Note: This story was edited from reports submitted by the Rev. Joe and Carolyn Wagner writing from Liberia and Sierra Leone as coordinators of Indiana-based United Methodist-related Operation Classroom.

Operation Classroom coordinators, the Rev. Joe and Carolyn Wagner, have discovered one major problem this past month in the West Africa nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia – English. The discovery became apparent after visiting seven Operation Classroom-related schools in Liberia.

Joe Wagner said, “This was a real surprise to me as this had not been discussed until this year. The civil war (1990-2004) brought a national crisis in English. Many students entering college cannot write proper sentences and the spelling leaves much to be desired. In our conversation with teachers and administrators, we have made a decision to make an emphasis (on English) in the elementary level beginning with the first grade to begin this process.

“We have to be able to build a foundation and we must start there. This will involve not only getting the proper materials but also working with training the teachers. We must make an effort to upgrade our schools beginning this fall. We are working some ideas for high school, but they are only in the idea stage at the present.”

Wagner also reported that by 2012, all high schools in Liberia need microscopes. OC needs three or four microscopes for each of its related schools in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition to science class inventories, Wagner says they are asking each of the schools to survey the jobs that are available in the community in order to develop a program to make it possible for students to find employment when they graduate from high school.

In related news, the Liberia Annual Conference appointed Alfred Zigbuo to be the new country coordinator of Operation Classroom. Zigbuo, 39, is married with children and is a graduate of Africa University. Jennifer Dioh, the past OC coordinator in West Afria, has moved to Harper with her husband the Rev. Dr. Anthony Dioh, now Vice President for Student Affairs at Tubman University.

The Wagner’s delayed their trip to Sierra Leone because Carolyn Wagner had contracted 1+ type malaria. The malaria caused her to have an asthma attack and be hospitalized. She has since recovered.

In Sierra Leone, the Wagners visited on Feb. 25 the Joseph and Carolyn Wagner School in Kenema, where they were greeted by more than 300 students. This school recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Students here have a high record of youth passing the West African Examinations. They also visited the school at Baoma.

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“The civil war brought a national crisis in English.”

– Joe Wagner