James Samba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 April 2021:
Despite decades of reforms in education especially school improvement initiatives, large number of pupils were still underachieving, failing or being pushed out of school in Sierra Leone.
Clearly, a distinctly new approach was needed, the time for a serious government and policymakers to take a bold and comprehensive approach to education. There is no question that education is a powerful driver of change, transformation and prosperity.
As the 2018 elections drew closer, the conversation about how to change the direction of the country gained even more prominence— focus on education and many other critical issues Sierra Leoneans were facing. During the campaigns, the New Direction Manifesto stood out, representing ideas of how to increase access to childhood education and how to make higher education more accessible and affordable, ensuring that every child in Sierra Leone has an excellent education. What an ambitious plan.
It was on this manifesto that a man of dignity and valor arose to become the 3rd democratically elected President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency the President Brigadier (retired) Julius Maada Bio, who postulated equity, accessibility, relevance, system-strengthening and integrity as the core of his Free Quality Education policy.
In August 2018, the President defied his sceptics and went on to officially launch the New Direction Government’s flagship program – the Free Quality Education (FQE) – paving the way for easy access to education for over 2 million children in the country.
“When I promised free and quality education my opponents said it was a political gimmick. But today, I have proven them wrong. In less than six months, we have shown that free education is POSSIBLE. I have always prioritized education as a means for development. As President, in order to demonstrate my commitment to education, my government has increased the budgetary allocation to education to 21 per cent of the national budget.”, said President Bio at the launch of the FQE on August 20 at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.
A President, who means well for his country would invest in education in order to reinforce a society’s wealth and growth, where individuals can easily improve their own personal ambition, productivity and outcomes. According to International Human Rights Law: “primary education shall be compulsory and free of charge whilst secondary and higher education shall be made progressively free of charge”, this is fundamental in guaranteeing everyone has access to education.
The cornerstone of President Bio’s FQE is to increase nationwide access to quality pre-primary, primary and secondary schooling, as well as school level technical and vocational education and training. The goal is that ALL children will be able to successfully complete basic education and be prepared to move on to pursue higher education or training as appropriate for the workforce needed for national development.
In 2020, the Government allocated Le1.4 trillion to the education sector representing 22% of the country’s annual budget. The FQE package includes: payment of tuition fees from primary to senior secondary school, provision of core text books, furniture and other learning materials including the payment of fees for all public examinations.
Because we have a President, who understands that in many developing countries, families often cannot afford to send their children to school that was why he separated the education sector, where we now have the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education (MBSSE) and the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education (MTHE) and appointing a young, energetic, and dynamic Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education in the person of Dr. David Moinina Sengeh.
This Minister, together with his team has been working very hard to provide sufficient supply of learning and teaching materials, providing a conducive environment for learning by constructing spacious classrooms, providing adequate text books, furniture, WASH facilities, trained and qualified teachers, increasing teachers’ salary by 30% and the recruitment of 5,000 more teachers ensuring that even the ‘hard-to reach-areas’ are not left behind. What an audacious step taken by the New Direction Government!
Under his leadership, Dr. Sengeh has also enticed cabinet to overturn the 2010 decision by the past administration that prevented pregnant girls from attending school. The New Direction administration has replaced the discriminatory procedure instituted by the APC government with two new policies focused on the ‘Radical Inclusion’ and ‘Comprehensive Safety’ of all children in the education system irrespective of class, ethnicity, tribe, disability, location, gender, reproductive or parenting status.
Recently, in Pujehun District, the Ministry commissioned 18 new and refurbished schools in hard-to-reach places across the riverine areas. This also includes providing training and stipends for the volunteer teachers in those parts of the country that have been neglected for decades. Mohamed Kallon, a resident in Bormu, YKK Chiefdom, Pujehun District, said “At first, when I heard, the President was going to pay school fees for every child, I didn’t believe until the day I went to pay my son’s fees, and was told that it was free—I felt so relieved”.
“Every time I wake up in the morning, I always get excited because I now know there will be hot lunch waiting for me at the school”, said Alie Conteh, a class six (6) pupil at the Holy Angels Roman Catholic Primary School, Kambia District, Tonko Limba, Yankanbor village.
In his citizen’s engagement on FM 98.1 ‘Good Morning Salone Breakfast Program’ on Thursday 8th April, 2021, whilst speaking about his Government’s three years administration, President Julius Maada Bio noted that in order to have a happy nation, individuals and their families should be happy.
He said that was why he took the burden of paying school fees for about 2.5 million school children in the country and that the parents of those children, who now put those school fees into other use, are quite happy because his government has taken away that burden from them.
“No nation can ever develop without education. The future of this nation is our children. So, we have to invest hugely in educating the children and to have a happy and progressive nation in future”, he stated.
After his 10 or more years of effective leadership of this great country, H.E President Julius Maada Bio would be widely considered as one of the greatest Sierra Leonean President’s because of his courage and leadership in making education Free for ALL.
So, even if you don’t remember him, Alie Conteh together with those 2.5 million children would remember him; they would remember him for the 103 billion Leones subsidy paid for school fees; they would remember him for the 69 billion Leones paid for school feeding; they would remember him for the 3 billion Leones paid for furniture and other school materials; they would remember him for the 5,000 teachers recruited; they would remember him for 4,334 teaching and learning materials procured; they would remember him for the 3,044 schools approved.
Candidates taking NPSE, BECE, WASSCE and NVQ in government and government assisted schools will also remember him.
About the author
James Samba (Photo) is a Mass Communication graduate from Fourah Bay College. He is the Technical Assistant (TA) to the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, NAO Building, Tower Hill, Freetown.