October 2, 2022

New Direction Government renewed hope in the education sector after it pronounced a Free Quality Education in Sierra Leone in 2018. Free Quality Education (FQE) is the flagship project of government, and it attracts a 21 per cent of public money.

Under the scheme, pupils attend government schools free of cost. Government pays for them as well as take care of expenses relating to public exams: National Primary School Examination, Basic Education Certificate Examination, and West African Senior School Certificate Examination.

FQE scheme, despite its weaknesses associated with the policy, received high commendation from the public. Parents with three or more children in secondary schools were elated.

Respite has been brought to them as expenditure in schools would now be diverted to other domestic affairs.

But, an important party in the project is not happy owing to the late or non-payment of subsidies. In the total absence of school fees, subsidies or subvention are used to run the schools.

But, running of schools has reached a setback; principals or heads of schools have no funds to effectively run school affairs. They could also not resort to alternative ways of getting money from pupils or parents; the act is a criminal offence under the anti-corruption law.

A principal in one of the secondary schools in the provinces told this press that he had received no subsidy for the past three months, and thus finds it difficult to run the school. He said government did not permit any attempt to accept money from parents let alone pupils.

The principal compared the school system of old and the one under the current administration.

“In the old days, we collect fees from parents to run the schools. Apart from fees collected, government also paid on time subsidies,” he said.

Now that Free Education is here, he says, everything has come to a standstill.

The principal also told this press that it was better the school system remained where it was.

“It was difficult before the Free Education project for schools to go without funds in its coffers,”

He also told the press that the declaration of the FQE is a big pain for education managers in the country. A major disadvantage side of the project is that those for whom free education is declared do not value it despite the discomfort it brings to schools.

The principal’s view seems to have got support from a teacher in one of the secondary schools in Freetown, Ibrahim Sesay. Mr Sesay has used various descriptions for the Free Education project which he has constantly referred to as a farce of the century.

He said government ought to have put in place the necessary structures prior to the pronouncement.

He is of the firm view that the New Direction declared free education not to strengthen education, but to win election and forget about it.

He also argued on the other side that President Bio would have still won the elections without declaring Free Education.

He also stressed that it would have been better for government to leave education where it was than to declare a semblance of free education.

“The whole business of education is political gimmick,” he emphasised.

The principal had also suggested that it would have been better for the money used in the free education to have been diverted to the establishment of good libraries, laboratories for the sciences, scholarships for excellent pupils, building more schools and above all improve the welfare of teachers who are the barefoot academic soldiers.

Teachers have been badly treated, if not cheated, under the FQE scheme.

The dispensers of knowledge are neglected while the receivers are taken good care of.

FQE by the current government, he said, was a far cry from that of the Free Health care policy of the former government.

“When the Free Health policy was declared by the former government, medical doctors and nurses were the first to be taken care of in terms of salaries and other conditions of service,” he said.

The policy went well, and it still carried weight adding that the salaries of medical doctors have been recently increased to Le10, 000, 000 (Ten Millions Leones) following a sit-down strike.

Teachers still wallow in conditions of extreme poverty.

A graduate teacher with good years in the classroom is paid a little above a million Leones.

No gainsaying that the migration from the boardroom to the classroom is boring.

Other teachers with qualifications less than a degree are paid lesser. Imagine what will be the situation of the teacher where there is a wife to take care of and children to feed and send to school.

“No matter the noise made in respect of free education, government hardly succeeds without investment in the teachers,” one of the teachers argued.

Another school of thought holds that the FQE scheme is about creating bad blood between the learners and the teachers.

“How can government provide transport system for pupils without first providing for teachers,” he wonders.

The pupil who goes to seek knowledge drives in a comfortable vehicle while the teachers trek to school sweating to deliver lessons. By the time the teacher, reaches the school to teach, the calories needed for effective teaching will have evaporated.

“Is that the Free Education the New Direction Government hopes would bring good result? The answer is a big no,” he said.

“Government must reconsider the Free Quality Education policy if it is to succeed,” he suggested.

The promise of improving education in Sierra Leone during campaign has not met the expectation of those who deliver it.

SLPP government, for years, is known for its utmost commitment to human development, an investment that has no equal anywhere in the world. It is the SLPP that started the construction of schools and other buildings for essential services, and later handed over the baton to the succeeding government.

The current dispensation believes that human development is both a means and end in development.

It also believes that development is about people and that no meaningful development takes place in any nation without developing the human capital.

“Human development covers improving education and developing skills,” part of the SLPP manifesto reads.

It is against the backdrop of human development, that the SLPP assured Sierra Leoneans in 2018 that it would invest in quality education: primary, secondary, technical and vocational education and training that will help transform Sierra Leone.

The New Direction Government, according to the manifesto, sees education as the key to individual, community and national development.

It is also plays a significant role in lifting people out of poverty and creating vast new opportunities to reduce unfair income distribution, and increase choices.

At the time the New Direction Government took over state governance, it did a careful study seen in its analysis contained in the 2018 manifesto.

Although Sierra Leone, the manifesto notes, had an impressive education for years, its quality dropped drastically since the APC first assumed power in 1968.

The manifesto reported that only two out of every five adult Sierra Leonean could read or write English.

Access to education, it notes, is low and the quality is poor.

It also indicates that only 13.7 per cent of Children between three and five years were in pre-primary level.

The analysis was appalling, and the New Direction promised a turn-around.

It noted that the primary objective of the New Direction is to increase access to quality pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational education and training as well as university education that will enable them engage in meaningful productive economic activity.

The promise of education policies focusing on education governance and financing, human resource management among others featured prominently during the campaign.

But, most importantly, under the New Direction Government, the morale and productivity of teachers would be raised.

To make it happen, a presidential initiative for teachers would be launched to ensure that matters relating to schools and teachers are treated with utmost importance.

Today, the New Direction Government is here but subsidies are not there despite the fine promises.