Salone News

Looking at the bigger picture

9 September 2019 at 02:34 | 2148 views

By Prof. Joe A D Alie, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Most right-thinking Sierra Leoneans are somehow mad/angry over two related developments: exam malpractice and the mass failure of students in public exams.
President Bio’s Free Quality Education (FQE) introduced last year was a welcome move and we pray for its success. However, prayers are not enough. We should all work assiduously for its success, because the FQE holds great promise for the progress of our country.

Where do we begin to address the issues related to the effective implementation of the FQE agenda?

I submit we start with the supervising Ministries of Education:
1. First the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE). That Ministry has a lot of capable administrators and technocrats. However, until its structure is radically reformed, it will continue to have major challenges. The MBSSE structure, in my view, looks like a vintage car ( hope I’m wrong).

Certain key divisions critical to the overall success of the FQE) seem either lacking or dysfunctional. Does the Ministry, eg, has a functional Curriculum Development Centre? If yes, who are its personnel? What’s the role of such a centre to the realisation of the goals of the FQE program?

Moreover, are the right people in the right places? Are they fully committed, or is it business as usual?

2. Second, the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education (MTHE). This new Ministry now oversees the operations of polytechnics, teachers colleges and universities. Let’s briefly discuss the teachers colleges.
a) Do these institutions have harmonized curricula? I hope the answer is YES.
b) Are the teachers colleges attracting the right callibre of students?
c) Are many of the teachers teachers?
c) What is their overall working environment?
d) Have those institutions offering Distance Education courses to serving teachers taken a very close look at the modules being taught? When were these modules thoroughly revised?
e) Can the Ministry make the Distance Education courses tuition-free, in order to attract more rural teachers?
The MTHE is making laudable efforts to revamp the polytechnics. I hope there will be adequate resources.

3. The Teaching Service Commission (TSC) is now responsible for the recruitment, professional development and other matters affecting the welfare of primary and secondary school teachers. This is a very big task that requires, among many others, huge resources.
a) Although many teachers have now been recruited, there is still a large number out there waiting to be absorbed into the system.
b) How many teachers have received in-service training in the last five years?
c) Are most teachers not using yesterday’s knowledge to train today’s children for tomorrow?

I am aware that the European Union and other organizations have committed some funds for the professional development of teachers. However, regular and intensive in-service training for teachers is a sine quality non for realising the FQE.

4. Our school system. The system has many difficulties.
a) The mushrooming of private schools over the years has been done at the expense of quality. There are good private schools, but many are simply money-making ventures. People who know little or nothing about education are proprietors of schools. In an attempt to justify their existence, many such proprietors, together with their Principals, are actively involved in exam malpractice.
b) Does the MBSSE have a system of evaluating these private schools every five years (a kind of quality control measure).
c) Are there stringent criteria for the opening of private schools?
d) Are our government and government-assisted schools reasonably funded and equipped?
e) What is the role of school managers (including Education Secretaries) in the management of government-assited schools?
f) How strong is the Inspectorate Branch of the MBSSE, for effective monitoring?
g) How many qualified and dedicated teachers have been formally promoted in the last 10 years? We have situations where it is becoming difficult to appoint Principals in some very important secondary schools because few teachers were promoted during the previous administration.

5. Parents: What is our overall attitude towards the education of our children? Please don’t say anything about poverty. Our own parents were equally poor if not poorer.
a) Do we endeavour to provide the basic requirements for our children, never mind FQE? I know of many instances of students offering Literature at WASSCE and yet do not have one literature textbook. But we have money for Ashobi for every social occasion, including funerals.
b) As parents, don’t we actively encourage our children to cheat in exams?
6. The children:
a) Many seem to have misplaced priorities, and think they can succeed (even in exams) by cutting corners. Their general attitude to school work is most disappointing. Ask your child to name one of the authors of their textbooks. They will stare at you. But you ask them to name the popular soccer teams and their players. The answers will be given easily.
b) Most children have adopted what I call an IPad mentality. Quick answers, by just scrolling through an IPad.
c) Tell your child to study and you come back one hour later. He or she will be fast asleep. Yet that same child will spend several hours watching movies or soccer matches.

A new mindset is required if we are to succeed with FQE.
WAEC: This is the body responsible for the conduct of public exams.
a) Can we take a critical look at our National Office? The least said, the better.
b) A niece once requested some money, because she was taking the WASSCE. I enquired why she needed all that money. Her response was that she was going to a town in the provinces to take the exams. I asked why she couldn’t take the papers in Freetown? Her exact response was: "Na de pipul de pass exam." That response kept me thinking. And indeed she "passed", but couldn’t go through her first year at the University.

If we must have a national conversation on the state of our education system in Sierra Leone (something I have been advocating for years), these are some of my random thoughts, which might be helpful in organizing some of the discussion points.

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