By Foday Kamara (Leoneboy)
When colonial masters and Christian missionaries finally decided to use education as their second tool in changing the lifestyle of Africans(especially West Africa), Sierra Leone was lucky to be the hub to be used in spreading western education in West Africa, a luck many other countries had wished for. Long before other West African countries had a single school, Sierra Leone had already got two secondary schools and a college, and as a result, Freetown was rightly coined the Athens of West Africa. But sad enough to say all these are past glories and the issues here now are completely different, and in opposition to what history says about Sierra Leone in terms of education as even Sierra Leonean universities can not make it among the top 100 universities in Africa(not even Fourah Bay College, the oldest university in West Africa), Sierra Leone records a very high number of failure in the regional examination conducted by The West Africa Examination Council(WAEC) ;if not the worst, You come across graduates from Sierra Leonean universities with degrees in English language but can not correct simple grammatical errors,and civil engineering graduates who can not mix concrete properly etc as a result of a few things I will discuss in this short Article.
In the first place, government assisted and Public schools have lost their values because government officials have been blind to the fact that quality education is not only meant for their children and close relatives, but every citizen of Sierra Leone. As common sense can tell, one becomes more interested in improving a situation when they affect you directly than when they don’t. I challenge you to name me a senior government official whose child is attending a public school. They have neglected the public schools because their children are either abroad studying or are enrolled in one of those expensive private schools where you have to pay millions of leones before been enrolled. One can easily wonder, if only they believe in the standard of the public schools, why not send their children there? Imagine the child of a senior government official goes to a public school and spends the whole day without been taught, as it is common and comes back to give the report directly to his/her parent, you will find out that the heads of that particular school will have to answer questions because of that child, but they remain careless and blind to the plight of those hundred children in a single classroom with only one teacher to teach them fourteen subjects or more, they are blind to the plight of those one thousand children in a single school with less than ten teachers to teach them because their own children are getting the best of education either in a foreign country or in an expensive private school where the pay millions of tax payers money. Imagine the child of the finance Minister stays at home because teachers are on strike for their salaries,the result will be that the minister will try as hard as possible to get the teachers back to school so his/her child will go back to school. What a bunch of cheaters!
The seriousness of the problem is that the minister of education and other senior education officers are bent on blaming teachers and parents, rather than listening to the wide range of concerns raised by various scholars either through letters or similar articles. I still continue to imagine whether they really know the problems or they are not just ready to find solutions to solve them.I only hope we have that education minister who will not think he knows much and turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the concerns of Sierra Leoneans.
The other cause of the stench in the educational standards is political and regional biases that exist within the education ministry of the country. Few months ago, when the ministry of education announced the approval of teachers, Kenema district was left out of the process for unexplained reasons. The question one could ask is what has the children in kenema district got to do with the political indifference between the people of kenema and the ruling government? This is a complete bigotry which the Ministers need to explain to Sierra Leoneans. That might be just a small one if you know how students’ grants and scholarships are given. The grounds for scholarships are no more on merit but on political lines and personal recommendations. I came to know this when one Momoh Flee, who claimed to be the Eastern Region- regional secretary of the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS), mistakenly sent me a message and introduced himself to me as the guy who recommended me to receive the student grant not knowing I have never applied for the grant-in-aid. From his message I confirmed what many have been claiming, and I also knew the reason why NUSS and other students’ Unions have been messed up by politics and they no more serve the purpose of a student Union all in the name of receiving grants.
All these said about the government, I will be bias if I forget to bring to the attention of my dear reader the grave harm the examination body, The West Africa Examination Council(WAEC) Sierra Leone , is causing on the education of the country. Examination Malpractice is not a strange phenomenon any longer in our country, and the dangerous part of it is that the perpetrators(WAEC BODY) are the ones raising the alarm. One may be tempted to ask where the candidates get questions from? Or is it that WAEC offices are no more secured? We all know that it is the WAEC officers who sell the questions to candidates before the time of the paper(especially in Freetown). Ridiculous enough to see students from the provinces running to Freetown to take exams; even though there are empty centers in the provinces, that sometimes I wonder whether the questions drawn for students in Freetown differ from or are simpler than those drawn for the candidates in the provinces, but the questions are the same(Ridiculous indeed). These have been happening for a very long time and after all, the only thing WAEC could do is to issue a weak and unpublished press release threatening to trace those sending exam questions via Whatsapp as if Whatsapp is the only means they are using to send questions or have they forgotten that our cyber security is so weak that they can not even catch those who have been insulting our leaders via social media?. I am not saying WAEC officials should continue going down to the level of selling exam questions,but am suggesting that WAEC management upgrades the salary level of their staff.
As I round up, I also want to bring to the attention of the readers the fact that teachers have also not been helping the situation. We all know the salaries are too small and not measurable to the services you offer, but that is not in any way a justifiable reason to engage in the devilish acts of corruption widespread in schools across the country. Because I respect teaching as a career and teachers in particular, I want to be very careful in asking that you deviate from the act of giving grades for cash or in kind. We all know respect in the career counts a lot, which is the reason why many others and I want to be teachers , should the government improve the conditions of service(I don’t want to be a hypocrite.) This act of giving grades for money has contributed greatly in damaging the system as students now rely on gaining unmerited promotions.
As I end here and hang my pen till part two, I will remind you of a quote by Nelson Mandela and it reads *”Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”*