Saidu Bangura, PhD: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 June 2022:
As a follow-up of my initial article, “Sierra Leone’s fake education qualifications scandal: My two cents” (https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/sierra-leones-fake-education-qualifications-scandal-my-two-cents/), this article seeks to answer the question that builds a nexus between education and development, and how the upsurge of fake universities and the craze for fake terminal degrees in Sierra Leone are a result of market failure of the state-run academic institutions in Sierra Leone.
I will respond to one of the two questions I promised to answer in part two: what does education have to do with development and the success or failure of countries? Considering space, I will leave the second question, what is the way forward for tertiary education in Sierra Leone? for another article.
While the revelations of the fake degree crusade launched by Dr John Idriss Lahai are still ongoing and have not failed to shock us with reference to the people named and the positions they hold in state institutions whether as parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, academics, or as CEOs in state institutions, the leaks notwithstanding – these people still hold their positions, pundits of both political parties that have governed Sierra Leone since independence are in denial of how they have failed us.
When we compare Dr John Idriss Lahai’s fake degree revelations, which, depending on where you stand in the politics of Sierra Leone or whether you are critical enough to see the loopholes in the whole saga, have been dubbed as a failed attempt, or maybe not, to distract the attention of the public on burning and pressing issues of state, with the financial mismanagement and corruption by key political actors as presented by the Africanist Press, and how these affect the country and increase the levels of poverty and inequality, and lack of sustainable development in the country, we are left with no option but to describe Sierra Leone as a country run by elite kleptomaniacs.
They bestow fake academic credentials upon themselves and on their cronies to run the state and its institutions, a result of market failure of the public universities, the same universities which have failed to come along the technological revolution of the twenty-first century; they steal from the state through various means, some legal, others not so legal, to better themselves and their associates and family members, and yet we wonder why people do not have clean running water and constant electricity supply in their homes, good roads, good health facilities, and better conditions of living for all Sierra Leoneans in tune with the natural and mineral resources that we are blessed with.
Both Chernoh Bah and John Lahai are exposing deep-seated corruption in Sierra Leone, though from different angles: financial mismanagement and corruption, and academic fraud respectively. We should be able to see how they complement each other in cleaning “the land that we love” through their respective revelations. What we have not been able to see is Parliament acting upon these revelations especially those from the Africanist Press. We know there is a committee set up to investigate Lahai’s revelations, which for some of us is just window dressing.
Why has Parliament never set up a committee on the revelations of the Africanist Press? The conspiracy of silence from both Parliament and the Executive on the revelations of the Africanist Press is too deafening for well-meaning Sierra Leoneans to continue to bear. But what do we expect from a Parliament that only seeks its own interests? Parliamentary Act 2022 rings a bell, right?
The underdevelopment challenges we face today as a country and people cannot holistically rest on the heads of politicians; academic institutions should bear some of these blames. Our institutions of higher learning have failed to move with times, hence the reason why there are infrastructural and technological shortcomings to meet with the demands of the twenty-first century irrespective of the attempt to increase the number of universities in the country lately.
The transformation of polytechnics into technical universities, good as it may seem and much as they are needed to boost academic and economic development, without meeting standard prerequisites like infrastructure, twenty-first century technology, the search for the right university professoriate and faculty with the right qualifications and mindsets to run these institutions, and promote innovative and decolonised course programmes that cater for critical areas that pave the way to the development of the regions where these polytechnics are, now universities, is like putting old wine in new bottles or new wine in old bottles. The result is the same. That apart, the university dons have allowed themselves to be used by politicians just as professionals of other state institutions have equally fallen prey to politicians.
Did we not see a group of lecturers who formed an association of lecturers of a political party? Paradoxically, our tertiary institutions were known to have contributed to the educational development of the human resource capacities of countries in the region and beyond, countries we now look up to for educational support and as references for key development areas in our higher institutions of learning.
Where did we go wrong as a people and country? We have failed to build a nexus between (higher) education and development.
We failed to use higher education as a catalyst to development. We failed to use university education as a springboard to make Sierra Leone a country worth living in and to better the lives of the people. Our university dons and politicians failed to see the relationship between education and development. The knowledge economy is never capitalised on in Sierra Leone.
Education is a centrepiece to development both at the level of the individual and society in general. Polities that put the education of their population as a priority are seen to be developed and successful.
Countries that have failed to use education to tailor their development are mostly described as underdeveloped and unsuccessful. This is so true that both the MDGs and SDGs have education as one of the building-blocks of the standards that the UN established for the development of nations. When we look at the differences and the gap between developed and developing nations, the place of education, especially university education, the moving force that produces skilled/technical, professional, and administrative manpower in any given society, is what distinguishes both groups of countries.
