The Educational System of Sierra Leone: Quo Vadit?

27 April 2010 at 03:18 | 2417 views

By Professor Ebun Sawyer.

Like other former British Colonies, Sierra Leone followed a modified form of the British System of Education, consisting of a primary school of 7 years duration and a secondary school of 5 years, followed in a few cases by 2 years of sixth form study.

This pattern changed in the 1993 school year with introduction of the 6-3-3-4 pattern of schooling, that is, 6 years of Primary, 3 years of Junior Secondary, 3 years of Senior Secondary and 4 years of University/Polytechnic for those who can get to that level.

Almost 56% of the students who enter the Primary School drop by the end of their primary schooling. Similarly about 60% of those who enter the secondary school drop out by the time they get to Form 5 (end of secondary schooling). There are many reasons for this in our educational system, including - inability to pay for fees and resources, poor teaching techniques, withdrawal of female children from the school system and traditional opposition to western education.

Latest statistics (i.e. at that period in time) available for education on Sierra Leone , illustrates that there were 1643 Primary Schools with 9348 Teachers catering for 220,449 children.

Similarly at the secondary level, there were about 167 Schools with 3827 Teachers, for 58,289 students.


Before the 1966 and 1967 academic year, science in the Pimary Schools of Sierra Leone had been limited to the study of Hygiene and Nature Study. Some Old Prince Waleans will remember these subjects very well. Hygiene consisted of theoretical lessons on how to keep the body and one’s surroundings clean.

Nature Study consisted mainly of the study of plant life and a few common animals around the vicinity. This topic was sometimes referred to as "Science and Gardening."


In 1965, Sierra Leonean educators along with their colleagues from other African Countries and from the United States, met in Kano, Nigeria to formulate a general strategy for introducing Technology into primary science. The objective, in terms of the child’s development was to make science the medium for understanding and making rational decisions about one’s total environment.

The African Primary Programme (APSP) was formed in order to help give a practical expression to this objective.

The introduction of the APSP into Sierra Leonean classrooms by the Science Curriculum Development Centre of Njala University College in 1965 marked the beginning of a modern approach to the teaching of science at the primary level.

The APSP approach by using the discovery method emphasized complete participation of all pupils in group work or individual activities in the classroom, thereby making use of locally available materials instead of the usual expensive scientific equipment used in teaching science.

The role of the teacher in this approach is to act as a stimulus to further activity and as a guide to the current occupation of the pupils. The goals and activities of the APSP fitted the science policy of Sierra Leone so well that Sierra Leonean educators embraced the programme enthusiastically and helped transform it into the SCIENCE EDUCATION PROGRAMME FOR AFRICA (SEPA), a more truly AFRICAN SCIENCE ORGANIZATION in 1970.

Unfortunately for science education in Sierra Leone, this programme did not get the popularity one would have hoped or expected in the schools.

In many African Countries some primary school teachers tend to avoid their science lessions whenever possible. They do not have the appropriate science background and as such do not feel confident or adequate in teaching their lessons. In the traditional approach, the teacher is secure with his or her textbook and the answers contained in it. The teacher becomes threatened and insecure when the discovery approach is advocated as the method for teaching science. A similar situation exists at the secondary level in the use of the discovery method.


The study of the subject usually takes many forms in Sierra Leone. In the past, it was traditional to start with General Science. Some schools continued with the study of this up to Form 3, whilst others went up to Form 5, where they offered it at G.C.E. Level. This subject was popular because it did not demand much from the teachers competence nor did it require much sophisticated equipment for its study.

This subject has virtually died down today. In 1994, there were only 4 students offering General Science at the G.C.E. Level and not one of them passed!

Most schools today start with the study of the individual science subjects; chemistry, physics or biology. Whatever the case, virtually all schools start with the study of biology. Again, this subject does not require imported equipment for its study and students erroneously believe that this is an easy science subject.

There are three other subjects that must be mentioned to complete the picture here: Agricultural Science, Integrated Science and Health Science. For socio-cultural reasons, agriculture became a popular subject in the provincial schools. Similarly, Health Science was offered in a few provincial schools in the 1960’s as a science subject but it had a short life period.

Integrated Science was introduced in Sierra Leone in 1970 by the Institute of Education. It was a well conceived but poorly executed programme. It took the the place of General Science in a few selected schools where the teachers were trained for its philosophy.

