s low scores are merely the result of a return to meritocracy.
“There is a perception in our society largely that once you take the University of Liberia admission exam, if you do not pay money to someone, or if you do not have appropriate connections, you would not be placed on the results list,” explained Dorbor-Jallah.
The university decided that the best way to avoid any impropriety was to require a minimum raw score from all applicants, with no curve or other grading assistance. So this year’s test mandated a flat score of 60% in math, and 70% in English, in order to receive a passing grade. Three hundred and eight out of the 25,000 applicants passed the mathematics component — a little over 1%. Unfortunately, none of the students achieved the required result in English.
Despite the discouraging scores, Dorbor-Jallah told Voice of America that restoring public trust in the higher education system is more important than higher admission statistics: “We hope that the university will continue on this path so that there can be a restoration of public confidence in the process and people can begin to know that whoever merits admission into the university is the one who gets admitted and not for any other external factors.”