A Perspective On Sierra Leone’s Declining Education

A retired educationist has given his perspective on the appalling educational system in Sierra Leone and has indicated that every well-meaning Sierra Leonean should be concerned about this state of affairs, especially as it relates to poor performance in public examinations and rampant cheating in such exams.
The retired educationist stated that many commentators have discommended the pupils and teachers for such ugly developments in our learning institutions.
“In as much as I agree with them, the emphases of examination malpractices and failures should not preoccupy our minds to the exclusion of what I believe are the main causes of the problems in the system,’’ the educationist reiterated.
He continued that what the country is witnessing in the education sector today is not just a matter of pupils or students failure but the failure of a nation to manage her education system.
He entreated government not to allow this to continue especially so when their flagship programme is free quality education.
The retired educationist referenced the status of our education system which, according to him, can no longer stand the test of time and remarked that to simply say there is a need for overhauling the country’s educational system is an understatement.
This for him is a felt need that is long overdue. There should now be a popular demand for relevance and realism in the educational system, he recounted.
He also recommended that all programmes of study (subjects) on the schools or colleges curricula should be planned in a way that pupils or students will know exactly what to study and when to study a particular area.
The retired educationist also recounted that in addressing educational standards; the concern should not only be about public institutions.

The maintenance and/or improvement of standards in all learning institutions should be high on government’s list of priorities.
The proliferation of learning institutions including degree awarding institutions in the country should be a serious cause for concern.
He bemoaned the Ministry of Education for apparently not having the capacity to effectively monitor public institutions; let alone private institutions.
He also opined that more than 70% of the literate population in Sierra Leone is uneducated and that to create an educated population is incumbent on government to undertake conscious efforts.

Government, according to him, needs to formulate the appropriate policy guidelines towards that direction as the overall development of a country depends on the quality of a country’s population.
He succinctly dealt with the poor performance of pupils in public examinations and attributed it as a teacher oriented issue.
‘’Teachers have a pivotal role in the education system. They should therefore treat the profession with the seriousness it deserves. Notwithstanding their poor conditions of service they should teach because they are being paid for that,’’ he maintained.

Teachers, according to him, should have exemplary conducts as role models.
An important lesson he entreated them to learn is that in all human endeavours, the unseen reward (blessing) far outweighs the physical reward.
‘’Teachers in the olden days valued the aspect of blessing a lot. If you have opted to become a professional teacher do the needful. Be committed to the job; teach the pupils; give tests and assignments to them,’’ he advised.
He acknowledged that though salaries in the teaching profession are comparatively small, some teachers still have passion for their profession and they want to succeed.
He blamed teachers over the years for organizing lessons, do campaigns and producing pamphlets with a view to augment their meager salaries and sustain themselves in the classrooms.
I wish they had not made these activities compulsory or alternative to effective classroom work, he went on.
Teachers highlighted are no longer teaching because they want to lure the children into buying pamphlets from them and doing extra lessons with them.
‘’The extra lessons and camping for the purpose of covering syllabuses are not much helpful to the learners, especially the girl child. Girls could be morally rotten to the core with no sense of personal worth. Imagine, children having to go camping for weeks under the purported aegis of teachers. That is dangerous! The COMPULSORY lessons, selling of pamphlets, camping, and other unauthorized demands for moneys should stop in our learning institutions,’’ he emphasized.
He regrettably indicated that unfortunately, integrity in this noble profession called teaching is waned.
On massive failures at public examinations, he cited the confusion between the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) and the Concerned Teachers and how such conflict had culminated into Go Slow activities in all the schools.
He also, amongst other things, attributed the rampant examination malpractices to the introduction of special three; shortening the senior secondary school period from four years to three years; the ban on extra lessens, camping and the sale of pamphlets; and the conspiracy by teachers to introduce a class system during public examinations wherein pupils who could afford to pay Le 500, 000 per subject were booked for special, business or first class seating arrangement for the exams.
Those who could not afford to pay were the ones found at the designated examination halls or centres.
He concluded by hammering home the point that the assertion by the ministry of education that the massive failure was due to the strong monitoring of the exams was a farce.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

