Education in Sierra Leone:
Teaching Service Commission Gets New Chair. Is It A Step In The Right Direction?
I am certain that the confirmation of a new chair for the Teaching Service Commission brings in a glimmer of hope. It is my fervent hope that with her qualifications and experience, she will rein in some changes that will breed life into an educational system that has been left to ferment for decades. When people are put in the right place based on their qualifications and experience and not because of political affiliations, they are bound to produce positive results. Besides, her traveling experience may enable her to compare Sierra Leone’s present educational system to others more progressive. That is provided her hands are not tied behind her back as is normally the case in Sierra Leone. As much as we may see it as an uphill battle to revive education in Sierra Leone, it is something quite achievable if only shoulders are put to the wheel.
It is no secret that the education system in the country is completely dilapidated and in need of a complete reconstruction. This being said, the powers-that-be must put aside partisanship and work tirelessly to rebuild it with all sincerity and might. Education is the backbone of every society. Failure to provide the right education for the citizenry is lethal, and will ultimately lead to unwanted consequences.
According to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the human mind is our fundamental resource. Education might not have been considered as one of the three basic human needs, but it is of equal importance. Its far-reaching significance for the progress of a nation and for the general enrichment of a society can never be ignored. A country’s literate population is its asset and, indeed, its backbone. Neglecting the importance education plays in the development of society would be foolhardy. The future of a nation is only considered safe when it is in the hands of the educated. For a nation to grow economically and develop socially, education must be a priority.
It is a wrench to agree that Sierra Leone, which once had the best educational institutions in all of Africa and was rightly named the “Athens of West Africa”, is now at the bottom struggling to find its footing on the educational ladder. For this anomalous and pitiable situation, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the powers-that-be. After the decade-long brutal civil war that tore the country apart, the rulers of Sierra Leone ought to have learned a lesson. While factors like marginalization played a role in igniting the war, neglecting education can be cited as the utmost reason. Who but an illiterate fellow can hack off the limbs of the very people he claims to be fighting to liberate. The very rebels that hacked off the limbs of their fellow citizens claimed to be freedom fighters. With some education, they could have known that one does not hack off another man’s limbs, least the person you claim to be defending. With some education, lives could have been saved and cities like Koidu in the Kono District would still have continued being vibrant today but was deliberately destroyed with very little hope of reconstruction after the war.
Education is like a shining light on the dark path of disillusionment. It wipes off wrong and pessimistic beliefs from our minds and gives us hope for the future. It helps create a clear picture of things around, it creates a sense of belonging and erases all the confusion that has clogged the mind of a disillusioned nation. Education kindles and rekindles the flame of curiosity and helps awaken the abilities to question and to reason. The more people learn, the more questions they have, and without questions, there are no answers. Education teaches the population to find answers thereby breeding in self-awareness. In a nutshell, it leads to enlightenment. With enlightenment, people grow to love their country and all that comes with it. Educated people don’t take guns; they use the pen to bring even hostile conditions under control. How often had our teachers drummed it into our ears that the pen is mightier than the sword! Have we stopped to think why Western societies have no wars? Education brings in eternal peace; it is known as the soul of a society.
The words “cultivate” and “civilize” are synonymous with “educate”. Education teaches people the right behavior and good manners. It is the basis of culture and civilization. It is instrumental in the development of human values and virtues. An educated population is capable of planning for the future, and taking the right decision in life. A wise man once said that education is more than a luxury but a responsibility that society owes to itself. Education gives the citizens an insight into living thereby teaching them to learn from experience. It breeds self-confidence, self-determination and develops the human ability to think, judge, and analyze. It is only through education that the principle of equality and socialism is strengthened. Education forms a support system that propels humans to excel in life. Being the backbone of society, education makes a human more human. According to Peter Brougham (1778-1868), education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to manipulate; easy to govern but not easy to enslave.
With the above analysis, it is mandatory for all governments, especially in Africa, to make educating the very people they represent a priority that is second to no other. According to the great French writer Victor Hugo, “He who opens a school door closes a prison”. The benefits of education have been well documented by research to have multiplier effects. Education is the most effective measure that all governments, especially those in developing countries, can embark upon to improve the standard of living of the people. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized the following at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000: “No development strategy is better than one that makes women central players. It has immediate benefits for nutrition, health, savings, and reinvestment at the family, community, and ultimately country level. This simply means that educating one’s people, and especially women, is a long- term investment that yields very high returns. Those in power must change things and form an alliance for girls’ education.” (Paragraph 12). Educating women can play a symbolic role in the reduction of hunger and poverty. It has been documented by the Brookings Institute that an increase in women’s education led to a 43% reduction in child malnutrition. When the people are well educated, they make better decisions in all spheres of life that may benefit the society at large. According to the report by the Brookings Institute, when governments, especially those in middle and low income countries, fail to educate their people, they lose about $92 billion dollars each year.
With the progressive decline of education in Sierra Leone, those in power must do all that is possible not only to revive it but to nurture it. The foremost way of tackling this problem is by giving budgetary priority to the education sector. Once this is done, and with the money being used for what it is meant for, things will change for the better.
The money laid aside for education can be better spent in (a) renovating dilapidated public schools that have seen no makeovers for three decades (b) paying teachers what they are worth (c) scholarships for high-performing students regardless of their backgrounds (d) professional development for educators, and (e) Internet technology labs.
Renovating Public Schools
Most if not all public schools in Sierra Leone today need complete makeovers. The civil war and years of neglect by the powers-that-be have left most learning institutions in ruins, thus making teaching and learning difficult and unpleasant. It is worth knowing that the very buildings that are meant for teachers to teach and students to learn have great psychological effects on both the learners and the facilitators. A dilapidated building with cobwebs hanging here and there and a crumbling roof threatening to crash down can bring nothing but stress for the occupants. In this case the teachers and their students. Research has it that well-lighted and healthy-looking environments make students feel motivated, active, and lively. On the contrary going to a school that has ruined buildings and in total disrepair can make both the students and teachers less enthusiastic about what they are there to do. Repairing school buildings therefore will have positive effects on learning. A visit a few years ago to the high school I attended, the Government Boys Secondary School in Magburaka (MSSB), commonly and fondly known as Boys School, left me very disturbed. The school that was once vibrant and lively with beautiful classrooms and dormitories, favorable landscapes and education-oriented atmosphere now lies in ruins and abject neglect. That remarkable paint work that adorned the buildings has long since dissipated leaving the walls desert-naked and ancient-looking. The accommodating lawns outside where we used to sit and read with pleasure have now been over-grown with weeds that are tall enough to harbor wild animals of all kinds, coupled with the acidic stench of the toilets that greet visitors immediately on arrival. The neat luxurious-looking student benches that were once present in classrooms have long disappeared. The classrooms are now full of locally made awkward wooden benches, such as could be found in distant village schools. The living quarters for teachers that once ignited the desire of young university graduates to be part of the institution now look awful enough to keep them away. The Koyeima School further south, which once attracted students from far and near because of its buoyant location and sparkling neat appearance, now bears the same fate as its counterpart, MSSB. Those lovely buildings in the middle of the forest now look like farm houses. Magburaka Boys and Koyeima School are just two examples of public institutions that have been blatantly and willfully neglected. The rest are pretty much the same or even worse.
Dr. Sorie Gassama.
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