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How do we leverage the Free Quality Education to promote integrity in schools?

23 November 2019 at 18:40 | 2284 views

Keynote speech by ACC Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala (pictured) at the Christ the King College’s 66th anniversary Speech-Day and Prize-giving ceremony, Friday 22nd November, 2019, in Bo.

1. Mr. Chairman, Principals of JSS and SSS, Members of the School Board, Executive and members of the College Old Boys Association (COBA), pupils and teachers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I bring you warm greetings from the Anti-Corruption Commission.

2. It is a distinct honour to be part of this 66th anniversary speech day and prize giving ceremony of Christ the King College, more so in the capacity as Keynote Speaker. I thank the school authorities and organizers for their kind thoughts in inviting me and giving me this moment on this podium in this historic school to deliver this speech on the topic “HOW DO WE LEVERAGE THE FREE QUALITY EDUCATION TO PROMOTE INTEGRITY IN SCHOOLS”

3. This invite comes at a time when the national development plan lays emphasis on Human Capital Development with quality education being emphasized at all levels. We have a President, His Excellency, Dr. Julius Maada Bio whose vision for the socio-economic transformation of Sierra Leone is firmly built on developing an educated population to lead the rebirth of Sierra Leone.

4. For a country that was once referred to as the Athens of West Africa, the choice of theme for this ceremony is very apt; mainly because it is now very clear to all citizens that the values and hallmarks of integrity, discipline and excellence that characterized our educational system has been consistently eroded over the years. In fact, it had deteriorated to the brink of collapse.

5. For most emerging economies, one of the common denominators for their under-development is the high illiteracy rate. Sierra Leone being one of those countries, it will be almost a cliché to repeat that it has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – The literacy rate of the country according to UNESCO remains stagnant at 48.1% of the total population in the global index, with 58.7% for men and 37.7% for women (aged 15 and over). No country will prosper with this kind of unfavourable statistics.

6. The most recent United Nations Human Development index places the country among the bottom 10 worse off countries. Regrettably, we are at what seems to be a “point of no return”, as the standard of education and output continues to take a nosedive - The institutions of higher learning, as their lower counterparts, remain decayed and dilapidated; there is the lack of adequate and proper facilities that would be useful to students in their chosen disciplines; the available faculties and disciplines remain few and mostly unprogressive; most teachers or lecturers do not necessarily teach students well enough; and they examine them with the objective that the bulk of them fails; there is little incentive to attract qualified teachers to help raise the standards of the faculties; the syllabuses do not reflect the educational and job demands of the 21st Century; the level of political interference in admission of students and the recruitment of staff is scandalous; the administrations of the respective schools and Universities seem to have lost control of properly managing and disciplining their staff and students; and above all, majority of students are awarded lower class degrees that inhibit their ability to be awarded serious Scholarships or gain admission into World-Class Universities. The result is that education is in the sepulchers, and we lost “Athens”!

7. There was a deep sigh of hope when a few years ago the Government recognised the crumbling educational system and established a commission to investigate the reasons behind the poor educational output and offer recommendations to ameliorate the system. The Commission, dubbed “the Gbamanja Commission of Enquiry” was established to look into the poor performance of students at the BECE and WASSCE examinations, as well as to ascertain the impact of the 6-3-3-4 system of education. This turned out, several years later, not to produce the desired result and compounded the problem!

8. As would be reasonably expected, among its many findings, the Commission highlighted poor quality teachers, the lack of textbooks, school fees, overcrowding in classrooms, lack of parental supervision, unprepared students taking the BECE and WASSCE, and above all, corruption in the school system to be the reason for the decline. This, to many, was a mere painful elaboration of the obvious. However, instead of properly implementing solutions to ameliorate the poor state of affairs, the Government simply added another year of senior schooling, making the system a 6-3-4-4 timeline - in a hook-line-and-sinker acceptance of the controversial recommendations of the Gbamanja Commission.

9. That, with utmost respect, was an unfortunate error of judgment by the then government; and I applaud the current government for rightly reversing it – as the additional year of school merely shifted the burden from the government to parents who were already overburdened with the high cost of education and hands-tied by the high cost of living in an already harsh economy. Simply put, another year of school meant another year of fees, uniforms, textbooks, transportation, etc. for many impoverished parents (who were in the majority). It gets even worse when juxtaposed with another year of an unjustifiable risk of the girl-child getting pregnant whilst still in school with the possibility of dropping out thereafter.

10. The governments before now needed to invest in free fundamental education for all children and improve the quality of existing institutions and the teaching regime (including the quality of teachers, the syllabus and knowledge delivery discipline) not just at the Primary and secondary levels but even the Universities. Our higher educational institutions and their tutors, for example, only needed (and still need) to consider students as partners; and a consequence-based system put in place to ensure compliance and mutual respect. When those students or pupils are taught well so to pass, it is equally the institution that passes.

11. When students fail en masse or the educational system is organized so as to fail students rather than ensure that they pass at least in the majority, the educational institution itself would be a failure. What, for example, recently happened at the Sierra Leone Law School; where over 70% failed the Bar Exams, is not just reflective of the poor quality students enrolled, but should also, with all sincerity, raise eyebrows on the overall quality of the institution itself and its tutors.

12. It is largely as a result of the decaying educational situation; and to reverse the ugly trend, that His Excellency, the President, Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio, made human capital development - which the Free Quality Education (FQE) a key component of - as his Government’s priority. It is absolutely right that the government views education as an investment that is second to none.

