“Problematic pupil and teacher attendance: what’s your role?” – David Sengeh, Minister of basic education asks

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 March 2022:

Yesterday, Sierra Leone’s minister of basic education, David Sengeh made several unannounced visits to schools in the capital Freetown, to gain first-hand experience of teacher and pupil absenteeism, and was shocked to find that most of the schools visited recorded  high levels of pupil and teacher absenteeism. And these are some of the best schools in the country.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the government’s Free Quality Education programme, paid for largely by the international community, there is still massive resistance to the culture change needed, if the government is to turn around poor standards of education across the country.

And if what the minister saw yesterday is representative of schools across the country, then Sierra Leone is in deep trouble with regards the government’s promise to develop the country’s human resource for sustained economic growth.

This is what the minister wrote on Facebook after his visits yesterday:

“This is not an angry post. It’s a very sad post. Today, I dropped in at 4 schools: FAWE Girls School in Grafton, Prince of Wales, Freetown Secondary School for Girls and Methodist Girls High School to understand the reported high levels of absenteeism in our schools by both teachers and pupils (particularly those in SSS3). The irony is that we have 206,000 candidates who are supposedly in SSS 3 (including repeaters) registered to take the WASSCE Exams starting in a month or so.

“At my alma mater Prince of Wales, I was sad to learn that the students in Arts haven’t had more than a handful of math lessons for 2 terms. In this second term, no one has shown up. Their Agricultural Science teacher had also never showed up. I called him in the class, and he had nothing to say but that he’ll show up in the future. The Principal was with me on the tour, and he said he’s issued this teacher a query already. I am surprised – what happened after that? What did they Board do? Are they aware? How did we give up on these kids before they even had a chance?

“At FSSG, the Principal showed me the teachers’ attendance list, and several are often absent. To my dismay, she said she’d given them query letters approved by the Board, and those same teachers had been transferred to other schools by TSC. What?!! FSSG is one of our schools that moved to a single shift, and I learned that most pupils and teachers (less than a third) make it before 8:30 am to school.

“At Methodist Girls, I was told by pupils in Arts again that their teachers, including Math and Health Science, do not show up. In another stream, the English teacher does not or hasn’t shown up for this term. How do we expect the pupils to pass?

“As for pupils, attendance was dismal. The SSS2 and SSS1 classes are well attended, but SSS3 classes are empty. What are parents doing? What is the PTA doing? What are Principals doing? What are Boards doing? If we said only those who attend 80% of the time can take exams, what would happen?

“We are not going to transform our country until everyone plays their own part at home, in schools, in classrooms, etc.

“While I was sad, I was also hopeful. There were teachers who taught multiple classes every period every day. There’s the workshop teacher at POW working with an alumni pupil to invent new products. There were the Principal and Vice Principal at FSSG who stayed late working on fixing issues in their school. And there are pupils at POW and Girls’ School who were teaching each other when teachers don’t show up. There was that one pupil who had on a mask in a class of 40 without. Those people give us hope. We need everyone to be like them.

“So what?

“I asked the pupils to write a letter to their Principals complaining teachers who dont show up. I asked Principals to write more query letters. And I thanked those teachers who I met in class even when their colleagues are awol.

“We have provided those Principals computers to submit attendance of teachers but they dont use it. We have trained teachers on Code of Conduct but they don’t listen. We have trained all Boards of Governors about their roles, but they don’t act.

“We will go back to the drawing board. At my senior management meeting today, we set up a sub committee including our Directors and Chief Education Officer to bring us ideas for intervention. We love system challenges and we are determined to address this.

“We will stop at nothing…” (End of the minister’s statement).

But is there a correlation between the worsening economic crisis in the country and low teacher and pupil morale and absenteeism?

Although the government increased teachers’ salary a few years ago and most teachers do get paid every month, there is widespread feeling of discontent across households, with the rising inflation and crippling cost of living which many in Sierra Leone say are causing serious economic hardship for families.