14TH October 2019

Attention: 1. Minister of Higher and Technical Education
2. Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education
Ministry of Education
New England Ville
Freetown
Dear Sirs:
REASONS FOR THE DECLINE IN EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS: MY OPINION
I wish to express my deepest concern over the appalling situation of our education system. Every well-meaning Sierra Leonean should be concerned about the poor performance of school children in examinations and their involvement in examination malpractices. Many commentators have discommended the pupils and teachers for such ugly developments in our learning institutions. In as much as I agree with them, the emphasis on examination malpractices and failures should not preoccupy our minds to the exclusion of what I believe are the main causes of the problems in the system. In making my contribution I will, among other things, have two questions in mind: Why should Sierra Leone, once the Athens of West Africa, now experience a dramatic, if not disgraceful, decline in her educational standards? Where have we gone wrong this time around to deserve the worst results in public examinations in the West African Region?
Indeed, what we are witnessing in the education sector today is not just a matter of pupils or students failure but the failure of a nation to manage her education system. A thing that should not be allowed to continue under this new dispensation whose flagship programme is free quality education.
Sirs, permit me to share with you my candid opinion on the main causes of the problems that are gradually ravaging our education system:

i. THE CURRICULUM:
The curriculum of our education system can no longer stand the test of time. To simply say there is a need for overhauling the country’s education system is an understatement. It is a felt need that is long overdue. There should now be a popular demand for relevance and realism in the education system. The content and format of the system should be relevant to the needs of not only the learner but also the nation. The curriculum of a nation must be responsive to the needs of the nation. The concentration should be on the acquisition of functional education in terms of usability of skills and the knowledge it offers. The wastage rate is due to the imposition of an undiluted foreign system and methods of education that are less immediately useful. A foreign education system is not likely to result in the full development of most peoples’ intelligence because of the lack of facilities to put knowledge learnt into practice. There is therefore a need for serious reforms in the education system. There had surely been attempts over the years to review the educational curriculum but the results of those efforts have not moved far away from the path designed by the colonial masters. They left this country with an almost non-functional curriculum that was meant for us to remain underdeveloped. Many graduate in fields that could not immediately give them jobs. Eighty to ninety percent college graduates look up to government for employment. When they could not find any in their areas of specialization, the majority find their ways into the unattractive classroom which to them is a waiting room.
Consequently, a worker who is not satisfied with his job in hand is most likely to involve in dishonest practices. A number of educational programmes in colleges have little or no job market in the country. The inability of thousands of graduates to secure jobs will dampen the enthusiasm of the undergraduates. Many have abandoned their school or college programmes for other endeavours including petty trading. The country therefore needs to design a technologically driven curriculum with cultural relevance to ensure that most of the thousands of graduates the colleges are turning out every year can be self-employed or go into entrepreneurship. When that is achieved, government would then need to create the enabling environment for these graduates. The Tech/Voc education introduced by the 6334 system of education could have ushered in a functional education system but the institutions were not equipped for the system, so it could not create the desired impact.
In order to implement effective reforms in the education system, there is need to properly educate student teachers, re-educate practicing teachers, as well as teacher educators/lecturers at all levels. They should all appreciate the importance of relevance and functionalism in the educational programmes they provide.
With due respect to the New Direction Administration of His Excellency, President Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio, which has introduced the laudable programme of a Free and Quality Education, without a relevant curriculum that will meet the needs of the nation, higher education will be less attractive, standards will continue to drop, and the country will find it difficult to develop. If the youths, the most productive segment of a country’s population, are not given the right type of education, the country will be doomed to economic failure.

ii. THE SYLLABUS:
All programmes of study (subjects) on the schools or colleges curricula are planned in a way that pupils or students will know exactly what to study and when to study a particular area. This plan called syllabus is structured according to levels within the learning institutions. Pupils or students are expected to complete the syllabus at a lower level before moving to the next level. In practice, questions for public examinations are drawn directly from the syllabus.
For decades now in Sierra Leone, most of the school going pupils and students especially in public institutions never completed their syllabuses at the various levels. Accumulatively, they are hardly able to complete 50% of the syllabuses for public examinations. Meaning they need to take a gamble on the syllabus when it comes to public examinations. That is the more reason why they always need extra work, teachers’ assistance, extra lessons, leakages and camping at the last minute towards public examinations.
In the case of internal examinations, they are assessed on what is taught in class and promoted to the next level; even if only 50% of the prescribed syllabus at that level is completed. So the pupils are really, really losing a lot as a result of not completing the syllabuses at the various levels.
There is therefore a need for the Ministry of Education to do effective monitoring of all schools to ensure that the syllabuses are completed by the pupils at the various levels. The inability of the pupils to complete the syllabuses is a major cause of their poor performances in public examinations. Many a time, we saw the brightest pupils in schools not passing public examinations.

