More must be done for children suffering mental health problems in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 August 2018:

Kona Seibure is the founder and CEO of Advocacy for Mental Health and Human Rights (AMHHR) –  a rights based grassroots mental health advocacy charity, dedicated to improving the lives of young people and persons living with mental health problems in Sierra Leone.

Responding to the launch of Sierra Leone’s Free Quality School Education programme, she told the Sierra Leone Telegraph:  

“As the government of Sierra Leone has made Education a fundamental element of its development agenda, the Free Education program is indeed welcome. Schools can prepare young people for employment if they promote foundational skills of numeracy and literacy, suitable to the country’s employment needs and have the right resources and environment conducive to learning and development.

“Education is one of the most important instruments for developing human potential and as young people are living, learning and negotiating their lives in an increasingly complex and challenging world, the Free education program is guaranteed to encourage more enrolment to ensure empowered, resilient young people, who play an active role in navigating their own paths towards contributing to national development.

“Even though the previous the government abolished school fees for all children in primary schools, the education sector still faces severe challenges to respond to the needs of society and the labour market, especially in relevance and quality.

“According to a world Bank statistic, most of the population of Sierra Leone is very young, 40 percent of whom are within the school-going age (3-17 years) and 75 percent below 35 years (World Bank, 2015 and majority of them live in the rural areas working in agriculture. This leads one to ask the question of whether the current Education curriculum will be designed to address this for a country that depends on mining and agriculture for its Gross Domestic Product.

“Education plays a key role in the global economic growth and poverty reduction and can lead to better public health, reduced population growth, lower crime rate, less deforestation, reduced poverty and less inequality. The MDG 1& 6: One of the indicators (1.6) of the Millennium Development Goal One (Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger) was to reduce the ‘Proportion of employed people living below $1 (PPP) per day’ and to enhance their earning status. MDG 6 aimed to address the issue of inclusion in developmental programmes.

“As a Rights activities, I hold the notion that  the free education program should make specific inputs into developing teacher skills, learner motivation, textbooks, improving school environment to achieve good outputs for young school leavers to access the labour market and contribute to development.”

Whilst Kona is delighted about the free education programme starting this September, she is concerned that young people suffering from mental illness are being left out and let down by the education system in Sierra Leone.

This is what she says:

The provision of free education is a welcome idea but AMHHR are concerned that it lacks enough evidence of mental health support for young people, who may require such support to attain their full potential in education.

Young people with mental health problems face continued risks to their health and wellbeing and such risks can be increased in schools, as they may struggle to deal with the challenges of education and may face exclusion due to their behaviour which may sometimes be challenging and also due to their learning difficulties. (Photo: Kona Seibure).

They may equally find it difficult to cope with the rigors of life; and the stress of education only increases their difficulties.

Lack of support in the class rooms or the school environment will prevent them from enjoying the full benefits of the quality free education program, and thereby deny them their rights to access knowledge.

The rights of young people in education, with mental health problems, especially those who have experienced trauma and lacking the capability to perform and attain independently, should be guaranteed through all stages of their learning.

Our research has shown that a big gap exists in human and material resources required to meet the needs of this group of students.

We also learnt that over 90% of teachers lack the right skills to facilitate the education and learning of young people with special education needs in a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising manner.

One of the major principles of the Ottawa Charter of health promotion, requires everyone to be given opportunity to develop personal skills, by creating an enabling environment for it to be possible.

As an organization  involved in raising mental health awareness and providing advocacy support to schools in the Bo District, AMHHR believes that creating the right environment, with a focus  on well-being in schools is the way forward for quality education, as it can lead to significant improvements  in children’s mental health and social and emotional skills.

We are aware that well-being provision in schools can also promote resilience and thereby lead to reductions in classroom bullying and dropout rates of vulnerable students.

AMHHR therefore advocates for equality in opportunities for all students, to ensure that our young people with mental health problems and learning difficulties are guaranteed a  system of education that would identify their capabilities, create an enabling environment and promote their resilience to stay in school and gain skills to participate and contribute to national development.

AMHHR is using this opportunity to call on the government of Sierra Leone to take this concern seriously, and make it a ‘must do’ when fully implementing the much acclaimed education program.

About Kona Seibure

Kona Seibure is the founder and CEO of Advocacy for Mental Health and Human Rights (AMHHR) is a rights based grassroots mental health advocacy charity, that is dedicated to improving the lives of young people and persons living with mental health problems. 

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