Sierra Leone’s education conundrum
17 September 2011
When global indicators show that Sierra Leone is
ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world,
it does not somehow come as a surprise.
With 'functional literacy' estimated at less than
25% of the adult population, it is obvious that
productivity, wealth creation and economic growth
will be stunted.
After 50 years of independence, Sierra Leone
continues to be known as a nation of petty traders,
rather than a developing country whose economic
progress is driven by industrialists and scientists.
Much blame has been poured on the failings of
successive governments, since the country gained
independence in 1961. But many Sierra Leoneans take
the view that the problem is caused by decades of
under-investment, lack of vision and leadership,
corruption and poor management of the nation’s
Austin Thomas takes a cursory look at the
performance of the country’s current and most recent
ministers responsible for education; Alpha Wurie and
Minkailu Bah. Both ministers are products of the
country’s university education and much is therefore
expected of them:
The most important factor in wealth creation and
industrial production is human resource, without
which, land cannot be productively utilised for
farming, construction, or infrastructure
Capital cannot be invested to bring in the much
needed profit without human resource, nor can
industrial machinery be bought and operated without
a skilled and educated workforce. So there is no denying that
the quality of human resource is the most important
factor of production and wealth creation.
Countries that have attained development have
done so by investing heavily in raising the
education levels and skills of the people. Take
China for example; some 20 years ago, China was
never considered an economic power, because
education in china was very low - less than 50%.
Today, more than 80% of all Chinese are functionally
literate and productive. The middle man power that
is needed in the country is amply available in every
sector of production, thus giving the country its
present status of 'global economic giant'.
Sierra Leone can never develop if we continue to
fail to improve standards of education in the
What is interesting though is that, if we take a look
at the last decade of our educational attainment
records, we will see mixed results, due largely to
the competence, vision and leadership of the
respective ministers responsible for that
Sierra Leone has one of the lowest levels of
literacy in Africa and that has been the main cause
of our under-development. But credit must be given
to the former education minister - Dr Alpha Wurie,
for implementing some of the most innovative
strategies aimed at improving the quality of
education, and increasing the number of children
attaining the required standards.
Those strategies and projects were moving along
the right direction. Indeed some had already been
implemented successfully, such as the ‘Sababu’ and
Girl child education drive.
Other projects were in the pipeline. And there was
hope that after 2007 there would be continuity with
those projects, so as to improve the quality of life
of students and youths, that will in turn have a
positive effect on the country’s productivity and
But ironically, and despite the economic need for
those planned education projects, after 2007 they
were either abandoned or had their funding reduced
to the detriment of the nation. Much needed funds
are now being spent on grandiose infrastructure
projects for the sake of posterity. Even the IMF has
recently expressed concern.
Today the improvements that the country should
have made in education, have not materialised and
the deplorable figures speak for themselves.
I would want to do some reality check between these
two ministers who hail from the same universities
where they had also lectured for many years, in the
engineering and the science departments
Alpha: Visionary and innovative
I will start with Alpha Wurie, who in
the last 10 years served as minister of
education for six years. Alpha Wurie, I
will say is a man of vision. He is an
innovator, intelligent, respectful,
smart, and astute. He is a respected
family man and who listened to the
voices of the public to make changes
Alpha’s management of the education
ministry can be described as a success
His vision and leadership led to the
implementation of the compulsory Girl
Child education programme, and the
Sababu project that saw hundreds of
schools built or refurbished all over
the country. Thousands of teachers were
recruited to run the schools.
Alpha Wurie was always in dialogue with teachers and
lecturers because he knew about conditions in the
classroom. He averted industrial strikes and curbed
the ugly violence of cults and clubs in university
He was always ready to listen to parents, and he
understood their concerns. He knew that by improving
standards of education in the country, Sierra
Leone’s development and prosperity could be assured.
Alpha was an orator. He was articulate and not
pompous. He was a good administrator, a very good
lecturer, an excellent business man and a
respectable father. Those who knew him at Fourah Bay
College will attest to how he helped many to become
what they are today.
