Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 October 2020:
President Julius Maada Bio today launched the Free Education Project, intended to support the government’s flagship human capital initiative – the Free Quality School Education Program.
The World Bank, the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and Irish Aid have signed agreements committing to support the country’s education sector development through a Multi-Donor Trust Fund administered by the World Bank.
The project will be financed by a $50 million World Bank grant and grant funds from development partners with the EU contributing €13 million, Ireland contributing €5 million, and UKAID contributing £2 million to the Fund.
Education, and human capital development more generally, is one of the Government’s national priorities as articulated in the Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023). In 2018, the Government launched the Free Quality School Education Program to ensure free quality education for all basic and senior secondary students in the country.
“His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has led a vision of national transformation through broad investments in human capital. As a Government, our priorities as stated in the National Development Plan titled ‘Education for Development’ are clear and focused on our people, in particular our school children. The only way to achieve these goals is through collaboration and accelerated delivery of quality learning to all children,” said Hon. David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education for Sierra Leone. “We are aware of our constraints and we will continue to be impatient as we systematically address these perennial challenges informed by evidence and robust policies.”
Sierra Leone has made significant gains in school enrolment, but education outcomes and skills acquisition are among the lowest in Africa. The education sector also faces issues of deep inequities in access between urban and rural communities, weak sector governance, and inefficient public spending and management. Such education challenges are further complicated by the COVID-19 crisis.
The project will help address these challenges, as well as support the Government in their efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector while strengthening the education workforce.
Specifically, the project will finance the construction of approximately 510 furnished classrooms to meet the immediate infrastructure needs in basic education and provide community-managed and performance-based grants to primary schools for improved school performance and accountability.
“This project will support the government’s commitment toward achieving a more inclusive approach to quality education, increasing the retention of girls, especially in secondary school, and improving the learning environment for children with disabilities,” said Gayle Martin, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “Therefore, the World Bank is happy to collaborate with other development partners to improve the management of the education system in the country.”
The Fund will use a pooled funding mechanism and is expected to increase the coordination and harmonization of policy development and investment in the education sector and emphasize the government leadership in strengthening country systems to deliver education services.
Access to quality education is a key driver for sustainable development. The European Union has been and will remain at the forefront of supporting education worldwide,” said Tom Vens, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sierra Leone. “We cannot afford that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizes progress made so far in access to education. Being able to enjoy quality education is a basic right for every girl and boy in Sierra Leone. By joining hands, we can do more and better.”
The Trust Fund will assist in addressing key challenges facing the education sector, and will contribute to achieving the Government’s larger strategic objectives in the sector, while also supporting analytical and advisory services associated with monitoring and evaluation, technical assistance, and research and studies.
“This project will increase the participation of girls in quality education, which is a key priority for Ireland in Sierra Leone. It will also enhance the education policy framework,” said Lesley Ní Bhriain, Ambassador of Ireland to Sierra Leone. “Ireland is delighted to contribute to this transformative initiative and, with other development partners, to support the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in its rollout of the landmark Free Quality Education Programme.”
Sandra Baldwin, Acting Development Director, FCDO, British High Commission to Sierra Leone, said: “The UK sees the Free Education Project Multi-Donor Trust Fund as catalytic. In its development, strong partnerships have been built. In its delivery, the project will bring the communication, coordination and implementing drive to ensure this partnership delivers to maximum impact – changing the lives and opportunities of girls and boys around the country.
“The project’s objectives are Government of Sierra Leone’s objectives – and they fully align with the UK Government’s position of supporting every girl to 12 years of quality education and reducing maternal and child mortality. As such, this project will be a focal point around which the UK’s continuing bi-lateral support to both health and education will be developed – complementing and amplifying efforts to ensure the collective sum is greater than all the parts.”
This is what president Bio said:
“Good afternoon. Today is the first day of the new school term. When asked in July this year, 99% of parents reported that they expect their children to return to school when schools reopen. It is, furthermore, encouraging that despite experiencing decreases in income and increased food insecurity in recent months, 87% of parents felt that they can afford their children returning to school. These are preliminary results from the COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey led by Stats SL, with the support of the World Bank and UNICEF. These results are particularly reassuring, as in 2018, the lack of money was the main reason for children dropping out of school (from the 2018 Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey).
“It is therefore a great pleasure to be here with you today celebrating the start of the new school term, launching the Sierra Leone Free Education Project, as well as signing the Education Multi-Donor Trust Fund with development partners. We wish Minister Sengeh and the Ministry of Education all the success in re-opening schools within this challenging COVID context. In support of the Government’s flagship Free Quality School Education Program, this Project is a five-year project supporting primary and secondary education, nation-wide. In particular, it aims to deliver is 3 key areas: improve the management of the education system, teaching practices and learning conditions.