Will Sierra Leone meet the Sustainable Development Goal on education by 2030? Have our universities built structures for the development of Sierra Leone?
For D. V. Kumar (2022) referencing John Henry Newman (1996), the university is where valuable development-oriented activities take place, and where creative and critical ideas are explored to enhance serious debates about the route a particular country is taking; where challenges that affect societies are confronted with true and palpable solutions; where questions, however bitter they may seem, are asked, and where solutions for the development of the country are discussed and proffered. However, the university is not just a space for the confrontation of ideas. The university challenges society, questions and critiques government policies and programmes, changes, and transforms societies.
The university designs and develops courses that the country is in dire need of for its development. The university is a beacon of hope to which the people, society and politicians look up to for solutions. When all sectors of society fail, the university should be the last resort to restore hope and trust. When university dons fail to provide that hope given their relationships with rogue politicians, the country fails as far as development is concerned.
We know our universities are resilient given the socio-political, economic, and cultural history of our country and how public universities have been under funded and not given enough possibility for growth. Can this be because university dons have stopped interrogating the politicians and have become strange bedfellows with them at the detriment of the nation?
There is hardly any government in Sierra Leone since the seventies which has not appointed Senior Lecturers and Professors from our universities to serve in key positions of governance. Have they ever positioned higher education as the engine of development? Still, have our universities proven that they matter as far as constructive ideas for the development of the country is concerned? How many research centres and institutes have we been able to create at our universities that serve as triggers to answer the ailing questions that have held us in the grips of underdevelopment?
When universities fail to move with times, they stop asking critical questions or to be critical in training. They become silent on national political issues and even discourage students from actively participating in politics or critiquing the political establishment given their relationship with politicians and knowing the power of students in making the powers-that-be do the right thing or in being instrumental in changing status quos. This hinders the production of knowledge for economic development otherwise known as the knowledge economy or human capital development. The domino effect this has is that the university is no longer the place where solutions to the challenges a country faces are discussed or proffered nor where programmes and courses that benefit the country are tailored.
University education becomes commodified, and people only see what a university diploma or certificate can afford them and not what their education can serve the nation and what development can be derived from these knowledge production centres, universities. The commodification of higher education is a product of market failure of what universities should be doing or what they should offer as degree programmes. Hence, the reason why most Sierra Leoneans named in the fake degree saga sought to unscrupulously obtain these fashionable terminal degree titles from fake institutions given the financial gains these degrees offer them and not what they can offer Sierra Leone.
Simon McGrath (2018) sees education not only as “a servant of development” as most people would want to argue, but “as a core part of how individuals, communities and nations develop”. This is what McGrath underscores as “education for development”, while “education and development” is understood to be “an investment in the future” – where parents, local and national institutions invest for the development of their children and populations within the national knowledge economy and without for human capital development; education is a fundamental human right – where we expect to see local and national institutions, NGOs and philanthropists including lawyers contribute for the enlightenment of the population to become active participants in, and contributors to local and national development and the eradication of illiteracy; education is a strong pillar of peace-building and a means to recover from conflicts – where the language of peaceful co-existence is taught and what seems to be divisive cultures are taught to avoid the (re)emergence of conflicts (see the Constitution of UNESCO: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15244&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html); education is a guarantor of the psychological, social and cultural wellbeing of people and nations – where people live well and members of that society coexist in civil relationship with each other; education is a strong pillar to the construction of identity – where not only our individual identities but equally so our national identity are constructed and developed and serve as a promoter of nation building through our local languages, cultures, local and national histories and religious education, and the policies that underpin such disciplines and their relevance to the decolonisation of education and the nation; education is a strong restraining block to injustice – where educational institutions are seen as strong supporters of the state in fighting injustice and the eradication of material poverty, and poverty of the mind.
The abovementioned should be seen as the areas where both our universities and political elites have failed to see the nexus between education and development. Our educational system and institutions have not propelled us to national development. We may have been highly educated and intellectually sophisticated, individually, but we have not been able to translate our individual education to champion national collective development as a people and country.
In my next article, “Rebranding and repositioning tertiary institutions for sustainable development in Sierra Leone”, I intend to answer the following question: How do we decolonise and develop an African-oriented curriculum in higher institutions of learning that can transform our country? Put differently, how can our universities bring about sustainable development in Sierra Leone?
Kumar, D. V. (ed.) (2022). The idea of the university: possibilities and contestations. London
and New York: Routledge.
McGrath, S. (2018). Education and Development. London and New York: Routledge.
Newman, J. H. (1996). The idea of the university. London: Yale University Press.