iii. THE PROLIFERATION OF LEARNING INSTITUTIONS:
In addressing educational standards, the concern should not only be about public institutions. The maintenance and/or improvement of standards in all learning institutions should be high on government’s list of priorities. The proliferation of learning institutions including degree awarding institutions in the country should be a serious cause for concern. Apparently, the Ministry of Education does not have the capacity to effectively monitor public institutions; let alone private institutions. Entry requirement for degree programmes in the country should be allowed to vary from one institution to another. There should be standardized entry requirement for all degree programmes. Most private learning institutions are in business; theirs is to make money. Entry requirements for degree programmes in some of the private institutions are flexible. There are private institutions wherein a student can choose to study in any area irrespective of what she/he has as a requirement. The primary interest of the proprietors of some of these private institutions is the students’ ability to pay for the programme. A good number of their lecturers are not qualified to produce graduates at degree level because they are unprofessional and ungrounded in their subject areas. Some of these lecturers are part-timers who have little or no time to prepare for lectures owing to their full time jobs. The Ministry of Education should put in place effective monitoring mechanism to ensure the maintenance of standards in the education system.
It is no longer a secret that education in the country is highly commercialized. A corollary fact is the ongoing massive examination malpractices in our learning institutions.
When the constituent colleges of the University of Sierra Leone and Njala University College were established, they were established to provide education in specific areas. Hence, they were known for such educational pursuits. Today the story is different. More and more programmes are being introduced in the colleges to diversify areas of study but the colleges are not well equipped to handle these programmes. The effect is that the terrible products from these institutions go back to society to do more damage; a threat to quality education. Some of the activities including the lack of strict compliance to national educational policy regulations by these private institutions are other contributing factors to the drastic drop in our educational standards.
iv. THE FEW NUMBER OF EDUCATED PEOPLE:
In my view, more than 70% of the literate population in Sierra Leone is uneducated. To create an educated population needs the deliberate and conscious efforts of government. Government needs to formulate appropriate policy guidelines towards that direction. The overall development of a country depends on the quality of a country’s population. The belief that a literate person is an educated person is totally wrong. To many, a person who speaks fluent English is educated. Sometimes forgetting that one can speak good English without formal schooling or without being able to read and write. But even if one went to college and graduated with whatever degree, that would not be enough. To be qualified as an educated person one has to possess the following criteria; four in all:
a. ACQUISITION OF A BODY OF KNOWLEDGE: An educated person must have acquired some body of knowledge and some kind of conceptual scheme. People go to school or college to acquire knowledge which is mentally accepted to create an understanding of a particular subject area or a field of study. Many a time, the complete acquisition of a particular knowledge is enough for us to think or for others to think of us as educated people; this is not true. The body of knowledge and understanding of associated principles, most times disjointed, is not enough for one to be considered educated. It only lays the foundation for one to become an educated person.
b. TRANSFORMATION: The knowledge acquired should be able to transform the individual’s whole being without which that individual is only a knowledgeable. Education implies that a man’s outlook is transformed by what he knows. A person who has acquired knowledge should look like one and should be able to see the knowledge acquired in things around him.
In other words, transformation should have effect on a person’s looks and the way he sees things around him. Any knowledge not backed by positive action/ transformation is worthless. This is the second stage of becoming an educated person.
c. CARE AND COMMITMENT: Somebody who has acquired a body of knowledge and has been transformed is bound to be a caring and committed person. A caring and committed person is concerned about character, relevance, consistency, and coherence. He finds appropriate evidences for all assumptions. He cares about people and things around him and he is committed to any task before him. He is friendly, responsible, responsive, and result oriented. Hence, the third stage to becoming an educated person.
d. COGNITIVE PERSPECTIVE: In addition to the foregoing criteria, an educated person’s perception of things should be far better than an illiterate or a literate person. An educated person’s, behaviour, character, thinking ability, perspective, or viewpoint, on issues should be influenced by what he is. Much is always expected from him as the adage goes, ‘You ought to know better’. The possession of these four criteria qualifies one as an educated person. Consequently, it could be seen that education does not only limit itself to knowledge but also extends to habit, skills, interests, attitudes, and personality. Meaning, an educated person is a well molded character with professional integrity. Education also implies that something worthwhile is being or has been intentionally transmitted in a person in a morally acceptable manner. Therefore, if the manner in which education is transmitted in a person is not morally acceptable, as mostly seen in learning institutions today, then the product is also uneducated. It is possible that a person might have gone through the process of teaching and learning, education, but the process might not have gone through him. If you agree with above Messrs Ministers, what percentage of literate Sierra Leoneans do you think are educated?

