The history of education in what is known as Bong Mine is as old as the Company itself. As early as 1958 when the German-Liberian Mining Company (DELIMCO) began surface prospecting, Mrs. Mariam Miller, an American missionary who was stationed at the Kpolopelle Lutheran Mission in Haindii came in to conduct church services with workers in Camp I and Moritz Camp which was the staff quarter. Moritz Camp was located at what is now Zaweah Park. Soon, a Bible and literacy class was started.
The workers, being enthusiastic and excited about the literacy program and the expected benefit it held for them, appealed to Mrs. Miller for the establishment of a formal educational program. She, in turn, consulted Dr. Moritz – the German pioneer of the Company – who was in charge of operation. With the consent of Dr. Moritz given, Mrs. Miller also sought -the approval of Pastor Ezra Keller and Moede Langleland, officers of the Lutheran Church, for the beginning of a formal literacy program. Cognizant of the role of education in the life of an individual and the development of a society, the Pastor granted the request, and subsequently, a combined religious and academic program was established in 1958. The first literacy teacher was Mr. David Kokoli, an evangelist from Zankpiyama. Evangelist Kokoli could not continue with the program due to ill-health. He was temporarily replaced by his students, Sii Leopord and Bono Freeman, both of whom spoke and wrote the Kpelle language well.
In 1959, Mr. Moses Giddings was employed by the Company. Mr. Giddings started with 10 workers. As the number of workers increased, the enrollment in his literacy class also increased from 10 to 15 students, giving rise to the need for more room to accommodate the students who sought admission into the school. It was at this time that a school kitchen was constructed in Camp I on March 16, 1960. The school was opened with Moses Kokoli and Mary Kokoli – children of the first teacher – as the first regular students. As the year progressed, the number of students increased to 10 (three boys and 7 girls). Again, another teacher, Mr. George Gibson, who was a former teacher at the Kpolopelle Mission, was employed. He taught both literacy and grammar lessons under the periodic supervision of Mrs. Miller.
The concrete foundation for the academic program of the schools began to really gather momentum in the 1960’s when many changes and developments of a dream to establish a fountain of knowledge took place. It was envisaged that the hands which would one day turn the wheels of industry, develop societies, and contribute towards the betterment of Liberia would spring forth from this source.
Mr. Ernest Stewart was employed as the first principal of the Camp school in 1962. He had to teach both morning and afternoon classes. Shortly after Mr. Stewart was employed, Dr. Moritz, the man who had shown so much understanding toward the need to educate workers and their children, had to return to Germany. Mr. Krummhaar, another German, was left in charge of the Company until the arrival of the first General Manager, Mr. Karl Zepter. During the same year, Mr. Gunter Kohler arrived as the Company’s first expatriate in charge of education. His title was Director of Education. Mrs. Miller handed over the operation of the school to him. From this point on, Bong Mining Company was fully responsible for the operation of the school within the concession area.
Mr. Kohler immediately established a staff school at Bong Town for the children of the Liberian and European employees. The students were under his sole tutorship. As there was no school building for his students, Mr. Kohler used his home as a school – the living room for the Liberian Branch, one bedroom for the German Branch, and the other bedroom as an office and sleeping quarters. The Camp schools were now three in number still under the principalship of Mr. Stewart and supervision of Mr. Kohler. The newly established staff school comprising the Liberian, German, Italian/Spanish branches became known as the Bong Mine Private School – a name given to such schools established for a particular group of students. At the same time, the Camp school under the principalship of Mr. Stewart, changed from DELIMCO Public School to the Bong Mine Public School. The first group of students to enroll in the Bong Mine Private School in 1963 were the children of the Company’s Resident Counselor, Joseph Benson: Joyce, Maudeline, and Jaunita. Also enrolling in the same year were the children of the Chief Surveyor, Mr. Insiful: Elizabeth and Samuel.
