Free Education & President Bio’s New Direction

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said South Africa’s former President of blessed memory-Nelson Madiba Mandela.

Motivated by this, Sierra Leone’s 7th democratically elected President-Julius Maada Bio’s flagship strategic plan will focus on developing the country’s human capital through free education.

Launching the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) New Direction manifesto, President Bio charged that under former President Koroma’s All People’s Congress (APC) led government; “our education system has been completely decimated while they send their children to private schools in America and England. We believe in giving every child a good education so that they can develop themselves, support their families and build our nation for the future.”

In a very strong worded tone, President Bio said “This despicable state of affairs has to change. The people of this country are yearning for change and change is inevitable and inescapable.”

THE GBAMANJA COMMISSION

One of the pivotal tools to achieving the free education is a visitation of the neglected Gbamanja Commission of Enquiry set up in 2010 to thoroughly look into the poor performance of students in the 2008 Basic Education and Certificate Examinations (BECE) and the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE).

In as much as former President Koroma neglected the Commission’s report and recommendations; its terms of reference to ascertain the impact of the 6-3-3-4 system on educational output generally were quiet in place.

The Chairman of the Commission-Professor Sahr Gbamanja said the introduction of the 6-3-3-4 system was not timely. He added that though it was a good concept by intention, there were colossal problems at implementation and performance.

He however placed the greatest responsibility and blame on the teachers who are performing below standard, noting that it had to do with attitude to service, thereby affecting general school performance. He said the Commission also observed that pupils were generally not prepared for the exams and predominantly lacked studying skills.

Prof. Gbamanja questioned the over-reliance on teachers’ pamphlets, which do not adequately address the requirements of the curriculum. In consequence thereof, teachers neglect preparation or study and refuse to adhere to examiners’ reports, while on the other hand students don’t study and most times don’t understand how to answer questions.

The Commission recommended the establishment of a Teachers Service Commission. Also recommended was the banning of all access courses and the erasing of the two-shift system (as the afternoon shift is not conducive for learning), the reduction of subjects from nine to seven to enhance concentration, the banning of extra lessons, the reviewing of performance contracts for Principals, and that government should stop paying fees for pupils but rather provide text-books in schools.

The Commission also recommended that parents/guardians should monitor their children/ wards in and out of school, and that government should set up a monitoring task force to complement this drive.

TWO SHIFTS SCHOOL SYSTEM

Fourah Bay College lecturer-James Tamba Lebbie stated that, “As for the elimination of the two-shift systems in schools, several principals have told me in confidence that it is not realistic at the moment given the prevailing conditions. In retrospect, the shift system was introduced to cope with the upsurge in enrollment of pupils in schools, especially after the country’s decade-long civil war. The rationale then was to step up enrollment to make up for the disruption in schooling throughout the war.”

The increase in enrollment far surpassed the available school infrastructure even with the refurbishment and additional construction of schools across the country after the war. Getting rid of the two-shift system without the provision of additional facilities to accommodate the excess pupils tends to pose serious social challenges for our communities. To successfully implement those recommendations, both the central and local governments must match up the school infrastructure and the recruitment of many more trained and qualified teachers with enrollment.

OUR PRIVATE SCHOOLS

One of the key deterrents to the New Direction’s free education is the accreditation of mushroom private schools in the country. This was not covered by the Gbamanja Commission and therefore their activities should be revisited.

As a young graduate then, I was fortunate to teach in at least two private schools in Freetown and came to realize that those private schools are more harm than good to the enhancement of quality education.

It is important to note that one of the ways the private schools are killing education is by undermining quality. How? About 95 percent of all accredited private schools don’t have requirements for admission into their schools. They admit pupils without NPSE or BECE result as long as the parent/s can afford to foot the bills.

As a journalist and a teacher, I was recommended to be one of WAEC’s examiners and I marked Government and assisted to mark English Language. Today, I have bagged a lot of experience and will be bold to make it public as a corresponding remedy to achieving quality education in Sierra Leone.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND OUR MINISTERS

Public schools have been rejected and neglected by successive governments and therefore President Bio should learn from those mistakes and institute a policy that makes it compulsory for all Ministers to send their children to public schools.

Our Moses is here and we don’t need another Moses to stand tall to salvage those growing challenges undermining the core values of education in Sierra Leone. Now is the time!

Majority of us including President Bio attended a public school. We knew nothing about “leakage” in schools but we fought tooth and nail to sail through those crucibles.

Check the records with the West Africa Examinations Council and you will conclude that the best distinction grades and results were being produced by David Amadu and Paul James. They all attended the Government Secondary Schools in Bo and Kenema.

How is it possible for those private schools to set up a requirement/s when their teachers are either high school graduates or graduates from those mushrooms colleges?

UNIVERSITY OF SIERRA LEONE

University of Sierra Leone will never achieve its lost glory if contemporary reforms are not brought in to turn the tide.

The University of Sierra Leone has been widely politicized by the former APC led Government. Record shows that Fourah Bay College alone has about twenty four (24) Bank Accounts. The University curriculum is archaic so much that it can never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on compulsory education.

Those USL graduates who got overseas postgraduate degrees have been denied space to even volunteer because of their surnames or non-association with the APC Party. Dr. Zubairu Wai is a glaring example when he was obstructed by former Dean of Social Sciences and Law- Dr. Osman Gla.

Shamefully, only one printer for the entire FBC exams Department despite the plea to add more- considering the chunk of job. The USL have not been audited for over decade and you think they will support reforms?

MONITORING & EVALUATION ASSESSMENT

To overwhelmingly achieve such reforms the monitoring and strong evaluation components should not be snubbed. Monitoring and Evaluation have been dumped by successive governments. This would have been effected to strengthen the poor educational standards to match up with contemporary qualitative education.

To start with, benchmark-based assessments are the cornerstone of education planning and reform aiming to improve quality. Countries that are unable to determine where their education system stands currently will find it difficult to make improvements or to reach their goals.

Empowering schools will determine quality improvements. This includes giving them ownership, resources, and the right human resource capacity.

CHANGE IS HERE

The people have spoken and President Bio needs more results to prove his detractors wrong. The best way to achieve this far-reaching change is through an enforceable action with no sacred cows in order to maximize this giant ambition.

Indeed change is the only thing that is constant in nature, hence the only person that is not susceptible to change is a mad man. This is The Pen of The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans. With Elkass Sannoh

 

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Abu Bakarr Tarawally is a Journalist based in Freetown. He works for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer. He has once served as Editor for a few newspapers in Freetown, including Sierra Express Media, The Exclusive Newspaper and his own newspaper, the Daily Express Publications. He is a teacher trainer, and loves writing and reading a lot. Email: abstarawally@gmail.com. Call +232 88601277 or +2327661303.

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