“Education is the single-most important determinant of economic mobility, and the importance of investing in education cannot be over-emphasized. The World Bank congratulates the efforts of the Government of Sierra Leone—under the leadership of President Bio—in placing education, and human capital development, more generally, at the center of the national development agenda, as articulated in the National Development Plan, and also as reflected in budget allocations since 2018, under challenging macro-fiscal conditions.
“The country has made substantial gains in school enrolment, but significant gaps in education outcomes and skills persist. The 2020 Human Capital Index score for Sierra Leone is 0.36; this means a child born today will only be 36% as productive as he or she could be. This points to a serious human capital deficit that the country can ill afford. This challenge is further complicated by the COVID-19 crisis. The World Bank has estimated that the pandemic has the potential to set human capital development back by as much as a decade in developing countries. We all need to play our respective roles to avoid this statistic becoming a reality in Sierra Leone.
“Under the Free Education Project, the World Bank’s funds have already started supporting the government’s COVID response in the education sector, including the preparations to help children return to school today so as safely as possible. The Free Education Project tackles the education challenge on multiple fronts:
• Strengthening the education system in areas of policy, governance and accountability.
• Addressing critical teaching quality and education workforce management issues facing the sector.
• Improving education delivery through the provision of performance-based financing grants, and improving the teaching and learning environment through the provision of adequate infrastructure.
• Another area of support is the investment in data for management, and for tracking performance and delivery, as well as accountability.
• And lastly, supporting readiness for a rapid response to future crises or emergencies.
“The Project is expected to benefit 2.4 million students, 75,000 teachers and members of School Management Committees and Boards of Governors in 9,300 primary and secondary schools. Over the medium term, it will support communities in promoting ownership and accountability.
“The World Bank together with development partners, the European Union, Government of Ireland, and the Government of the United Kingdom have established a Multi-donor Trust Fund to support the country’s education sector, which will be signed today. The Trust Fund, which will be administered by the World Bank, provides a pooled funding mechanism, and is expected to improve the coordination of policy development and investment in the sector, and together with other development partners in the sector such as UNICEF support the government’s Free Quality School Education Program.
“Let me conclude with a quote from someone who was very passionate about education, President Nelson Mandela. He said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.’ I thank you all.”
Finally it seems like the international community has decided to have confidence in the leadership of the New Direction government. During the past APC government, education was neglected and all the focus of the then education minister Dr. Minkailu Bah ( who was the biggest thief according to the COI) was chasing ghost teachers for 11 years and also institutionalized exams malpractices among our students.
President Bio was verbally attacked for his efforts to sanitize the examination process and some students even requested he should “Keep the free quality education for himself” and just allow them to continue spying during their examinations. This practice was even worse at our universities which eventually produce some mediocre graduates that continued their corrupt practices as employees within government and private institutions.
I hope and pray that the New Direction government will use all these donations for the benefit of our children, and anyone that is even suspected of misappropriating this fund should be investigated and if found guilty should pay back the money and jailed. Hopefully Sierra Leone will regain our past glory as the “Athens Of West Africa”.
Education, Education, Education as the former British prime Tony Blair used to say, is the back bone of every developing country. If you have an educated population, the country will move to the development sphere at a lightning speed. Education acts like a rocket booster in the engine of economic growth for a country. Under the Momoh government education was seen not as a RIGHT but a privilege. And you can see where that led us. It is easy for a demigod like Foday Sankoh and Sam Bokari to convince illiterate young men and women to be fighters in a senseless civil war. With little bit of education, they would have questioned things more.
There lies the difference between having an education and not. We still have one of the highest illiteracy rate in the sub region. A whole generation of young men and women lost out on their education prospects during the RUF wars. So investing in education to right the wrongs of that war, is the natural course of action to take. It is a welcome development by this president to make it his flagship programme. Indeed if President Bio would have concentrated his mind on this sort of tangible development goals for national development, no one would have had a pop at him.
The trouble with his presidency, is like he is taking one step forward to developing Sierra Leone, and five steps backwards by carrying out repressive policies against people that don’t agree with him. That could be some members of the press that speak out against some of his misguided acts. Which effectively cloud out all the good things he is suppose to be doing for our country. Like how to promote peace and security, so we can attract more foreign direct investment. At the moment our country is at the mercy of the IMF and the goodwill of friendly countries. How long are we going to sustain this, is a different matter altogether.
For any nation to develop, education plays an instrumental role in developing the human capital of that particular country. Thanks to the European Union and other development partners in supporting the president flagship program. I pray the government uses the money wisely to address the educational inequalities in country.