Anthony Abdul Karim Kamara, Jnr: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 June 2018:
President Julius Maada Bio pledged on 10 May 2018, in his inaugural address to the House of Parliament that “effective next academic year starting September 2018, my Government will introduce Free Education from primary level to senior secondary school as promised.”
“The primary objective of the New Direction,” said Bio “is to increase access to quality pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational education and training as well as university education that will enable them engage in meaningful productive economic activity.”
Despite his commitment to education, and his administration’s promise to “increase and sustain budgetary allocation to education to a minimum of 20% of the national budget,” majority of Sierra Leoneans including those in his party and in parliament remain sceptical of his signature plan and the short time before its expected implementation in September.
Bio pointed to the increasing number of problems currently associated with the poor quality of education in the country including teenage pregnancy, dilapidated structures, lack of qualified teachers, lack of feeding programs among others as he also announced commitments already made by “international and donor partners” to support his campaign promise.
Responding to the President’s flagship initiative, Hon. Yumkella commended President Bio for “devoting up to four and half pages on his signature project – more than any other sector.” Said Yumkella, “I agree with the level of ambition and will support his team.”
Echoing concerns already expressed by colleagues and other citizens on the much-touted implementation of the Free Education Initiative, Yumkella suggested that “the implementation should be well planned, and gradually phased in based on a robust road map.”
According to Yumkella, “a gradual phased in implementation would prevent a further deterioration of quality in the whole education sector or cause a crisis in tertiary education as a result of an unexpected influx of half-baked school leavers.” “Political expediency,” he said, “cannot replace prudent planning and careful execution.”
On the importance of scientific research, Yumkella noted that in this day and age, nothing happens independent of knowledge. “Data determines how we get things done and planning with scientific data should shape all policy imperatives,” he warned.
To get Sierra Leone’s educational system right means “having a functional school system effectively aligned with a higher education infrastructure, and both should be anchored on definable national goals and objectives for the overall progress of the nation-state and its citizens.”
To ensure Members of Parliament inform themselves about the state of Sierra Leone’s educational system, Yumkella suggested they read: Revitalizing Education Development project, a World Bank Group support programme for Sierra Leone, June 20, 2017; and Republic of Sierra Leone Higher and Tertiary Education Sector Policy note (Report number ACS4393, July 15, 2015).
Given the numerous problems that has beset Sierra Leone’s educational system from primary through tertiary education, Hon. Yumkella has pledged that his party, the NGC, “is ready, willing and able to provide technical expertise to help develop the implementation of a strategy and the road map for the Free Education Initiative and to work with the government to achieve the educational goals and targets set out in the President’s address.”
Calling for a “10-year strategic plan to upgrade our tertiary education system as a whole, into a first-class establishment fit for purpose in the 21st century,” Yumkella highlighted some of the problems including exam scandals to financial impropriety, expensive application forms and complaints about Sexually Transmitted Grades (STGs), inadequate state subvention, deteriorating infrastructure and overcrowding among others.