Sierra Leone education sector – Looking at the bigger picture

Prof. Joe A D Alie: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 September 2021:

Most right-thinking Sierra Leoneans are somehow mad or angry over two related developments: exam malpractice and the mass failure of students in public exams in Sierra Leone.

President Bio’s Free Quality Education (FQE) introduced was a welcome move and we pray for its success. However, prayers are not enough. We should all work assiduously for its success, because the FQE holds great promise for the progress of our country.

Where do we begin to address the issues related to the effective implementation of the FQE agenda? I submit we start with the supervising Ministries of Education:

1.First the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE). That Ministry has a lot of capable administrators and technocrats. However, until its structure is radically reformed, it will continue to have major challenges. The MBSSE structure, in my view, looks like a vintage car ( hope I’m wrong).

Certain key divisions critical to the overall success of the FQE) seem either lacking or dysfunctional. Does the Ministry, eg, has a functional Curriculum Development Centre? If yes, who are its personnel? What’s the role of such a centre to the realisation of the goals of the FQE program?

Moreover, are the right people in the right places? Are they fully committed, or is it business as usual?

2.Second, the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education (MTHE). This new Ministry now oversees the operations of polytechnics, teachers’ colleges and universities. Let’s briefly discuss the teachers’ colleges.

a)Do these institutions have harmonized curricula? I hope the answer is YES.

b)Are the teachers colleges attracting the right calibre of students?

c)Are many of the teachers real teachers?

c)What is their overall working environment?

d)Have those institutions offering Distance Education courses to serving teachers taken a very close look at the modules being taught? When were these modules thoroughly revised?

e)Can the Ministry make the Distance Education courses tuition-free, in order to attract more rural teachers?

The MTHE is making laudable efforts to revamp the polytechnics. I hope there will be adequate resources.

3.The Teaching Service Commission (TSC) is now responsible for the recruitment, professional development and other matters affecting the welfare of primary and secondary school teachers. This is a very big task that requires, among many others, huge resources.

a)Although many teachers have now been recruited, there is still a large number out there waiting to be absorbed into the system.

b)How many teachers have received in-service training in the last five years?

c)Are most teachers not using yesterday’s knowledge to train today’s children for tomorrow?

I am aware that the European Union and other organizations have committed some funds for the professional development of teachers. However, regular and intensive in-service training for teachers is a sine quality non for realising the FQE.

4.Our school system. The system has many difficulties.

a)The mushrooming of private schools over the years has been done at the expense of quality. There are good private schools, but many are simply money-making ventures. People who know little or nothing about education are proprietors of schools. In an attempt to justify their existence, many such proprietors, together with their Principals, are actively involved in exam malpractice.

b)Does the MBSSE have a system of evaluating these private schools every five years (a kind of quality control measure).

c)Are there stringent criteria for the opening of private schools?

d) Are our government and government-assisted schools reasonably funded and equipped?

e)What is the role of school managers (including Education Secretaries) in the management of government-assisted schools?

f)How strong is the Inspectorate Branch of the MBSSE, for effective monitoring?

g)How many qualified and dedicated teachers have been formally promoted in the last 10 years? We have situations where it is becoming difficult to appoint Principals in some very important secondary schools because few teachers were promoted during the previous administration.

5.Parents: What is our overall attitude towards the education of our children? Please don’t say anything about poverty. Our own parents were equally poor if not poorer.

a)Do we endeavour to provide the basic requirements for our children, never mind FQE? I know of many instances of students offering Literature at WASSCE and yet do not have one literature textbook. But we have money for Ashobi for every social occasion, including funerals.

b)As parents, don’t we actively encourage our children to cheat in exams?

6.The children:

a)Many seem to have misplaced priorities, and think they can succeed (even in exams) by cutting corners. Their general attitude to schoolwork is most disappointing. Ask your child to name one of the authors of their textbooks. They will stare at you. But you ask them to name the popular soccer teams and their players. The answers will be given easily.

b)Most children have adopted what I call an iPad mentality. Quick answers, by just scrolling through an iPad.

c)Tell your child to study and you come back one hour later. He or she will be fast asleep. Yet that same child will spend several hours watching movies or soccer matches.

A new mindset is required if we are to succeed with FQE.

WAEC: This is the body responsible for the conduct of public exams.

a)Can we take a critical look at our National Office? The least said, the better.

b)A niece once requested some money, because she was taking the WASSCE. I enquired why she needed all that money. Her response was that she was going to a town in the provinces to take the exams. I asked why she couldn’t take the papers in Freetown? Her exact response was: “Na de pipul de pass exam.” That response kept me thinking. And indeed she “passed”, but couldn’t go through her first year at the University.

If we must have a national conversation on the state of our education system in Sierra Leone (something I have been advocating for years), these are some of my random thoughts, which might be helpful in organizing some of the discussion points.

8 Comments

  1. Prayers may be enough if they are genuine(directed to the Living God) and when you apply the answer the the Lord Giveth.Proper investment and sound professional practices are a necessity.

  2. If I may, the educational system in Sierra Leone is a disaster. Out here in the diaspora, the newer generation’s command of the English Language leaves something to be desired in comparison with the Gambians and Ghanaians. The notion of bribery as an easy fix to educational problems is really a lifelong tragedy for the people implicated. The purpose of learning, apart from teaching the fundamentals of science, art, and language, is to equip the student with critical thought and analysis in order to approach the problems of life. Furthermore, it also inoculates the “sababu” mentality. When I got my first job in the U.K, my compatriots wondered how I achieved it, that is who I knew in the system. The idea of simply filling an application form seemed lost upon them.