v. WRONG ATTITUDE TOWARDS EDUCATION:
Sierra Leone as a nation needs to seriously look into the education system and figure out attitudes and behaviours that are hampering the advancement of education in the country. Taking a comprehensive look into the system, there are a lot of wrong attitudes towards the development of education by the stakeholders. If serious action is not taken, the country will continue to contend with the problem of having carefree pupils/students, carefree teachers/lecturers, within a carefree system of education; all with pretensions. Pretending to learn, pretending to teach and pretending to provide education for a nation. For instance, while the government pretends to pay salaries, the teacher pretends to work.
The current outcry of bad results and examination malpractices is not a new phenomenon. The problem of eroded academic standards, poor academic performances of learners and examination malpractices has only been made worse of late. It has been going on for decades. If urgent measures are not taken, the situation would reach its climax which portends war at examinations centres. Owing to the fact that the pupils/ students are not committed to their academic work and at the same time not well taught, they will never face any examination with confidence. They will always try to work in cohort with teachers for better result through examination malpractices.
For internal examinations, there are a lot of dishonest activities taking place in the schools and colleges. Go to the tertiary institutions today and learn about new grades called CAP, STG, and PBF: Cash and Pass, Sexually Transmitted Grades and Pass by Flesh, respectively. These new grades have produced graduates with honours and first class degrees in our society. This is happening in the learning institutions and nobody seems to care; A CAREFREE SOCIETY! To be frank, worse things are happening in the tertiary institutions. No doubt, the pupils or students are part of the ongoing nefarious activities in our learning institutions. The only thing and without any attempt to absolve them, they are not the lead players in the whole saga. In truth, most pupils were not into the habit of exams malpractices. They were just in the habit of waiting till the last minute before preparing for examinations because the teachers had made them to believe it was possible.
Some parents too are part of the problem. Most parents have no interest in their children’s school or college work. They make no follow-ups in the schools or colleges. Their concern is the results. Conscious of that, their children or wards would do everything humanly possible to bring them results. Some parents even provide moneys to aid and abate their children in examination malpractices.
The Ministry of Education, acting on behalf of government has a responsibility to prevent the current deplorable situation of the country’s education system by putting in place punitive measures. The Ministry needs to formulate more effective policies on education. In those days, the visit of an inspector of schools to a school was a big event. Everybody in the school would be alert and they would tidy up everything including the school compound. The inspectors used to visit the classrooms, observe teachers at work, inspect pupils’ books, registers, lesson notes, scheme of work, etc. Over the years, there have been lapses in the area of inspecting and supervising schools. Additionally, the Ministry should also look into the following areas:
a. The need to oversee the provision, structure, and content of distance education in the country. A good number of the products are terrible.
b. The need not to continue with the current number of community teachers in the country; otherwise its ambition for quality education will be less immediate.
c. The drastic drop in the number of science teachers in the schools and colleges.
d. The absence of libraries, debating societies, drama, arts and crafts work, etc. in most schools and colleges, if not all; a contributing factor to the fall in academic standards.
e. The need to build not only more schools but also well-equipped schools. The West African Examinations Council too should not be reticent about the issue of examination malpractices and the dismally poor performance of pupils in public examinations. Their role in ensuring that they prevent leakages from their offices is of vital importance. As already stated, the pupils and teachers have been mostly discommended for the ongoing examination malpractices but WAEC has a responsibility to put measures in place to rescind the insidious practice. Government needs to clearly define the roles of stakeholders in education and ensure strict compliance.

