Opinion

The SLPP’s Garbage Dump Schools

15 September 2008 at 00:50 | 880 views

Commentary

By Essa Thaim-Kurugba, USA.

Suppose, just suppose, Pa Contractor was building a house for Pa Kamara and for some strange reason, Pa Contractor convinced Pa Kamara to build his house on a garbage dump.

The house was supposed to cost Le50,000,000 to be built, but Pa Contractor is having problems. Every time he tries to lay his foundation, the foundation sinks in the earth that has been weakened by garbage. So Pa Contractor keeps trying new ways to fortify the earth to support the foundation.

He puts steel rods in the earth and he tries a different kind of concrete. But everything he tries doesn’t work because the garbage dump simply won’t support any foundation that he tries to create. Every time Pa Contractor tries something new, the price of the house escalates.

His “experiments” push the price to Le150, 000,000. Of course Pa Kamara is getting disgusted and thinks maybe the problem is a structural one that can’t be fixed - that you’ll never be able to sink a solid foundation on a garbage dump. Pa contractor, who doesn’t seem to have a waiting list of other customers, keeps saying if Pa Kamara gives him another Le50, 000,000, then another Le50, 000.000, he is sure he’ll be able to come up with a way to lay the foundation and build his house. In the end, Pa Kamara was penniless and bankrupt, so he ends up walking away from the house project.

The same scenario had been in existence for the past ten years in our education garbage dumps (called public schools) during the SLPP era. The education that was being given to our kids all these years got progressively worse in the entire nation. The educationists and administrators kept buzzing in unanimity that they did not have enough money or school equipment to do a good job, the schools were overcrowded, teachers’ salaries were too “low,” salaries were never paid on time, billions of Leones were needed to repair some dilapidated schools, ghost teachers galore, and on and on.

Before the Koroma administration took power, the appearance of our schools was awful, shocking and pathetic. Foreign donors were mystified and befuddled and wondered why this nation’s education was still on a garbage dump.

The then SLPP Education minister (Wurie) has some answers to give the ACC boss about his ministry and the then overcrowded and dysfunctional classrooms. How do you expect to get good teachers if you don’t pay them well?

Public schools during the reign of the SLPP were inadequately managed. Classrooms were in shambles, there was mass bewilderment and chaos. One wonders what the SLPP Education Minister was thinking at the time. What was wrong with that guy? Did he not see or "hear" the chaos?

His continuous cry was for more money, more billions of Leones, making endless promises to teach our children better. It was the same chant, over and over again, almost like a religious chant. It (money) is one of the favorite excuses spewed out by the educational establishment to rationalize the failure of our public schools in Sierra Leone today.

The then Minister had never tried to help this impoverished nation. Who initiated this “BEH-KEH” OR “GBEH-KEH” certification exams? Does anyone care about the WAEC any more? Somebody needs to readdress this issue or present a motion in the House of Parliament about this”Gbeh-Keh” or “Beh-Keh” - whatever you call it.

The truth is, during the SLPP era, the public schools were government-controlled education in a garbage dump. No matter how much money the government pumps into these public schools, they will not improve because the foundation of the system is structurally rotten.

They will not improve because a government-run system, by its nature, strangles educational quality and innovation. Public schools are government-owned and operated as a monopoly. There is little competition. The schools get their students by force, through compulsory attendance laws. They get their funds by force, through compulsory fees. If the school is incompetent, it does not go out of business. If the teachers are incompetent, it’s almost impossible to fire them.

Please don’t blame the Koroma administration for the garbage dumps that are the current public schools. Most private schools, on the other hand, are expensive. Also, parents who struggle to send their kids to private schools still have to pay compulsory school fees to “support” public schools. The average family pays almost thirty-five percent of their monthly income to our public schools, leaving little for private schools. That’s why most parents can’t afford these schools. As a result, our public schools may not have a legal monopoly to educate our kids, but they have a de-facto monopoly, and the educators know about these problems in Sierra Leone.

Public schools were never being refurbished during the entire era of the SLPP. Teachers were not paid on time and ghost teachers were everywhere. The failure to properly revamp our public schools for our children’s education and future coupled with the failed policies introduced and sustained by the Kabbah administration are evils that have spilled over into the current APC administration.

Was there anyone in that former SLPP government with the guts to pop the question as to why the Education minister kept asking for billions of Leones? The act of giving public schools more money to continue an education that did not exist was a crime against our kids and a crime against humanity. It would be like giving more money to a drug addict so he could buy more drugs and do more damage to his brain and to others.

What really matters is what the schools teach, how they teach, and what they teach. During their tenure, the SLPP government’s schools had no proper accountability with ghost teachers in every province.

Whatever the APC Education minster unearths at this time is not something new. It is only the government institutions like public schools in our nation that have the audacity to ask for billions of Leones the worse they get. In effect, they profit from their incompetence. If they don’t ask for more money, they can’t use money as an excuse, and are admitting failure.

If they admit failure, they are admitting the failure of the entire government-school system. They must make a constant stream of excuses as to why our children are being turned into illiterate zombies, and why they waste twelve years of our children’s lives. They must constantly ask for millions of dollars to “improve” the system, even though the government-controlled system was beyond repair. This was one of the reasons our people voted and kicked them out.

Finally, this is just one of the things we have to fix in that country. If a school’s competence and teaching methods are not put to the test of free-market competition, if schools are not punished for incompetence by being sent out of business, if teachers are not punished for incompetence by being fired, no amount of money in the world will improve the schools. Only a free market will.

The best thing we can do for our kids is to shut down the public school garbage dumps permanently, once and for all. Let each parent pay for their child’s education in a low-cost, competent, vibrant, and fiercely competitive free-market education system.

The APC Government under the leadership of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma Koroma cares about our country’s educational future. Let’s recognize Dr. Nyalley and Dr. Minkailu Bah (the current Education minister) for their assiduous, unrelenting hard work to take our nation where it is today. God bless you all.

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