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Sierra Leone’s dismal performance in the WAEC exams

1 December 2020 at 02:43 | 1005 views

Commentary

Sierra Leone’s dismal performance in the WAEC exams: The need for the New Direction government to work extremely hard to fix this conundrum

By John Mannah, USA

Sierra Leone’s performance in the recently released 2020 WAEC examination results with a 4.5% Pass Rate in 5 Subjects, when compared to our sister competing countries namely, Ghana with 68.5%, Nigeria- 65.8%, and The Gambia - 64.8%, is not only catastrophic and disappointing to the New Direction Government in Freetown, but to Sierra Leoneans generally, and presents an opportunity for private sector involvement and collaboration with government to fix it.

Additionally, fixing this calamity will also be beneficial to the students whose academic careers are in jeopardy because of lost opportunity to enroll in higher learning institutions and adequately prepare for the competitive, dynamic and complex global environment that lay ahead of them.

Importantly, leaders of the New Direction Government in Freetown must be reminded that the 2018 general elections that ushered them into governance was a hard fought battle on ideas, and they succeeded in winning the elections because of their promise to among other things, concentrate on developing the Human Capital of the country. This was the winning theme in their platform which attracted voters leading to their success in the elections.

Moreover, the idea to develop the Human Capital of Sierra Leone was also a bold idea whose time had arrived, especially in a global and technology driven economy where economic growth and development does not only depend on technical progress as a contributing factor as postulated by Nobel Laureate Robert Solow’s 1956 research paper, but human resource development has become an additional factor, as reasoned by another Nobel Laureate David Romer, whose 1990 research paper introduced Human Resource or Capital “Endogenous Technical Change” as a new technology that has added people, ideas, and things as factors of production used towards economic and social progress. Human Capital is no longer an exogenous (external or outside the model) factor of production but an endogenous (within the model) one.

Interestingly, Nobel Laureate David Romer’s research captured the practicality of encouraging economic development in places like Sierra Leone where it had failed to occur in the past, and a role has been figured out for the entrepreneur to participate in the productive process. By using human capital to increase productivity, increasing returns to productivity is no longer restricted to the use of machines such as the steam engines, the printing press, etc., but increasing returns is now a feature of adding a customer to a network, electricity to a village through solar, develop agriculture, or do farm fishing, among others. It is a new era in economic activity and the leaders in the SLPP government were strategic to capture this reality, thereby marking a new dawn that will change the economic realities of Sierra Leone.

Against this backdrop, the New Direction Government has done an excellent job in delivering on their promise to develop the Human Capital of the country by actualizing the bold and audacious program called The Free Quality Education, currently in progress to improve the foundation of the educational system across the board under very strenuous and difficult circumstances. Fortunately, the hard work of the new government has won the admiration of international partners, multilateral finance institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union, the United Nations, bilateral partners, and even the managers of the Millennium Challenge Accounts have taken notice as the effort by the government to invest in the citizens of Sierra Leone is legendary and transformational.

Given these impressive performance and achievements by the government in developing its human resource that will inject a paradigm shift into the fortunes of Sierra Leone, the failure of almost 135, 000 students to gain credits in 5 subjects in the WAEC exams to gain entrance into university is a shock to the system.
The question then becomes how do we fix this? The answer to this question should go through leadership not just from the government but in partnership with the private sector. The government should continue with the ongoing transformational reforms being introduced by the dynamic Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Dr. Moinina Sengeh, to create the enabling environment for the private sector to get into the education business and complement their effort to get the job done.

Furthermore, the government and other key stakeholders should investigate the type of private sector innovation and leadership that the former principal of the Ahmadiyah Muslim Secondary School Mr. Kamara provided in the late 1970s and 1980s through tactical and strategic thinking, that facilitated students who did not pass the WAEC exams with credits at their first try to repeat fifth form in the school. These students were offered extraordinary help through the fortitude of formidable Science, Mathematics and English teachers.

Moreover, students who were offered second chances went on to retake the WAEC exams, passed with flying colors and headed to universities and earned their degrees with aplomb, panache, and elegance. Similar models were replicated in other places around the country with great success.

There are however, going to be contrary views to this idea from practitioners and stakeholders such as members of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who may offer counter arguments that the reason why these students failed the WAEC exams is because the teachers are not teaching in the schools but rather devote most of their time to running their private syndicates for private gain. Also, the Ministry of Education may also argue that the government is paying tuition for students, salaries of teachers, supplying books and other logistics to run the schools and the problem lies with the students.

This is where economic theories and concepts can come to the rescue to help conceptualize the problem and offer robust measures to address it.

Two economic concepts will therefore be used to examine the reasons why students in Sierra Leone failed the WAEC exams at such an alarming rate and offer reasons why involving the private sector will complement the effort of government to eliminate and reverse this trend. The two concepts are the marginal utility theory of value or the free market theory of value, and the Nash Equilibrium theory.

The concept of the free market theory of value explains why private syndicates as businesses work. It is based on Adam Smiths “invincible hand doctrine” which states that people are motivated by self-interest, and that there is harmony between self-interest and public interest. Smith went on to proffer that ‘the baker is not baking bread out of altruism, nor is the butcher herding cattle to provide diner for the public, but out of self-interest, and in the process, he ends up satisfying his own personal interest more effectually than he intended’. It is by exchanging in the marketplace through the values proposition that this happens. Hence, the value of a good or service in this sense is determined not objectively by the cost of production but subjectively by what others are willing to exchange for it. Therefore, the government can invest all the money it can garner to pay teachers, tuition and supply books in the schools, but if the teaching is not up to standard, it will not make the difference because the students will not value the service and therefore not consume it as they should, leading to the dismal outcome we have in the exams.

Conversely, complementing school lessons with innovative models such as syndicates will create the environment for teachers to offer teaching services that students can purchase with subjective insight to the satisfaction of all the parties. It is how jobs are created in a capitalist economy and the role of government is to create the environment by organizing and regulating it accordingly so that it can collect taxes and manage the economy efficiently. In general, through competition, teachers and students will offer their best selves to consume the goods in the marketplace to the benefit of all parties and stakeholders.

The other economic concept I will use to conceptualize this problem is the Nash equilibrium game theory concept developed by Nobel Laureate John Nash which conceptualizes the behavior between game participants to determine the best outcome in a game. I will apply this theory to the context of the teachers offering classes in a syndicate and the government agreeing to regulate it. Using the Nash equilibrium concept, if the Sierra Leone government is rigid about not allowing teachers to conduct syndicates to earn extra income while simultaneously doing their best to teach their normal classes in their designated schools, then they will pretend to be teaching while performing sub-optimally in their classrooms, and at the same time concentrate in selling pamphlets to earn extra income to take care of their welfare because their take home salaries are insufficient.

On the contrary, if both parties (government and teachers) agree to work together and allow teachers to conduct their syndicates under the supervision and regulation of government, where the syndicates are registered and pay taxes to government, then they will arrive at a Nash equilibrium situation and a win-win for all the parties involved – teachers, students, and government. Thus, Nash equilibrium will facilitate a situation where each party will pursue their own self-interest while simultaneously satisfying the interest of the group to which they belong.

To sum up, the New Direction Government should learn some lessons from this situation and reduce the imprint of the government from the marketplace as there is too much government in the current dispensation crowding out the ingenuity of the engine of the ‘invincible hand’ to perform its magic and grow the economy for the benefit of all the parties in the economy. Creating the right environment for the private sector to engage and help the students who have failed these exams with a lifeline will go a long way to help Sierra Leone’s educational system bounce back and regain parity within the West African Examination Council.

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