13. As Nelson Mandela once put it, a country’s future is only as promising as its next generation of citizens, and, in his words, “we can no longer sit and watch while many of our country’s children are held back in the mire of ignorance and lack of skills.” If we are serious about development and progress, we must restore the country to what it once was educationally—the “Athens” of West Africa. Only then, we can consider ourselves to be closer to being ready to bring about socio-economic transformation within the “New Direction”.

14. How do we then leverage this great opportunity on offer to promote integrity, a critical value that I had earlier stated had been scandalously eroded, in schools? Firstly, the pillars upon which the Free Quality Education is being built can only thrive in a teaching environment with integrity. Integrity is the highest standard in human relation and it includes good morals, fairness, sincerity and honesty.

15. The key players in ensuring the programme succeeds - Principals, teachers, pupils, parents and the Government - must play their roles with integrity, sense of purpose and commitment. No nation can progress without integrity ensured!

16. That is why, the ACC, which I head, has made ensuring integrity in schools, examinations and institutions of higher learning a core objective of achieving its overall mandate to control corruption; and will continue to take positive strides to inject and instill integrity in schools.

17. To achieve this, the Commission conducts regular sensitization campaigns in schools nationwide dubbed as, ‘Meet the schools campaign’. The interaction during these engagements by ACC, with pupils and teachers is to enhance their knowledge about corruption, costs of corruption on their lives, and ways of effectively dealing with the scourge. The Commission has over forty five (45) integrity clubs in secondary schools nationwide. These clubs have the responsibility to disseminate anti-corruption messages in schools, and integrity pupils are to serve as models of integrity and dignity, and as peer educators.

18. Also, the Commission has participated in Community Teachers Association (CTA) meetings where it made clear to parents their roles in the fight against corruption but especially in promoting integrity in schools - as they are equally significant in the equation.

19. More importantly, the Commission through its prevention work, and national strategy, has made interventions in the education sector through reviews of practices and procedures that encourage corruption, development of codes of conduct for teachers, and the establishment of Integrity Management Committees (IMCs). The Educational sector is key in the Pay No Bribe campaign rolled out by the ACC. All these interventions are significant in positioning the school system to be conducive in injecting integrity particularly with the free quality education.

20. Mr. Chairman, the opportunity that the Free Quality Education presents for our children and country is enormous. There may be challenges and drawbacks, but mindful of its benefits, I implore all of us to leverage on its positives to promote integrity in our schools for the good of the country that we love – Sierra Leone

21. When I took over, I have adopted an approach I called “Radical Transparency Drive.” The object is to reverse the scars and effects of corruption rapidly. Students are leading the way in my strategy and ensuring education with integrity is at the centre of this social revolution. This is why we have introduced a robust attitude to the fight against corruption in education as with all other sectors. Corruption is WAR. The only way to win a war is to confront the enemy armed to the teeth. We have taken the war to the corrupt by raiding their strong holds and hideouts. We shall continue to raid corrupt actors in education, hit them through well planned and unsuspecting sting operations. We have therefore increased and effective our intelligence gathering processes, recruited more Confidential Human Intelligence Sources across the country. The New Anti-Corruption Amendment Act 2019 now has a clear provision criminalizing examination malpractices with punishment of not less than five years imprisonment.

22. As students, we all should know we are in the midst of a crisis. Our nation is at war against corruption. Corruption has violently weakened our economy; and has made Sierra Leone a reputational risk and laughter of the rest of the world. This has effectively undermined investment and growth. Corruption led to the war; as a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of many politicians, but also our collective failure as a nation to make hard choices and prepare the country to succeed. Lives have been lost; limbs were mimed, businesses have been shuttered; our healthcare systems are failing; too many learning centers were failing; and each day brings further evidence to show that if we fail to tackle corruption now; we would have failed our country. Like Ziggy Marley rightly said in the Music “Diamond City”, “every day there is a need for a revolution” in this country – it should however just not be with guns.

23. Nonetheless, there is a new feeling; profound levels of confidence, as evidenced in the MCC, and the recently released Afro-Barometer, that the country is turning things for the better. We made huge progress in the MCC and was number three the in Barometer, incredibly ahead of Botswana, showing that progress is inevitable, and that you the pupils should be the next generation of anti-corruption crusaders.

24. Today, I say to you, as a country and people, the challenges corruption poses are real. They are serious and many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, Sierra Leone must defeat corruption. For this country, we must choose hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict; and concertedness over discord. As said by scripture, the time has come for us to set aside the childish things of corruption. Now is the time to reaffirm our enduring spirit to the fight against corruption; to choose our nation over our selfish interests; to carry forward that zeal and determination to inject integrity in the day-to-day operations of the State.

25. In re-positioning the path of our country to a New Direction, our journey shall never be successfully actualized if we fail to defeat corruption. We cannot achieve this through short-cuts or settling for less. The fight against corruption has never been the path for the faint-hearted. Even if we build the roads schools and bridges; the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together, we shall fail if we fail to exorcise corruption in earnest.

26. Corruption, is a common danger in our lifetime; it must be eliminated. With hope and virtue, let us brave the rains, the sun, and endure what storms may come, but we must fight corruption so that our grandchildren, and their children, shall know that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn our backs nor did we falter. We shall carry forth the fight for future generations – for it is only then would there be said to be quality in the free education drive of the president and people of Sierra Leone.

God bless Sierra Leone.

Adveniat Regnum tuum – I thank you all.