Ibrahim B. Koroma: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 October 2022:
The impact of a bad education regime has started haunting 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 address a few negative impacts of a failing education regime that we experience today: First, last year alone the massive failure rate at IPAM and COMAHS was unprecedented. The University of Sierra Leone officials in some departments had to painstakingly adjust the university standards to get those who were within two or three points to the pass mark over the line. That way the huge failure rate was reduced to some degree, even though it was still considered high by every standard.
Second, many high school pupils can’t write and or speak properly without someone aiding them. Third, the revelation of sex for grade and bribery for grade at the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (MMCET) is the effect of a substandard supply of high school graduates into colleges and universities in Sierra Leone today. This MMCET sex for grade and bribery for grade scandal is characteristic of many tertiary learning institutions in our country.
Late Hon. Dr. Minkailu Bah had his ego and masterminded a standard where many school authorities felt left out and so he was left all alone. Some say that the reason for his ego was understandable because Sierra Leone needed more of an autocratic academic technocrat than a democratic one, considering the massive process and financial corruption the education system had suffered under the Pa Kabba era in which ghost institutions and individuals infested our education system; and bribery in public schools impeded the quality of WASSCE results to point that output was low and the productivity of graduates was challenged.
However, he (Minkailu Bah) introduced strict rules for BECE and WASSCE candidates. For example, no proof of BECE no exam for intending 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 late Hon. Minkailu Bah must have been maintained by subsequent education regimes in Sierra Leone. He (Hon. Minkailu Bah) provided a database of active schools vs ghost ones. An effort that helped revolutionize our annual education budget to a more conservative budget at a time government was in need of an austere economy because of the twin shocks of plummeting global iron ore prices and regional Ebola health emergency.
The Free Quality School Education (FQSE) was introduced in 2018 as the flagship programme of H.E Maada Bio. Let there be no doubt that the FQSE has resulted in the highest number of school-going age pupils turning up in public schools ever recorded in our history. However, we must be mindful that the menace in the FQSE programme of Maada Bio involves three colossal policy blunders that have overwhelming effects on the pupils and the nation as a whole:
1. The ever-increasing education budget vs the cost-benefit ratio attached (i.e. a critical look into how a huge part of 20% of GDP that is allocated to education is actually going into individuals’ pockets and the funds don’t actually reach intended beneficiaries thus a major aspect of school supplies don’t reach the school pupils.
2. The free-for-all effects of WASSCE exams in recent years where potential school WASSCE candidates don’t face any strict scrutiny on the basis of merit (i.e. proof of BECE result).
3. The failure of government to make teachers who are the service providers a priority for the delivery of quality teaching services. Teachers feel they’re not being treated fairly under this FQSE programme and the role of teachers is key to making a successful education regime.
Education stakeholders are of the view that teachers have been neglected in the FQSE programme and eventually they too have neglected quality service delivery in classrooms. In fact, to make matters worse, some teachers that were well known for their discipline have conveniently joined their corrupt colleagues in both class exams and public exams just to make ends meet in a deplorable economic situation today.
The huge pass rate at school WASSCE and BECE is not unconnected to these issues highlighted above. Undoubtedly, this huge pass rate at public exams is the result of a very challenged education environment that is susceptible to interference from school authorities including teachers who themselves, like ministers who are living on huge pay, want to live more than an average lifestyle considering that some of these teachers are just as highly educated as the ministers.
In conclusion, apart from the free tuition fee, the supply of books, pens and pencils, and the periodic supply of food to some public schools, it’s our conviction that the FQSE will be remembered for its many challenges in modern Sierra Leone.
As a nation, we don’t need an over-ambitious education agenda, 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 in our education system is a way to go.
About the author
Ibrahim B. Koroma is the Executive Coordinator of Advocacy Network for Community Development (ANCD) in Sierra Leone.