Amongst the problems of execution were:
1. This subject was limited to the first three forms and the specially printed booklets were not forthcoming.

2. Teachers were not really sold to its philosophy.

3. The ’transfer" values of Integrated Science to the traditional science subjects were not established.


Having looked at the range of science subjects studied. I will now focus on the performance in these subjects at the G.C.E. Level. Assuming that these exams are valid and marking reliable, the statistics do give an indication of the performance of the secondary students in the sciences.
The figures available span a 20 year period and have been obtained from the West African Exams Council. Two charts have been provided however, for the sake of simplicity: one is from 1972 to 1976 and the other is from 1988 to 1992.

Physics is a relatively difficult science subject hence the entries are fewer than in chemistry or biology. In the first chart we notice an average pass of 36% for the 5 year period. Corresponding average percentage passes are: Chemistry 41%, Biology 20%, General Maths 16% and Additional Maths 22%.

For the next five years, from 1988 to 1992 (chart 2), there is an increase in average percentage pass for General Maths from 16 to 25% and in Additional Maths from 22 to 29%. In the three science subject, there is a marked decrease. In Physics, the average percentage pass dropped from 36% to 27%, in Chemistry from 41% to 18% and in Biology from 20% to 16%.


A detailed comprehensive survey(ref.3) carried out by the author revealed that there were about 400 secondary school science teachers in the country teaching the following subjects or their combinations - Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Rural/Agricultural Science. General Science and Health Science.

During that time, there was an annual supply of less than 80 science teachers from the two university colleges and the Milton Margai Teachers College.

Chart 3 dealing with nationality of the science staff reveals that an average of about 35% of the science teachers in Sierra Leone at that time (1976) were from Asia an the U.S. (Peace Corps) with a handful of British VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) teachers.

Chart 4 shows the number of science teachers who held degrees by the regions of Sierra Leone. The obvious conclusion I made at the time was,"if all the non-Sierra Leonean science teachers are removed from the schools, science teaching would suffer considerably particularly in the southern, northern and eastern regions". This is exactly what happened.

To begin with, science teaching in Sierra Leone was never good because there were not enough qualified and experienced people to the job. In a study done by another PRINCEWALEAN (ref. 4) it was found that the proportion of qualified science teachers was about 51%. For obvious reasons, all the non-Sierra Leonean science teachers have now left the country. I am not aware of any recent studies on this subject, but according to the latest figure (ref. 1) from the Ministry of Education, there are now about 918 science teachers out of a total of 3827 teachers in the country’s 167 schools.

(whither goest thou / where are we going?)

Any forecast pertaining to science education in the country will depend on the availability of finance. There has been gradual if not systematic decline in governmental expenditure on education in Sierra Leone from 1972 to 1992. In 1971/72, the educational expenditure estimates in relation to national recurrent expenditures was 21%, but in 1991/92 it had dropped to 7.4 %. In 1972, the pass rates in the sciences were certainly not encouraging but by 1992 these rates had become worse.

It is reasonable to expect that everything being normal, Governmental expenditure on education is not going to increase- not with the rebel war in Sierra Leone! Once can therefore predict that the expenditure will continue to decrease.

I therefore see no prospects for science teaching in Sierra Leone. For example, Sierra Leone is an importer of science teaching equipment and needs foreign exchange for this exercise. The net effect already is that science is being taught theoretically. Even in the Teachers College, e.g. Milton Margai Teacher’s College where student teachers should be taught models of good science teaching, chemicals are not available for practical work. This is the sad state of science education in our country, SIERRA LEONE.


1. 1992 Census of Schools and Teachers, Final Report. Central Statistics Office, Freetown, January 1994.

2. Sawyerr, E.S. (1980) The Education of Science Teachers in Sierra Leone, in World Trends in Science Education, Halifax, Nova Soctia.

3. Sawyerr, E.S.(1976) An Analysis of the staffing situation for science teaching in Sierra Leone, Tenth Biennial Conference, West African Science Association, Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone.

4. Finally, I.W.O. (1975) Some thought on Science Education in Sierra Leone with particular reference to curriculum reform and the Core Course Integrated Science Programme, Institute of Education, Freetown, Sierra Leone.