A few months ago, I had a conversation with a friend in which she told me how a teacher was dismissed for inappropriately touching a female student. I was taken aback by the fact that an ordinary touch could cost a teacher their job. This brought me back to where I come from, Liberia, and how a teacher going as far as having a full blown relationship with a student was still not grounds for dismissal, how cash and sex in exchange for passing grades have become a societal norm. During my 13 years at my high school, I have learned how the coming of a single person or event could lead to many good, bad, or uncalled for situations. Well, I am not going to say I did not learn anything during that time, however, that does not justify why any teacher should have an intimate relationship with a student or ask for money in exchange for passing marks.
Do not get me wrong, this is not all about Muslim Congress High School, because many students from other schools have experienced, and continue to experience, the lack of integrity within our academic sectors. Well, everyone has their own way of telling their stories, so here is mine, as I continue to explore the stories of other victims from different schools within Liberia.
A practical example of this happened in 2017 and It involved a female student who was in the 7th grade when I was serving as the Student Council Speaker. She followed me into the female restroom and told me that a teacher had asked her to pay the sum of 10 USD or else she would fail. She was crying and all I could do was feel helpless like every other student within the system. I know some would ask why I did not speak up, but the truth is, like every other student, I was resolved to the fact that nothing good would come out of the situation. As a matter of fact, I would have only victimized myself by reporting such a situation. I mean it when I say victimize myself because I remember how I once had to end up apologizing for wanting to mobilize against our Algebra teacher.
During my senior year in high school, our Algebra teacher would walk in class after our exam and grade us according to our faces and/or his perception of us. He had the habit of calling our names and saying things like “Fatu, I’m giving you 70 percent for being too active in class”. Or “60 percent for being too quiet in class.” Or worse, He would say, “Yyes, Paul, that’s my real guy. We chill together so 90 percent.” This is something every single person of my 12th-grade class can attest to. I was outraged by the blatant unfairness of the situation and went to the Vice Principal’s office and reported the situation but all I got was a very cold smile that told me how stupid I was being for trying to report a staff. As if that wasn’t enough, I messaged in our class group chat saying we should come together and fight the situation only for someone to screenshot my message and report me to the staff for wanting to speak up. I ended up having to beg for my hard earned grades in order for me to graduate; what hurt the most was the fact that I betrayed by those I ought to have been fighting alongside with.
As a matter of fact, teachers had different ways in which they could get back at students. The most common practice was this: teachers would draw tests on material that was never taught which means that students being unable to answer, they would then charge the entire class to pay a certain amount of money in order to pass. As the Student Council Speaker, I have received many information about sexual relationships between teachers and students, but often it felt impossible trying to fight against an entire system especially when these acts are now accepted as the status quo.
No student was exempted when it came to the class paying teachers for grades; who could we complain to? Fear has left almost all of the students voiceless and vulnerable to the situation while most parents are blind to the existing realities.
Some of our parents are illiterate and believe in the idea that teachers are perfect. More unfortunately, some parents were also willing to pay teachers money in order for their children to get better grades than the children were willing to work for. The academic malpractice that happens in Liberian schools range from the support staff to as high as the administration. I give no exception because at some point, I used to think only a few were involved, but unfortunately I got to realize that even those who I thought as messiahs were secretly in sexual relationships with students while exploiting the rest of us financially. I also believe that administrators would stand up to fight against said ills if they were clean, but their silence speaks more than their actions. With time, most of what I used to hear from the staff at my school was “Oh, everybody’s doing it but la my one you see?” Or they would say “Other staff ask you people for money, why shouldn’t I ask?” This was we had no choice but to accept the system, but I am tired now.
Our teachers, who are supposed to be our role models, parents, mentors, and guardians, are showing a lack of morals and values by sleeping with and exploiting students. I remember, some of my fellow students fought against the system while others got swallowed in, some girls even began to throw themselves at the staff for fear of failure and showed no remorse or guilt when being referred to as “a teachers’ girlfriend.” These situations are damaging our society. Our students need to be taught how to fail with dignity rather than to pass with dishonesty. Our school staffs need to change their ways and understand that our education is our future. They need to stop exploiting students with sex and cash for grades because what students need is guidance, not exploitation.
Questions to consider? Is low salary an excuse for coercing sex and cash in exchange for grades? Does speaking out make me any less proud of my school or my religion? Should saying the right thing ever result in Islamophobia? Does it help my nation and its future? Would our teachers ever stop to think twice? Could this get any better?
Authored by Fatu Kaba
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