Liberia, a war-torn nation in Africa, has an educational system their politicians are not proud of. In fact, the nation’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called it “a mess.” According to a University of Liberia consultant, James Dorbor Jallah, most people believe that if you are not well connected or don’t bribe university officials, you will not get accepted into the school.
This perception is what caused university officials to raise the bar for admittance into the school. This year, they decided to require a flat score of 70% in English and 60% in math with no curving of the scores. A little over 1% of the students passed the math portion. Not one single student passed the English portion. That’s almost 25,000 students failing the exam and denied admittance to the school.
The idea behind raising the standards so high, according to Dorbor Jallah, was so that students would be motivated to study harder in order to gain entrance to the school. Unfortunately, the nation’s school system is so corrupt that, even if the students were motivated to study harder, they might not have been given the resources to succeed at such a high level when they were younger.
Liberian Minister of Education Etmonia David-Tarpeh has expressed doubt that every single student has failed the exam. She also stated that she would discuss the issue with other university officials.
While it is uncommon for so many students to fail an entrance exam in any country, it is not uncommon to see students all over the globe stressed to the max when it comes to standardized testing. In America and many other countries abroad, high-stakes testing takes up a good deal of time in students’ lives before they enter college. Even though students outside of Liberia are perhaps better prepared to face such tests, it doesn’t change the fact that standardized testing is on the rise the world over. It’s also not uncommon to see students either denied admittance or discouraged from even applying to their top choice universities due to one test score.
It’s no secret that standardized testing only tests one form of intelligence — namely, whether or not students are good at taking tests. It’s also a well-known fact that standardized tests are not necessarily a great indicator of how students will fare in a university setting.
Parents, teachers, administrators and the students themselves have been calling for a stop to standardized testing for years. However, since there isn’t a great way to classify students without the use of some sort of standardized testing, the tests continue.
Unfortunately for the University of Liberia’s hopeful attendees, setting an unattainable goal on a standardized test and having no other criteria for admittance puts both the students and university officials in a tight spot. Much of the world is slowly starting to realize that having other categories for admittance is vital for student success, and hopefully, the University of Liberia can budge on this issue while the educational system in the country works to fix its resource issues. Though their intentions were noble in trying to make the playing field equal for all students even if they were not rich or well-connected, it seems the University will have to find some other way to see who is fit for admittance, at least for this fall.
Fortunately for these students, President Sirleaf has agreed to admit 1,800 students, even though they failed the exam. She declined to state why she made this decision or what criteria she used, but she did say to her detractors who criticized her for not making enough changes to the educational system: “There’s no quick fix… You’ve got thousands of teachers in our school system, some of them with only a high school education. You don’t turn that over in three or four or five years.”