Officials of the Liberian Government present, leaders of Nimba Community College here tonight, National President Dokie of UNICO, Chairman Saye of the National Board of Directors of UNICO, the Executive Director and officials and members of Fronico, fellow Nimbains, friends, supporters and sympathizers.
Before I begin, let me state that it is my commitment to honor any invitation to speak. I strongly believe that so much thought is put in the selection of a Speaker so it behooves me to accept the honor to speak whenever I am invited. Honoring this invitation for me was no exception- it was effortless. However, since my acceptance, I had to wrestle with the vicissitudes of times in the wake of several unfortunate circumstances for my family.
My brother-in-law was shot and killed in Houston, Texas about three weeks ago; my nephew, a Student of AM Dogliotti College of Medicine at the University of Liberia, succored to the Ebola Virus Disease a little less than three weeks ago; my cousin lost her husband and three of her daughters in the span of three weeks. These terrible events left me confronted with the choice to stay home and grief with my love ones. But, thanks to the woman I called My “Mandingo Princess,” my wife, Hawa Siryon Zawolo; I was encouraged to not only make the trip but to be accompanied by her brother, my brother-in-law, Mr. Varmah A. Siryon. Let me also say that I am accompanied here tonight by my friend and confidante, Honorable Arthur Weah Doe, the General Secretary of the National Board of Directors of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, ULAA.
Let me first pay tribute to the many Nimbians, citizens and friends of Liberia who have lost their lives to the Ebola Virus Disease. Our people are enduring really difficult times. When we look at the present situation in Liberia today and reminisce about the 14 years of civil war and the accompanying brutality, it may appear that our people may be defined by tragedy, pain and misery. We however reject such thought as far removed from the truth is this thought- our people are a resilient people: hardworking and much better than these calamities.
Our people, we are most certain, will bounce back. We refuse to be defined by these maladies- they are anomalies, an aberration of our tenacity and will to transcend the shallow valleys of pain. We are a blessed people, endowed by our Creator with enormous wealth, unenviable resilience and superhuman determination. Let’s pause, and think – for a nation with a population of less than 5 million we boast of two noble peace prize laureates, a former world best soccer player, several super stars in the National Football League, an NBA Player, and proudly so, a son of Nimba. No cursed people can boast of such accomplishments. We are a blessed people and these sad events of our national existence are just a test of our strength. Our resilience and unflinching commitment to hard work will see us through. And now, to the task- the task of expounding on the “The Role of Community College in Developing Countries.” Let’s go.
Folks, to say that one of the most important factors and necessary precondition for economic development is a “well-trained, highly skilled and well-educated labor force is safe and unequivocal. The role of higher institutions of learning in this regards is unquestionable. Advances in technology which has seen the obliteration of physical boundaries owing to the bridging of people through the World Wide Web has made competition for business intense. Communities must show that they have the infrastructure, the policy and legislation for healthy transaction of trade but more than anything else, the labor force.
In Liberia, in the past, the Booker Washington Institute, the Vocational Training Centers, the LOIC, the RTTIs, the Commercial schools, and a few others provided training for the labor force needed for the Liberian economy. The role of those institutions was however one dimensional- they trained and send out the graduates. The contribution made by the product of those institutions however stood up as the most vital in the construction and serviceability of our country. Today, the trend in technology has given rise to nascent needs, new jobs, new professions and new careers. These careers require differing level of educational experience. Some of the new challenges demand quick revisitation of curriculum and structure of the higher institution of learning. The higher institutions must adapt to demands of society and communities.
The full four-year universities have their part and indeed a very important part to play in meeting the demands of the fast pace rapidly changing economy of any nation. Regrettably though, age-old traditions, bureaucracy and operational style of these kinds of institutions lack the level of flexibility needed to stay at pace with the labor needs of communities. In this failing emanates the need for community colleges. Community Colleges are generally equipped with the flexibility that is unmatched in comparison to the traditional four-year universities.
The nomenclature “community college’ is not accidental or mere coincidental. As the nomenclature depicts, community colleges are designed to meet the needs of the community in which they exists. These needs include the development of a well-skilled labor force of the 21st century. Meeting this need demands understanding of market forces and job trends. Accordingly, the community college of today must see itself differently and put in place a robust and highly responsive agenda.
The community college must conduct human resources inventory of their community. This inventory can then be utilized to develop programs to match the present and emergent needs of their community. Let’s take the specific case of the college we are here to support, the Nimba Community College, the NCC. The presence of Arcelormittal, the Ganta Hospital, Jackson F. Doe Referral Hospital, numerous logging companies, many farming businesses and schools necessitates the need for training of the skilled labor force for these industries. Along this line, adopting the typical approach in Liberia of offering the same programs irrespective of the locality or the needs of the locale is repugnant to the purpose of community college. Such limited and blurred vision undermines the value of the community college. The NCC must see itself as a thrust and not an alien of the community; hence, the college must align its vision with the needs of Nimba and the adjacent counties. But the community college must not stop here.
As indicated earlier, the operation of BWI and the VTCs was one dimensional. They trained and never engaged their products. Such approach cannot be tolerated in contemporary communities were the advances in technology makes retraining not only useful but imperative. To keep at pace with industrial and technological development, the community must remain a center for lifelong learning and on the job training. The flexibility of community colleges lends itself to such. The community must be the source of training and retraining. This can foster a cordial relationship between industry, the community, local government and the community college.
Another trend that the contemporary community college must dissuade is the perspective that the community college is just “the first two years” of university education. Global trends have shown that the greatest need of today’s industries is a skilled worker who is adaptable to change and not necessarily a college graduate with a degree in “English.” No, I am not discouraging or dismissing the role of four-year universities or the value of a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. I am just taking a pragmatic look at the economy of developing countries.
Let’s take a futuristic look at post-Ebola Liberia. What will be the role of the community colleges? Think about the number of nurses, radiologists, laboratory technicians, teachers and other skilled workers lost. Can we wait for four years to have the replacement trained? Certainly not. Again, the community college’s flexibility and structure affirms its significance.
So then, how significant is the role of community college in developing countries? Well, the role of community colleges in developing countries is not much more different from that of it in developed countries. The subtle difference is however in the significance of community colleges in developing countries. Given the need for middle level technicians and entry level skilled labor force in developing countries the role and significance is colossal, expansive and indispensable.
Concluding, it rests upon community colleges to blend economic development and sustainability goals in its design and implementation structure. The college must provide the support, labor force and technical competence needed to spur economic growth. The community depends on the college for knowledge and the community college must remain a reliable source of knowledge and skills that are matched with jobs, upwards mobility on the job and future projections.
Let me end by thanking all of you first for the invitation, but more importantly for your vision and dedication to this worthwhile initiative. As I close, I beg to make a small donation on behalf of the “Friends of Isaac “Oldpa” Zawolo. Tonight, the Friends of Isaac “Oldpa” Zawolo, an organization based in Margibi County Liberia and dedicated to advancing my political ambition, will donate one scholarship to a Nursing Student at NCC for the next ten (10) years. We will make the payment for the first year tonight and will make subsequent payment for future years no later than the 31st of January annually.
I thank you.
Isaac S. Zawolo, Jr is a mathematics Teacher with Arlington Public Schools in Arlington Virginia. He is also an Adjunct at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia. He has taught mathematics for nearly thirty years. His teaching experience has spanned across two continents and three countries.