As the school began to grow and take on a full academic program, it became necessary that formal recognition and subsequent legislation of the schools be obtained from the Liberian Government. Thus, the discussion and processing of
the documents relative to the registration of the school was begun in 1962 and finalized through the Harmon & Morgan Law Firm in 1963. Prior to that, the Honourable Joseph G. Morris, Director of Teacher Education, Department of Public Instruction, inspected the school and gave the department’s official approval for the registration of the school.
As it became certain that the number of employees, both staff and workers, would increase, plans for the construction of two modern buildings were concluded to accommodate their children and dependants. The new school buildings were completed and dedicated by the Secretary of Education, the Honourable Dr. John P. Mitchell on the 27th of April 1964 and named Bong Town School for the staff’s children and Zaweata School for the workers’ children.
The two Camp schools were consolidated into the Zaweata School and operated under a broader organization of the Bong Education Center headed by Mr. Kohler as director. By now the enrollment had risen to 225 students and the level was up to grade 5. The number of teachers had also risen.
At the Bong Town School, it was a happy occasion to move the school out of Mr. Kohler’s home to the new building. The hectic task of having Mr. Kohler alone teach groups of Liberian, German, Italian, Spanish and Ghanian children in a kind of international setting began to reduce. The decision to establish a separate branch for the Italian and Spanish children was made in November 1965 when Miss Coccia, an Italian teacher, took over all the Spanish and Italian children. The students were four in number and were in primary grades 1 & 2.
For the workers and their wives who were desirous of acquiring some education, a night school for grades 1 through 7 was opened and operated by the Company in 1966 with the initial enrollment of 36 students. Again, for the effective dispensation of knowledge to the pupils at the combined Italian and Spanish branches, the two branches were separated on March 6, 1968. The German and Liberian branches were also separated. Miss Charlotte Walker (now Mrs. Charlotte Allen) and Mrs. Juanita Macauley were the first teachers employed. They had 41 pupils in the elementary grades 1 to 7. Miss Walker assisted Mr. Kohler in the German branch teaching English as a foreign language. Also attached was an international Kindergarten with Mrs. Birnbaum and Miss Beysolow as the first two teachers. At that time, the level of the Liberian branch was up to grade 8 and the enrollment stood at 100. The German branch, the second largest, had 50 pupils and
it was up to grade 4 of the Volksschule and 5 to 9 of the Hauptschule. The Spanish and Italian Branches were each a one-teacher school with levels at one and four respectively. The Zaweata School operated three sessions: morning, afternoon, and night with a combined enrollment of 1,121. The levels were up to grades 1 to 6 in the morning, pre-first in the afternoon, and grades 1 to 7 at night, enabling the workers to upgrade themselves.
As Mr. Kohler’s tenure of office was about to end in Liberia, he was honourably decorated in recognition of the valuable services he rendered Liberia both in education and in the development of sports by the President of Liberia, Dr. W.V.S. Tubman in December 1967, and inducted into the Order of Knight Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption. Mr. Kohler’s tenure as Director of Education ended in 1968 when Mr. George A. Clinton was employed as the first Liberian Director of Education. However, Mr. Kohler continued to supervise the schools until April 1969 when Mr. Clinton returned from an orientation excursion in Germany.
Over the years from 1971 to 1973 the Bong Town and Zaweata Schools were gradually elevated to a full junior high level. More teachers with higher levels of training were employed and the status of the Zaweata School teachers was raised from workers to staff. Facilities were upgraded and despite her large student-teacher ratio, she began to perform above average junior high level. Then came the request of President W.R. Tolbert in 1976 to concessions to raise the level of education in their respective areas to senior high schools.