Also, the issue of low morale across Sierra Leone’s education system is the result of decades of underfunding and politicisation of education provision, in a country where most people do not believe that education is a passport to improved standard of living as millions of people with some form of education qualification languish in unemployment and poverty.

4 Comments

  1. “The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability” .

    What can we then say to our country men and women who are teachers and tutors who just treat their job with levity? What can we say to the number of pupil’s in Sierra Leone who doesn’t care to make their effort felt in their academic work? What can we say to the authorities of the education system who have to install the wheel of change to make our education system better and reliable? What can we say to does who opposes everything that comes out good for the free education that will make them change their attitudes and work for the better good of the country?

    Conscience is man best judge.

  2. “ Also, the issue of low morale across Sierra Leone’s education system is the result of decades of underfunding and politicisation of education provision”

    You have said it all honorable ART. Policies designed for political capital, rather than national interest, will always certainly have low success rate. With exception of late president Kabba, the previous APC administration, and worst the current SLPP government formulate most of their government policies, purely from a political vintage perspective, rather than nationalism.

    Only in Sierra Leone is it normal to see government ministers, including the education minister, David Sengeh, using school supplies and other educational services procured with government funds as campaign tools. I have seen videos of Ms. Haja Isata Abdulai, resident minister(NW), along with David Sengeh on social media, campaigning on educational services and school supplies being given to students; falsely informing the kids that, it is only the SLPP and president Bio that cares about their education, hence they should urge their parents to support the SLPP. This is all contrary to the fact that, the educational materials and services in question were provided through the national coffers not by the president or his political party. So with such DECEPTIONs from the so called political leaders, what exactly do you expected from an ordinary low paid teacher?

  3. So much for the Bio administration’s flagship project, to wit, its ‘Free Quality Education’ policy and programme. So, four years on, there is not much to write home about. Indeed, for all the hype, the razzmatazz surrounding the Paopa regime’s pet project, there is not much to show for it.

    Dr Sengeh, I admire your courage and forthrightness – your owning up to the calamitous state of the education system over which you preside. However, your declared determination to reverse what should be a comical were it not so tragic a state of affairs comes across, I am afraid, as an empty bravado, as pointless swaggering. This is because what you have seen in the handful of schools you have visited in Freetown is no more than the tip of the iceberg.

    Mr Minister, go to schools in cities, towns and villages in the rest of the country and you will find that the enormity of the task that awaits you requires much more than going back to your ministerial drawing board. The problem is much bigger than your person and ministry. The problem is the very steep price our country is paying for having at the helm of affairs a bunch kleptocrats, whose ‘New Direction’ mantra is in reality a philosophy of ‘misdirection’, that is, of corruption, ineptitude, profligacy, divisiveness, disunity – in short, a philosophy of state collapse or, more precisely, of how to make a state collapse.

    • Decline in the education sector did not start today. Unfortunately, it is only getting worst as it has spread like cancer from primary schools to university. In 1986, as a pupil with passion for mathematics, my colleagues and I had cause to lock the classroom and refused to let out our mathematics teacher because he became lazy and lackadaisical in teaching us. The principal had cause to call the police which led to the parents converging at the school and this was exactly what we wanted. Our complaints were heard. The teacher was sacked and replaced with a committed teacher.

      At FBC in 2014, the head of the Law Faculty was sacked because he was caught writing exams for female students in exchange for sex and money. In 2018, teachers were arrested selling answered WASCE examination scripts at various examinations centres around the country. Upon investigations it was discovered that many of the culprits never bothered to teach the pupils but rather depended on their devilish scheme which some confessed they had been doing for several years.

      The role of Inspector of schools was phased out in the late 80s and it was replaced with nothing. While it is niice to play politics with everything, education which is the fabric of society should not be one.Thank you Mr minister for highlighting this frightening trend. I would suggest that you set an immediate example on the few teachers that you personally discovered had abandoned their pupils by sacking them and their pin numbers given to the new teachers who are still waiting for the ministry to approve their appointments. Head teachers who are failing to discipline indiscipline teachers should also face the rods. Parents should become more involved in the way schools are run because it deals with the future of their kids.

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