There are no publishers of reading textbooks in Liberia. In fact, there are few book publishers in West Africa where the culture is based on oral traditions rather than the written word. Each year millions of books are sent to Africa from the U.S. and Europe where books are more abundant. So many American books are sent to Liberia, that if an American child were to find herself in a school library in Liberia (extremely rare), she would be surrounded by books very familiar from her own experience in an American school.
One young member of a LOEP training team was looking over the books in a Liberian school book storage room during a workshop break. There were about 200 books – old, pre-1985 textbooks, mostly single copies, random subjects. She noticed lots of American history books, some old Reading textbooks, and Science textbooks. All were still in regular use at the school. It shocked her to see the third grade Math textbook and fourth grade Social Studies textbook that she used in her own grade school days in the early 1980s. Such familiar items of her own personal history here in Liberia!
As educators, those of us involved with LOEP believe education is key to our work in Liberia promoting strong professional competencies for teachers, student social responsibility and peaceful coexistence. As teachers we know how important it is for children to learn within the context of their own culture. Education and culture are so very closely interconnected that the two cannot really be separated. The prevalence of and reliance on American textbooks in Liberia poses a challenge for LOEP volunteers as we design teacher training workshops and provide instructional materials for Liberian classrooms. We know that kids learn best within the context of their own culture – learning does not happen in a vacuum. We know teachers need to teach within that context and materials need to be relevant.
The next couple of blog posts will explain how LOEP selects books and instructional materials to send to our partners in LIberia.