The Board of Directors, upon the recommendation of the Bong Mining Company Management, approved the establishment of a senior high school (grades 10 to 12) for the Liberian employees’ children and grades 9 and 10 for the German. Immediately, negotiation with the Ministry of Education for the establishment of the senior high school began. Honourable E. Othello Gongar of the Planning Division at the Ministry of Education, was assigned to collaborate with the Bong Education Center to work out the details. It was a pleasant experience that resulted in the operation of one of the most reputable high schools in the country; and more than that, the only concession-operated senior high school in the country. The school building was extended and equipped for this purpose in 1977. A corps of qualified teachers including Master Degree holders in Education was employed.
During the first two and a half years of operation of the senior high school, Director Clinton also acted as director/principal until Mrs. Mary Brownell who served from 1979 to 1985 was employed as principal.
Realizing at a point in time that just an academic program at the Center, especially for the females, would not provide the manual skills necessary for future homemaking, on March 6, 1976, a Home-Economics program was introduced at Zaweata School with Mrs. Lillian Neufville as the head of that program. It was thought that this program was important because when the girls reached the terminal point in school (grade 9) at Zaweata, most of them could not further their schooling. Hence, these girls either idled in the community or turned into housewives. The Home-Economics program therefore provided the girls with some basic marketable skills which prepared and made them better housewives and useful women in the society. Unfortunately, the program was later phased out.
As the number of British nationals in the community increased, it became necessary to create a British branch at the Bong Education Center to afford the British children some degree of easy integration into the UK schools upon their return home. So in 1973 the British branch was established and Mrs. Doreen Kellie became the principal/teacher. However in 1979, because the number of students in the Spanish branch had reduced considerably, the Company thought it economically unwise to continue operating the branch. Therefore, it was closed down. The Italian branch was also closed later in 1981 for the same economic reason.
To ensure effective administrative management of the schools, with the phasing out of the position of principal in the Liberian branch at Bong Town School, the Director of Schools in 1986 appointed supervisors at the Bong Town and Zaweata schools. Mrs. Lydia Collins was appointed supervisor of the senior/junior high division and Mr. Stewart became the supervisor of the elementary division. At the Zaweata School the principal, Mr. Samuels, was responsible for the morning, afternoon, and night schools. In order to coordinate these three sessions, it was necessary to appoint Mr. Albert Togba and Mrs. Mary Saybah Henries as supervisors of the morning and afternoon divisions respectively. At Bong Town,
Mr. Ernest Stewart was made supervisor of the two divisions in 1988 due to the departure of Mrs. Collins.
The operation of a school system by the Bong Mining Company for the benefit of its employees and their dependants is a laudable venture in a positive direction. It is worthy of note that the establishment of the school in this area of Liberia has been of great assistance to the inhabitants and other non-BMC employees residing in Bong Mine and its environs. For the expatriates, the operation of the schools has been beneficial, especially for the fact that the curricula of the various branches are in conformity with those of the educational systems in their respective countries, enabling their children to fit into their respective school systems with the credits obtained from here. Records in the past and present have shown that these foreign pupils have been excelling in their academic pursuit.
Candid proof of academic excellence to which the Bong Education Center ascribes and sets its goals, is the commendable performance of the Senior Class of the Liberian branch at the Bong Town School which scored the highest in the Liberian National Examinations in 1981. This creditable academic record repeated itself in 1988 when all of the 19 students who sat the National Examination came out with flying colors in the wake of mass failure, especially in recent times. All of these laurels are an indication of the innate potentials the children at the school possess, and are a credit to the support which the Company continues to give toward education.
As was already revealed in this history, the school began with a handful of students of 66 in 1964 considering the number of employees at the time in the Company. As production boomed and the economy of the Company began to brighten, the workforce increased; the population of the students began to also increase reaching its peak by 1983 to 4,495. These factual records have made the Company to obtain and retain some of its employees (Liberian and expatriates) with exceptionally high marketable skills who would have otherwise chosen to leave.
Thus is the brief history of the Bong Education Center. We hope that the foundation laid by the pioneers of this Center can be further solidified and improved upon to meet and surmount the challenges of the future in shaping the destiny of the Center for posterity.