Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 January 2019:
Yesterday – Wednesday 30th January 2019, president Julius Maada Bio officially launched the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), as well as commissioned fourteen Teaching Service Commission District Offices. The ceremony took place at the St. Anthony Boys Primary School, Brookfields, Freetown.
The US$17.2 million education grant program aims to increase equitable access to education and improve learning outcomes for approximately one million girls and boys in public pre-primary and primary schools, with a focus on the most vulnerable children.
Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education – Alpha Osman Timbo, said that the GPE is geared towards building a stronger foundation for learning in the country, with a mission aimed at mobilising efforts to improve quality education and learning for all, through inclusive partnership.
He said his ministry is working with development partners to enhance the successful implementation of the free quality education, which will ensure complete assess for all pupils. He added that his ministry has already completed a comprehensive survey of all schools in the country using digital technology. This data he said, is vital for government’s planning of future interventions.
Global CEO for GPE Secretariat, Alice Albright, said she is powerfully impressed by President Bio’s commitment to improving access to education in the country, and commended the government for introducing the free quality education programme.
She said that the President is putting words into action that are important in changing the lives of Sierra Leoneans and emphasised the importance of investing in education, so as to transform lives, build communities and grow economies, especially when centred on educating girls.
She further noted that investing in girls to learn in a safe place, is beneficial for a lot of reasons – not only for the girls but also for their families and communities. She said it also means that young girls can achieve their dream of living better lives.
Chairman of the Teaching Service Commission, Dr Staneala Beckley, said that with support from the GPE and efficiently managed by the Ministry of Education, they have made it possible to establish fourteen district offices across the country and headquarters in Freetown.
She said that with similar support the commission has completed a baseline study, produced policies for teachers, and carried out comprehensive assessment of the needs of teachers across the country.
In his keynote address, president Julius Maada Bio said the work of the GPE aligns very closely with and promotes the core principles of his government’s flagship free quality school education programme.
“I have identified access, quality and resources, retention, completion and post-completion. This GPE grant cycle addresses access – ensuring that every Sierra Leonean child has access to equal and free quality education regardless of socio-economic background, gender and disability; and quality – providing adequate teacher training,” he said, adding that both access and quality having a direct impact on retention, completion and post-retention.
He said, in addition, that the GPE project would also move Sierra Leone toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which requires all nations to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
The president added that: “Of importance is also Target 4.2 which requires that by 2030, nations must ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.’ So, although early childhood education is not mandated in our constitution, my government deems the provision of free quality pre-primary education crucial for the development of early cognitive skills, retention, persistence in school, improved learning outcomes, and completion. It provides a solid foundation for success”.
The President disclosed that, only 11.5 percent of 3-5 year-olds had access to pre-primary education in Sierra Leone, adding that among 6-11 year-olds, Early Grade Reading Assessments and Early Grade Mathematics Assessments (EGRA and EGMA) achievement reports were depressingly low.
He emphasised that the logical connection was obvious that there is a direct correlation between early childhood learning and academic success in later years.
“This brings me to another crucial element to improving learning outcomes in our schools. Earlier this month, I launched the teaching and learning materials and made a strong case for improving the quality of teaching in our schools. High-achieving students are motivated to engage, think critically, and explore possibilities when they have good teachers. I acknowledge, at this juncture, the support of DFID (through Leh Wi Lan), UNICEF, the World Bank, the EU, Irish Aid and our other development partners who have supported teacher training and development.
“My government through the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) is providing partner funding with the GPE for establishing a Learning Assessment Unit. This will ultimately improve teaching effectiveness.
“Additionally, the Education Act of 2004 and the Teaching Service Commission Act of 2011 especially, provide for devolution of decision-making on training and assessing teaching. My government believes that local planning, local responsibility, and local accountability for achieving local targets is best for educational outcomes,” he said.
President Bio acknowledged recent positive administrative changes within the Ministry of Basic and Secondary School Education in ceding more responsibility to the District Education officers and involving Ward Education committees in planning and decision-making.
He stated that a decentralised school monitoring, data collection and management system was ultimately good for providing the best data on which the government could predicate policy and planning.
“The District Education Office can provide overall lead especially using national benchmarks. We must allow the Teaching Service Commission to fulfil its constitutional mandate of training, assessing, and certifying teachers at all devolved levels.
“It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I also commission, today, 13 newly-constructed Teaching Service Commission (TSC) District Offices, and one refurbished using funding from an earlier GPE grant cycle,” the president concluded.
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