He represented a political party (SLPP), whose
based on education for all. If we should go
down memory lane, we will find that most in the
party’s hierarchy were educated elites. And this is
also true of today.
The SLPP party believes in education, which is
why since independence they have never exploited the
youths to carry out politically motivated violence.
Alpha never cared much about tribe, region or party.
He did all he could to improve and change lives
during his tenure as education minister. More girls
enrolled in schools than at anytime in the country’s
history. Uniforms, books and food were supplied to
encourage children to go to
and stay on till completion.
At Regent, Alpha Wurie built a science college that
should have served as a very good laboratory for the
entire Western Area. Many schools could have made
use of this facility to conduct their science
practicals on regular basis, and proceeds would have
been used to replicate this initiative in other
regions of the country.
Today that science college has been abandoned and
the three buildings are now being squatted on.
Minkailu: lacks vision and leadership
Our education was heading in the right
direction until September 2007, when we
had a change of government and another
lecturer from FBC in the name of Dr
Minkailu Bah took over the reins.
Dr Minkailu Bah took over from his FBC
colleague, and I am sure Alpha would
have given Bah good advice with which he
could continue the success story.
On taking over, the first task that
Minkailu Bah embarked upon was to carry
out an investigation into so called
'ghost teachers' as a cynical ploy to
cut government spending on education.
Although the result is yet to come to light, it was
alleged that after finishing the investigation he
had more teachers on his list than what he inherited
During his lectureship at FBC, Dr Bah was the
electrical engineering lecturer who took a lighted
candle to start a generator, causing an explosion,
which killed another employee.
There was no investigation done, so there is no
police report on the accident. Suffice it to say he
was appointed education minister after parliament’s
approval with such an embarrassing record.
Four years since taking over as minister of
education, the Sababu project is almost dead. The
girl child education is a thing of the past; school
fees have increased exponentially.
Bah says that education is expensive, so parents
should be prepared to face the difficulties. But his
government has increased the cost of living,
increased poverty and frustrated teachers to the
point that almost every month there is a strike in
The Millennium Development Goal on education, which
we had hoped would be achieved come 2015, is now
looking very bleak. Thanks to the policies of the
present government and poor leadership of minister
Today, every sector of the education ministry has
problems. Most of these problems should not have
occurred in the first place, if those working in the
ministry had not lost their sense of direction and
confidence in the minister.
When the lecturers were on strike a few weeks ago,
rather than talking with his colleagues to settle
the matter amicably, he accused them of politicking.
This is the man who four years ago, was also working
in that same institution as a lecturer. But as the
saying goes: "e fordom nar wata en turn fish".
Minkailu Bah has reversed the upward trend set by
And now there is no hope in sight that if he continues
at the helm of the ministry of education for another
six years (though I hope the APC will be kicked out
next year), there will be any improvement in
But the reality is that he represents a political
party that has never taken education seriously in
the past. The APC has channelled the energies of our
youths into becoming substance abusers, criminals
Their policies have never been geared towards
developing the country’s human resource that will
improve prosperity and promote economic growth.
SLPP believes in education for all, so that we
can all be productive and make full use of the
opportunity to contribute to the development of the
If we can turn back the clock to 2007, I am sure
many Sierra Leoneans would think differently and
would have voted for Berewa and SLPP. But sadly we
All we can do now is to discern the right from
wrong, good from bad and evil, peace from war, so
that we can make the desired change in 2012, if we
want to develop Sierra Leone sooner, rather than
Let us remember that education is the most powerful
weapon we can use to change Sierra Leone. A good
head and a good heart, are always a formidable
combination to bring success to any endeavour we
In conclusion I would like to end with a quote
from the great Nelson Mandela who once said;
"Education is the great engine of personal
development. It is through education that the
daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that a
son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine;
that a child of a farm worker can become the
president of a country".
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