Ibrahim B. Koroma: Sierra Leone Telegraph: October 15, 2022:
The impact of a poor education regime has begun to haunt this nation. An education regime involves current government policies and practices and the role of education service providers, education authorities and teachers.
Let me quickly touch on a few negative impacts of a failing education regime that we experience today: First, just last year, the massive failure rate at IPAM and COMAHS was unprecedented. University of Sierra Leone officials in some departments had to painstakingly adjust academic standards so that those who were within two or three points of the passing grade crossed the line. In this way, the huge failure rate was reduced to some extent, although it was still considered high by all standards.
Second, many high school students cannot write or speak properly without someone helping them. Third, the exposure of gender for degree and corruption for degree at Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (MMCET) is the effect of a substandard supply of high school graduates at colleges and universities in the Sierra Leone today. This sex-for-grade and bribery-for-grade MMCET scandal is characteristic of many higher education institutions in our country.
The late Hon. Dr Minkailu Bah had his ego and crafted a standard where many school authorities felt left out and so he was left all alone. Some say the reason for his ego was understandable because Sierra Leone needed an autocratic academic technocrat more than a democratic one, given the massive process and financial corruption the education system had suffered under the Pa Kabba era in during which phantom institutions and individuals plagued our education system; and corruption in public schools hampered the quality of WASSCE results to the point that output was low and the productivity of graduates was strained.
However, he (Minkailu Bah) introduced strict rules for BECE and WASSCE candidates. For example, no proof of BECE no exam for future WASSCE candidates. Education experts say it was a good policy that helped shape the quality of output at WASSCE and, by extension, university education.
The legacy of the late Hon. Minkailu Bah had to be maintained by subsequent education regimes in Sierra Leone. He (Hon. Minkailu Bah) provided a database of active vs ghost schools. An effort that helped to revolutionize our annual education budget into a more conservative budget at a time when the government needed austere economics due to the twin shocks of falling world prices for iron ore and regional Ebola health emergency.
The Free Quality School Education (FQSE) was introduced in 2018 as the flagship program of SE Maada Bio. There is no doubt that the FQSE has trained the largest number of school-aged students attending public schools ever recorded in our history. However, we must be aware that the threat in Maada Bio’s FQSE program involves three colossal policy errors that have crushing effects on students and the nation as a whole:
1. The ever-increasing education budget relative to the cost-benefit ratio (i.e. a critical look at how a whopping 20% of GDP allocated to education actually goes to the Individuals’ pockets and funds do not actually reach intended beneficiaries thus a major aspect of school supplies does not reach students.
2. The free effects of WASSCE exams in recent years, where potential applicants to WASSCE school are not subject to any strict examination on the basis of merit (i.e. proof of BECE result) .
3. The government’s failure to make teachers who are service providers a priority for the delivery of quality teaching services. Teachers feel that they are not being treated fairly under this FQSE program and the role of teachers is essential to the success of an education scheme.
Education stakeholders believe that teachers have been neglected in the FQSE program and that they too may have neglected the provision of quality services in the classroom. In fact, to make matters worse, some teachers well known for their discipline have conveniently joined their corrupt colleagues in class exams and public exams just to make ends meet in today’s dire economic situation.
The huge pass rate in WASSCE and BECE school is no stranger to these issues highlighted above. Undoubtedly, this huge pass rate in public examinations is the result of a very difficult educational environment which is susceptible to interference from school authorities, including teachers who themselves, like ministers who live on a huge salary , want to live more than an average lifestyle since some of these teachers are just as educated as the ministers.
In conclusion, apart from free tuition, provision of books, pens and pencils and periodic provision of food to some government schools, we are confident that the FQSE will be remembered for its many challenges in Sierra Leone modern.
As a nation, we don’t need an overly ambitious education program, rather we need a very meticulous and sincere approach to solving a huge decadence in our education system. A systematic approach to solving the decadence of our education system is a way forward.
About the Author
Ibrahim B. Koroma is the Executive Coordinator of the Advocacy Network for Community Development (ANCD) in Sierra Leone.