  3. What a competent bogus so-called educational fallacy. Hey look SLPP, the people of Sierra Leone are fed up & tired with your unquantified misleading, erroneous deception. You are in governance, but your delusional & defective party still behaves as if you are in the opposition. Shame on you. To all positive intent and purpose, Bio thinks he can build education through political “grandstanding”& propaganda. Lies can not build free Quality education either. Maybe, Bio wants to build free quality education in the Air, ha ha ha, what a mess. I told Bio from the inception of his so-called trumpeted free quality education, that it was gimmick, propaganda, and political grandstanding politics at play, because Bio does not know what he was talking then. Here is the clear cut result now for people to see. I was disappointed the day I heard Bio on BBC, when he was questioning on how he thinks he can really “pay” for his so-called free quality education programme. What I heard was amazing coming from this dysfunctional irrational babbling, murmuring, babbler, with no clear cut, and specific answer to question.

    From that point on, I knew this man does even have an idea or know of what he was really talking about. Because I fully well know , that sound education can never be built upon the pillars of lies, gimmicks, propaganda, political grandstanding, and sugarcoated fallacy. Where are the so-called one hundred ( 100) schools located? Here is another big big lie. Give us the address and location of the so-called bogus school said to have recently been built by Bio and his SLPP party. Bio and his henchmen, are still behaving as if they are in opposition. SLPP we really tired of your endless botched lies. You people have destroyed the local economy, multiplied poverty and increase starvation levels in the country. Lawlessness, innocent killings, central bank plunder, and tribal identity politics has become your national anthem. Sad sad for Sierra Leone as country. Bio you have failed the people of Sierra Leone. Stop stop the lies we are tired. What a dysfunctional and defunct government, full of thieves. The local economy and the poor people of Sierra Leone are now under or facing the baptism of fire. Wow.

  4. This is really the sort of critical professional analysis piece needed if we are to address the root cause of the problems affecting the stagnant education sector of Sierra Leone.Is nothing new with all of the problems highlighted above. What is new, we are finally debating about it. The issues then becomes, are we going to bite the bullet and do something about it? I hope so, because Boi is making all the right noises. Apart from corruption, the lack of education in the general population goes to the heart of our countrys under development. If we have a sizable educated, and middle class community in the country, none of the issues we are debating today like corruption, political, tribal and regional division will play such a prominent role in the public discourse. And because of the lack of education, voters are not well informed enough to make critical decisions before they cast their ballots for the two major political parties that have come to dominate life in Sierra Leone. They vote with their hearts rather than their heads.

    For all we know APC /SLPP ,parties can write their manifesto promises at the back end of a cigarette paper, the voting public is not educationally equipped to read it.And our politicians play on that. Just listen to the speeches of Residents Minister Northern Province Hon. Abu Abu, you got the ziest. Yes the quality free education is wellcomed. But there has to be a holistic approach in its implementation phase , and above all eles we have the right trained professional mind set that will deliver the educational packages to the children that it is meant to help.No child should be left behind, should be the rallying call for our professionals tasked with implementation of the job at hand. And that is starting from the minister of Education, and those public officials working under him at the ministry of education right up to the school head in the towns, and villages across the country . We have to have the right peoples for the right job. And their commitment to see it through has to be beyound reproach . Failing which is like sticking a plaster in a gapping wound.

    The government and our development partners, and everyone eles that have their head screwed on their body knows education is the vanguard for the future developments of our country. Countries that are least developed, are the ones with lowest attainment of educational enrollment per population. One area the author identified, which frankly formed part of the crucial problems facing us in the education sector, or any government ministries, is the people that are entrusted for the implementation of government strategic projects are either not fully trained, lack the commitment, or worst the basic knowledge of how to make the right judgement call of some of things needed to drive us foward. Every organisation needs an overseer . Setting up a no nonsense education inspection regime board, that we used to have back in the days, where school inspectors used to come in and rate the performance of a schools and their teachers was key to weeding out the least qualified teachers that are only in the teaching profession for the money. The systems we have in place are structurally weak and if we are honest with ourselves not fit for purpose.

  5. Politics aside, Professor Joe A. D Alie should be one of the rallying points in the educational transformation in our country. He has lived it all. First started as an untrained and unqualified primary school teacher, went for his TC, HTC Primary, BA, MA and PHd. Not only that as a Primary school Teacher he became a household name when he wrote and published the book that was used at Primary school to prepare students for senior secondary school.

    He was a primary school teacher during the good and bad old days in the Teaching profession. He knows the problems and likely would identify the right solution if he is made to play a role in the transformation of our education system. Unfortunately he is not a partisan professional. And those in politics would ignore talent for political patronage even if it is at the detriment of the success of their political agenda.

    • Dave, Professor Joe Allie is serving the nation better in his current capacity. The assumption that people can properly serve their communities when appointed minister is a misplaced fantasy. Besides the perks that go with a ministerial position, the role comes with countless challenges. Why would any sensible person aspire take on a thankless job in a hyper-political environment?

  6. A disease cannot be cured without an accurate diagnosis of its nature and causes. This article is a dispassionate guide to undertake one. Sadly political economy issues are unlikely to allow the national conversation advocated. Perhaps the time has come for like-minded people to take the bull by the horns and lead such exercises. Individual articles however well-intentioned or “forwarded many times”, are easily dismissed, ignored, or forgotten. This excellent piece and its author should be the rallying point for beginning this national conversation.

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