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A CALL FOR A NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON EDUCATION

By Francis Sowa

The state of education in Sierra Leone needs a serious rethinking. The rethinking should seriously take into consideration the expressed views of Sierra Leoneans on what they have termed as “the appalling state of education in the country.” The incessant cries about the poor standard and quality of education have come from all shades of opinion. Employers are concerned about the quality and output of some of our graduates; lecturers ask what secondary schools some of their students attended; parents and guardians ask who are the teachers and lecturers in schools and colleges; students and pupils either complain about the competence, commitment and/or availability of some of their teachers and lecturers; while some parents and guardians doubt the academic prowess of their own children/ward.

 

In all of these, the big question has always been why the President still keeps Dr Minkailu Bah as Minister of Education?  There is no doubt that Dr Bah’s poor human relationship, little or no new initiatives and failure to continue with good educational policies have contributed to the current state of education in Sierra Leone, but there also are other factors and actors that have not been given due prominence.

 

The questions and concerns on education are not new. They were highlighted during nationwide consultations by the then Secretariat of the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation (SLCDT). The SLCDT had examined the reasons for the state of education in the country and proffered what was dubbed as ‘transformative ideas’ for the education sector. In all the districts officials of the SLCDT went to, the people spoke with one voice. They said “education, education, and education was the key to the development and transformation of the country.” The SLCDT took that recommendation to the National Conference on Development and Transformation where the delegates endorsed the call for prioritising education in Sierra Leone’s development aspirations. That report was presented to President Ernest Koroma. I hear a Secretariat has been or is being established to help ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the SLCDT. However, the Agenda for Prosperity (AfP) appears to have taken onboard some of the key recommendations of the SLCDT including the ones on the Social Services Theme. Pillar 3 of the AfP dealing with Human Development makes interesting reading, particularly the aspect of education. But I still feel that more should be been done to implement the SLCDT’s recommendations on education including those already captured in the AfP. This is why I believe that there is a need for a national conference, if not, conferences on education.

 

A conference is needed to remind ourselves that the AfP itself acknowledges that the education sector faces severe challenges to respond to the needs of society and the labour market. According to the document, despite the gains made in recent years, there are: “high number of out-of-school children of primary school age”, “low quality education at all levels”, “inadequate educational infrastructure to effectively and efficiently deliver education”, and “mismatch between skills supply and labour-market demands.” The last point re-echoes the SLCDT’s recommendations on the need for a complete review of the country’s educational curriculum and for the provision of more resources to the educational sector.

We need a conference to make the Minister of Education know that many officials manning educational institutions are not up to the task in terms of ensuring that teachers and lecturers perform their assigned duties. This is arguably why the AfP notes that there is a “lack of governance and management capacity for education service delivery.” I totally agree with that point.

 

We need a conference to bring to light the fact that pupils who have had poor educational foundation cannot be changed overnight in tertiary institutions. Education is a continuous process.

 

We need a conference to ask the West African Examination Council (WAEC) to explain how some pupils who passed their West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) with good grades are unable to pass introductory courses at colleges and university or communicate in simple English. We need a moment of sober reflection on how some purported ‘academic geniuses’ suddenly become ‘academic clowns.’

 

We need a conference for the students to explain how many times some teachers and lecturers go to classrooms in schools, colleges and universities. For example in a semester of fourteen (14) weeks in a university, students have said that some lecturers teach only two to three times. This is one of the major reasons why the country’s educational system is in the state it finds itself today. When some lecturers teach only two to three classes a semester, how do you think they will prepare students to become educated and enlightened citizens? Sadly though, some students like those lecturers who do not teach them and they frown at those who are always present to do their work. The end result is the award of degrees to some students who do not fully understand the basics of their areas of specialisation.

We need a conference to tell the Minister of Education that better and improved conditions of service will help to improve the standard of education.

We need a conference to restate the fact that majority of our pupils and students have decided to give priority to trivial things. Their academic work is a secondary issue. Hard work is not part of their vocabulary. In a country where some people have lost integrity and trust, the students are not even afraid to bribe lecturers and teachers in a bid to secure good grades. Some teachers and lecturers have also reduced education to a commodity students buy with physical cash instead of the true price of academic struggles that bring produce thorough academic giants.

 

We need a conference to let parents and guardians know that social media has become more of a curse than a blessing to most of their children and wards. The parents should know that most of their children spend more time on Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp among others than reading their books and doing their assignments. They even more out of classrooms to answer phone calls. They spend time on social network sites even during lectures. They seldom use social media for any educational purpose or activity.

We need a conference to let everybody know that discipline is part of the process of acquiring education and politicians should not interfere into the running of the Universities when some students who choose to become lawless and indiscipline are dealt with by authorities of the Universities.

The list is long. But the AfP has on paper appeared to provide answers to all our educational problems. I make reference on the government to particularly implement Pillars 3, 5 and 8 of the AfP which contain relevant ideas and suggestions on improving the country’s educational sector.

The government should rethink the position of the education in the Agenda for Prosperity at least in the implementation of the pillars on education.  The government should put it words into action in the AfP. The document notes that “Appropriate education creates enabling conditions for economic growth and prosperity, with strong beneficial impacts on health, nutrition and socio-economic development. An educated labour force will meet employment demands in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, value addition, and the private and public sectors, and reduce dependence on foreign experts.” I totally agree with this point.

 

I hope the government fulfills its commitment in the AfP which states that “In the next five years, Government will invest in and reform the educational system, especially basic education, to ensure quality learning and adequate human resource development.” The AfP also notes that “Institutions at the tertiary level need restructuring, so they can meet present and anticipated future demand for high quality graduates. A good supply of well-educated graduates will also attract investment, thus creating jobs; improving product processing and value-added, reducing imports; increasing exports; and boosting foreign earnings and reserves.”  It adds that “Government is focused on ensuring that by 2018 access to primary education will be ‘fee free’, and access to all levels of education will be greatly improved, providing adequate educational infrastructure to effectively and efficiently deliver education and  reforming the curriculum and examinations.’’

The AfP has been aided or better still complemented by the Education Sector Plan which also has a clear Implementation Plan. In consideration of all the proposed beautiful ideas on improving education amidst an ugly educational, I call for a national yearly conference on the state of education in Sierra Leone. The conferences will among other things create a national platform for the dissemination of information on the implementation of all the dreams that will help to restore Sierra Leone’s lost educational glory.

Francis Sowa is a journalist/social and media analyst and lecturer, Mass Communication Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (fsowa2007@yahoo.com, +232 76 866 519/ +232 77 866 569)

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