vi. WHY THE POOR RESULTS AND EXMAMINATION MALPRACTICES OVER THE YEARS:
In my view, the poor performance of pupils in public examinations as well as examination malpractices is teacher oriented. Teachers have a pivotal role in the education system. They should therefore treat the profession with the seriousness it deserves. Notwithstanding their poor conditions of service they should teach because they are being paid for that. Teachers should have exemplary conducts as role models. The Kingsley Davies Conditions of service for teachers are almost the same as those of the civil service. An important lesson teachers should learn is that in all human endeavours the unseen reward (blessing) far outweighs the physical reward because it is the magic behind one’s success. Teachers in the olden days valued the aspect of blessing a lot. If you have opted to become a professional teacher do the needful. Be committed to the job; teach the pupils; give tests and assignments to them.
Mark and discuss the work in class. Identify and help slow learners. Without a learner the teacher has no space; you are there because they are there.
However, though salaries in the teaching profession are comparatively small, some teachers still have passion for the profession and they want to succeed. In the absence of other job opportunities, and in order to augment their meagre salaries and sustain themselves in the classrooms, they have over the years resorted to organizing school lessons, do camping, and producing pamphlets. I wish they had not made these activities compulsory or alternative to effective classroom work. As it is, it would appear as if teachers are not teaching because they want to lure the children into buying pamphlets from them and doing extra lessons with them. The extra lessons and camping for the purpose of covering syllabuses are not much helpful to the learners, especially the girl child. Girls could be morally rotten to the core with no sense of personal worth. Imagine, children having to go camping for weeks under the purported aegis of teachers. That is dangerous! The COMPULSORY lessons, selling of pamphlets, camping, and other unauthorized demands for money should stop in our learning institutions.
Unfortunately, integrity in this noble profession called teaching is waned. When because of poor monetary remuneration a teacher decides to be venal, his or her respect before humanity is bound to atrophy. Indeed, most pupils or students have little or no respect for their teachers or lecturers any longer. This is simply because they do with their teachers or lecturers a lot of forbidden things in common. Some of the pupils and/or students are not committed to their academic work because they depend on their teachers for immoral grades or examination malpractices. They have more time for their android phones than their academic work.
Having said that and as mentioned earlier, the poor conditions of service for teachers have made the classroom a waiting room. Most teachers, including professional teachers are only in the classrooms because they don’t have better jobs. Some of the teachers in the private schools whose pupils are doing well in public examinations went to the same colleges and have the same qualifications as the ones in the public schools. There is a need for basic salaries in government schools and other government established institutions to be harmonized based on academic qualifications. In other words, the entry point in terms of basic salary for people with the same qualification should be the same in all government established institutions. The deplorable conditions of service for teachers in the public schools are partly responsible for the low morale and the waned integrity in the teaching
profession. Compare the basic salary of a B. Sc first class honours teacher and a B. Sc second class degree worker at the National Revenue Authority or other parastatals. Think of the prospect of promotion, travelling opportunities and other fringe benefits of the two. The teachers depend on almost bare salary and they will only be promoted to senior teachers after a minimum of eight years in the service as professional teachers. Many teachers have retired or died as pupil teachers after thirty to forty years of service; not being promoted one day. This is very, very frustrating indeed! The demands of the teachers are therefore legitimate and should be addressed with urgency. The plain truth is that in any formal human learning situation the teacher is indispensible. He is the custodian of knowledge including quality. The source of quality education is both quality teachers and quality learning environment.

vii. WHY THE WORST RESULTS AND FORCEFUL EXAMINATION MALPRACTICES THIS TIME AROUND:
In the past academic year, 2018/2019, the following issues cropped up within the school system:
a. The system grappled with two set of teachers: the concerned teachers who were agitating for better conditions of service and the purportedly system teachers who apparently had the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) on their side. The concerned teachers wanted to embark on industrial strike actions but they found that difficult without the support of SLTU. As a result, they decided to embark on unannounced go-slow activities. That action made teaching and learning in most schools ineffective in the last academic year.
b. There was also the introduction of special three; shortening the senior secondary school period from four years to three years. The implementation period, to me, was short. For some of these pupils even if it were five years they would still not pass.
c. To make matters worse, probably without knowing it, government put a ban on extra lessens, camping and the sale of pamphlets. That ban dealt a major blow to the pupils. Their hopes were shattered and hence the forceful examination malpractices that were facilitated by some of the teachers who were determined to burst the economic sanctions.
d. Moreover, some stakeholders including teachers conspired to introduce a class system during public examinations. Pupils who could afford to pay Le500, 000 per subject were booked for special, business or first class seating arrangement for the exams. Those who could not afford to pay were the ones found at the designated examination halls or centres.
e. To further worsen the situation, the pupils at the designated centres took the examinations under very tense and intimidating environments. The atmosphere created at the centres was really not conducive for examination purposes; a bit militant. The concentration of the pupils was affected by the frequent movements of the various monitoring groups. With the forgoing, the assertion that the massive failures reported this year were due to the monitoring mechanism employed by government could not be true. Sirs, there could be other reasons but I fervently believe that the above mentioned ones are largely responsible for the drastic drop in educational standards and the general decline of the country’s education system. If these diagnoses are in place, I have no doubt that the Ministry of Education will proffer the right solutions to the problems affecting Sierra Leone’s education system. I hope with all hands on deck, we will be able to build an innovative nation with skills and knowledge.
In conclusion, let me thank you for your kind attention and hope my contribution makes some sense to you. I wish you well.
Yours faithfully,
…………………………………
Alhaji M. A. Sesay
T.C (Gen.), B. Ed, M. Ed
076 833 686/77 633 686

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