• February 9, 2024

Many young girls in the Streets… Free Quality Education has a BIG Question Mark

Many young girls in the Streets…  Free Quality Education has a BIG Question Mark
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By Sahid Bangura

 On the 17th September 2018, our president assured us of a free and quality education, a call that converged many Sierra Leoneans, old and young in schools to attain a free and quality education; on the first phase of the project, the promises were a bit fulfilled. Year in year out, the promises of the great leader began to sink and succumb to its archaic version making it worse than ever before. Internationally, it was massively supported by the European Union, the World Bank, and the Mercury International, but the project has got our education sector creeping backward, reviving more illiteracy in our country.

Curiously, are Sierra Leoneans really thoughtful on the impediment/s of our collapsed education? I guess they are not; yeah! certainly because we are political foiled to always conform to every leader’s proposition. But that is not quite the case here!

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The contention is, based on my observation; we deemed every work of the government as a favour to the country, which is absolutely wrong! Thus, I think it is as a result of what some scholars called, TYRANNY; in their propositions, “when people fear the government, tyranny has found victory.” However, this piece neither seeks to aggravate nor to trigger confrontation or causes conflict, but to promote awareness, and to shed light on the impediments of our creeping education. But before I strike through the details of my assertion, I would like to reckon an affirmed statement of a report, which states that, “The federal government is our servant, not our master!”

About five years ago, we overwhelmingly embraced some ideas of fantasy proposed to transforming our weeping education. At the genesis, the idea attempted to surface some amounts of probabilities, and I gladly endorse their bold step taken, as it was vividly evident that an amount of Le 1.25 Billion was pour into the education sector as a subside to abolish the expenses of admission fees, tuition fees, the National Primary School Examination (NPSE), the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), core textbooks, school feeding programs, etc. However, some questions were left unanswered; the school feeding program, for example, which was quite unsuccessful, I observed that it was just a gadget used to fine-tune the FQSE project, so as to attract more sponsors/donors. Following the operation from the second phase to the current phase, I observed dramatic changes, which has left the bulk of our expectations in limbo.

As fast-forward to the keynote speech made by the first Gentleman of this Country, President Maada Bio, on the 24th January, 2024 during the Annual Celebration of Education Week on the 6th International Day of Education, pile of questions popped on my mind, which I am still dangling to provide answers to, but possibly, as the article unfolds, you and I will arrive to a conclusion that would reciprocate to those mind-blowing questions. Base on my observation, such ceremony is annually organized to span education messages, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of education in a given country that would keep personnel in all level of education abreast on their core duties, and the public, informed. It is quite evident that the keynote speech made, was a direct opposite of what was expected of our President.

Prior to the ceremony, I was eagerly looking forward to hearing a speech that denotes details on the ongoing “Free Quality Education,” which many people has reckoned as a failed system. Sadly, what was delivered to us on the Education Week was more of Peace Messages. In his keynote speech, he recalled that, “When I became President of our great nation in 2018, my government fully embraced the Human Capital Development vision where ever Sierra Leonean child has access to holistic education.” Unfortunately, nothing supportive was said in regards to whether or not the Human Capital Development, in nexus to the education sector has yielded fruits; my observation tells me that there are thousands of children out there who are still struggling to pave their ways to school, and some that are in school, are being deprived of a free and quality education.

Kindly permit my observation to inspect the audit service report of our country’s Auditor General. Following the 2022 Audit Service Report, on the “Sierra Leone Free Quality Education Project -2022,” which projects on “financial and management issues,” failed to establish record on the abolition of fees, the provision of textbooks, the school feeding program etc., as it was mentioned in the FQSE project. In the 2021 Audit Service Report, a bit was recorded on the the provision of fees, probably because it was a bit successful. Why is the Audit Report failing to disclose the failed proposed plans of the FQSE project that are of more interest to the public? We want to hear about the feeding program, the tuition fees, text books and more. Seemingly, the Audit Service Report is functioning as a Public Relation platform for the FQSE project.

With the help of my observation, I have been able to unearth a controversy that underlies the number of schools that benefited from the FQSE Project-2022. In a public notice issued on the 22nd April, 2022 by the Ministry of Finance, it was reported: “As part of the commitment to the support of the Free Quality Education, the Government has paid the sum of Le 58,927,640,000 as tuition fees for 2,409,851 pupils in Pre-primary, Primary, Junior and Senior Secondary Schools in Government and Government-Assisted schools for the second term of 2021/2022 school year.”

On the other hand, the census results of 2022 recorded that, ” In 2022, the number of public schools receiving government support increased by 11.2% from 6,829 in 2021 to 7,600 in 2022.” My questions here are, where did the government get the remaining 218 schools from that he financed? Is it that the census results are no more credible? Or it is just an attempt of playing with our intelligence? Get your answers right for potential expressions. The vision of the Human Capital Development is to ensure that every Sierra Leonean child gets access to holistic education, however, according to the census report of 2022, out of 8,368 approved public schools, 768 are not getting supporting from the government, which clearly tells that there are thousands of pupils who are yet to be beneficiaries of the FQSE project, whereas it is expected of the government to make the FQSE a service to all the public schools, cut across the country.

According to an anonymous source, education in Sierra Leone is not freely accessible as they claimed it to be. He asked if it is actually true that the government provides text books for all the supported schools; if it is true, he said of what importance it is to the pupils when teachers are still selling pamphlets/handouts to them at a high cost. Base on my observation, there are hundreds of unqualified teachers in some schools whose names are not on the teaching service list, nor on the payment list, and this has caused tremendous negative effect on the wellbeing of pupils in schools. My observation blames not the parents of pupils for the downfall of education, reason being, about 80% of the households primarily depend on the academic success of their children, they prefer education to any other source of success. Sierra Leoneans love seeing their children schooling, they deem education as the only means of success for their children.  Some parents, in ensuring the sustainability of their children in school, do all sort of odd jobs and petty trading yet, there are still loopholes in the education which neither the parents nor the government has filled.

However, before I conclude my observed assertions, it would be prudent to plead with our government to revisit his statement: “When I became President of our great nation in 2018, my government will fully embrace the Human Capital Development vision where every Sierra Leonean child has access to holistic education,” and replace the phrase, “every Sierra Leonean child,” with “some Sierra Leonean children,” reason being, since the FQSE was introduced in 2018, out of 12,466 schools nationwide, the government only approved 7,600 schools (according to census report 2022) as beneficiary, leaving behind 4,866 schools (some approved public schools, and private schools). As against that backdrop, it is crystal that the government has neither attained, nor progressively attaining his proposed plans of transforming the educational sector to a holistic, free and quality education.

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