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SIERRA LEONE - CAN WE GIVE FREE EDUCATION A CHANCE?
There still exists a small West African State called Sierra Leone which used to be called the Athens of West African. These accolades came from the great mark that this nation made on education in the African Sub-region. Many countries in Africa were sending students to Sierra Leone to get an education. Many Teachers would also migrate from other parts of Africa to Sierra Leone to teach; not to talk about the many around the African continent; particularly West Africa, who acquired their university education from the Great Fourah-Bay College - the first University in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oh, how I wish we could still produce from this same University, people like the great Eldred Jones; the Davidson- Nichols; the Eustace Palmers; the Abdulai Contehs; the Abass Bundus and many others who were fortunate to earn their University education from this great institution of learning.
Governments have come and gone before and after the civil war; and the challenges to our education system are still very glaring. Several methods and theories have been proffered by certain professionals in the field of education - all in an effort to improve the quality of our education after the civil war; but while those theories and methods still remain potent and applicable; what has been the greatest challenge is the implementation of some those salient recommendations. As a nation, we have progressed tremendously in our effort to fund our education system. We went from a 3.7% of our GDP funding to education in 2007; to 15% by the end of March 2018; and now to 21% by this new political administration of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). What stands out very unique and amazing in all of this is that for the first time in the history of education in this country, a political administration is pronouncing Free Quality Education for the children of this country.
Some may want to argue that we were already close to free education in terms of the subsidies over the years to primary school pupils; and the girl child; and disabled people who are admitted into colleges and public Universities; and female students who excel in specific science disciplines such as mathematics; Engineering; Medicine; Agriculture; and in general, students in our public Universities. The fact still remains that it wasn't free education at all. Now we have it! It has been pronounced by the SLPP government and serious work is going on behind the scenes to commence its implementation in September this year.
People have raised concerns over the preparedness of government to handle such an ambitious national programme. Some have even cataloged the potential challenges that the government is going to face in the implementation and sustainability of the program. Some have openly declared that the Free Education program is going to fail in the first year of its implementation. Others have created so much fear and doubt around this free education programme that one begins to wonder if the word "Exploration" has any place in the vocabulary and dictionary of the average Sierra Leonean. When America said in the late 60s that they were going to go to the moon, they did not say it was going to happen the next minute or the next year. A lot of planning went into the process and in the end; they were able to get there. If Sierra Leone says it is going to wait till everything that is need for the free education is available before starting the program, we may never start at all. As a nation, we have to start somewhere and as we move along, we would be able to identify challenges and find a way to overcome them accordingly.
Yes, we still don't have adequate school structures; inadequate trained and qualified teachers; inadequate teaching and learning materials; inadequate tools and equipments and inadequate resources to run a Free Education in this country; but the good thing is, the pronouncement of the Free Quality Education by President Julius Maada Bio never included that the Free Quality Education is going to start and be totally completed in September 2018. It is a five (5) year national endeavour in which each year adds a little bit of the ingredients of the Free Quality Education so that by the time we get to the 5th year, the Free Quality Education would have earned its full compliments. This would be the time when we would hope to see 49 pupils in one classroom; enough supply of all teaching and learning materials; adequate supply of trained and qualified teachers; adequate school facilities as well as tools and equipments in schools across the country.
As the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, I get to hear most of the negative questions about the Free quality Education. Some would ask out of ignorance, while some others will do so out of fear and anxiety. A good many will do so to attempt to embarrass the political administration and render the programme unworthy of our consideration as a nation. Some will bluntly ask me if the Free quality Education is going to succeed. I hardly hear anyone ask me what he or she can contribute to the success of the Free Quality Education; but that is Sierra Leone for all of us. The question that we, Sierra Leoneans, must ask ourselves is - can we, as a nation, give The Free Quality Education a chance? This is the flagship programme of this current government. Every effort is now being directed at this programme by this administration to ensure its success.
We at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education are energized than ever before to be part of those who would be honoured after the Free Quality Education would have succeeded in Sierra Leone. This energy and motivation comes from the attitude and method of approach of this current Minister of Basic and Senior secondary Education - Alpha Osman Timbo. He respects people and appreciates talents. He stays firmly on his goals and disallows any form of distraction. He motivates every staff by recognizing what we do and thanking us on a daily basis for that. In most cases in life, that is all people need from a leader - thanks and appreciation! Hon Alpha Osman Timbo allows staff to do their work and report on a weekly basis what they have done over the week. This gives him an opportunity to provide the necessary intervention where it is needed. His open door policy; his ability to listen and process issues with staff; his desire to see everyone doing his or her job; his Go-getter type of attitude and approach are his greatest strengths that will propel him to where he wants to see education in the next five (5) years.
So, if anyone should ask me again if the Free Quality Education is going to succeed, I will say, if the political "will" continues to be demonstrated; and if the attitude and method of approach of the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education remains the same and improves progressively; backed by a fresh attitude by Sierra Leoneans to view the Free quality Education as a national endeavour and not merely a pronouncement by a political party, then we would have been miles ahead in declaring this programme as one that is going to succeed. The Free Quality Education is going to be officially launched by the President, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, on the 20th of August this year; and in that launching, parents and all stakeholders in education will be able to hear from the President what the Free Quality Education can offer the children of this country over the next five (5) years for a start. Thereafter, there will be massive social mobilization and sensitization of the public as to what is expected of them by government in the implementation and sustainability of the programme.
If this free education program fails, it will not be just failure for the SLPP but for that of the entire nation of Sierra Leone because we have been given an opportunity to be one of few nations in Africa that will boast of introducing and sustaining a Free Quality Education programme for its school going populations. Therefore I will say, yes, the Free Quality Education is going to succeed. Let's therefore go to work and make history together!