During a workshop for 40 educators at the Stella Maris Polytechnic Institute in Monrovia, Liberia, in early June, Professor of Education Charles Temple was approached by a man who introduced himself as the Deputy Minister of Education for the Republic of Liberia.
Temple was conducting a workshop that was part of an effort to improve the Liberian educational system, which is recovering from a 14-year civil war.
The curious part came when the minister started asking questions about the Statesmen, Pulteney Street and Coxe Hall. As it turns out, the questioner was the Hon. James Emmanuel Roberts, a member of the Class of 1966.
Roberts had heeded the request from Liberia’s popular president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the Harvard-educated economist who took office in January 2006, for Liberians who left their homeland during the civil war to return to rebuild the country.
Roberts first attended Columbia University in the mid-1960s, but transferred to Hobart College, where he majored in English and was a member of the soccer team and The Herald staff, and president of the International Relations Club. In the late ’60s, he also went by the name Kona Kashu, reflecting his Gola tribal heritage.
After earning an MFA from Boston University in 1971, he returned to Liberia, where he founded the Blamadon Theater Workshop, and later was manager of arts, culture and tourism for the Liberian Development Center. Early in 1987, he fled the war in Liberia and came to the United States to teach at BU. His story was even profiled in The Boston Globe.
Roberts returned to Monrovia two years ago and, as deputy minister for planning and research, today handles many of the day-to-day operations for a national school system that serves 850,000 students with some 26,000 teachers and thousands of schools — although nobody knows precisely how many of the teachers are still on the job or how many school facilities survived the long warfare. Most school buildings are in ruins, and only one of the nation’s three teacher training colleges is habitable. It has been estimated that 65 percent of the current teaching force has had no preparation to teach.
Compounding an already difficult situation, teachers work with children who have been out of school for many years, and some who have been combatants. Special accelerated programs are being established to get older students, especially the former combatants, at least a primary-level education without having them sit in desks built for – and next to – seven-year-olds.