“University Education is in dire straits. It is characterised by poor condition of service for lecturers leading to frequent strikes, inadequate and poor infrastructure, and inadequate facilities for research…” Page-35 of the New Direction’s Manifesto refers.
The excerpt is the New Direction’s apt position on the status of education under the former government of the All People’s Congress (APC).
In another version of the status of education few years back, was the claim made by the manifesto also known as the People’s Manifesto that the most appalling situation of our education system is the total neglect of technical and vocational education and training.
It accuses the former government as not being in a position to finalise sound policies on education and there is no clarity on which government leads country’s tertiary education.
It exposes, in no small measure, the miserable state to which education has been relegated throughout the governance period of the former government.
It was against this background that the New Direction Government said it would devise fine education policies that would improve quality education in Sierra Leone.
“The primary objective of the New Direction is to increase access to quality….technical, vocation and university education that will enable them engage in meaningful productive economic activity,” another portion of the manifesto reads.
It is the New Direction’s firm conviction that investment in education will help transform Sierra Leone’s natural and mineral resources into sustainable development.
The manifesto also underpins that education is the key to individual, community and national development.
It also posits that Education helps lift people out of poverty and creates vast new opportunities to reduce unfair income distribution and increase choices.
In the achievement of the objective, the manifesto further states that the New Direction education policies will focus on education governance and financing, human resource management, teaching, primary and secondary school management and supervision, Technical and Vocational Education Training.
The New Direction’s promises on education are fine and appealing to the minds of educationists, and those willing to invest in education.
But, the unfolding drama in the University of Sierra Leone means the promises are mere lip service.
The sit-down-strike action by lecturers has intermittently dragged on close to a month, and positive action by government is yet to come.
As government delays action, the strike continues with a great potential to wreck university education.
No gainsaying that the unresolved industrial action by the Academic staff of the University of Sierra Leone derails not only university education but the entire Free Quality Education (FQE).
FQE is the New Direction Government’s flagship project, and many have argued that FQE is not only limited to the class room of secondary schools, but to the classrooms of tertiary institutions.
The strike action has lingered for a considerable period in the academic community but without serious action on the part of government.
Government’s inaction has been referred to as a great manifestation of government’s neglect of the dispensers of knowledge.
A meeting between ASA representatives with the Vice President, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh is nothing other than a mere drama.
Nothing concrete came out of the meeting, and lecturers’ stay-at-home action continues.
The students are at the wrong end especially finalists.
Students can hardly tell what their current status is since grades are yet to be published owing to the strike action.
Students are also less prepared as no certainty exists that they would come out in the normal academic year.
Those who want to seek jobs either in the public or private sector cannot do so since work by lectures is on hold.
The future of lecturers and students is bleak and the bleak future to a large extent exposes the insincerity of the New Direction towards Sierra Leone.
As the academic vineyard held up in the strike action, students who spoke to this press quite recently cannot rule out a strike action.
The aim is to call the attention of the political authorities to the plight of the academic community.
The prevalence of industrial actions in Sierra Leone’s universities clearly showcases several weaknesses riddled with the New Direction administration.
The analysis contained in the People’s Manifesto about education is enough to make people believe that the New Direction meant business for education in the country.
But the hopes and expectations have been dashed; they are mere campaign tools and rhetorics.
The highlights of the ‘People’s Manifesto’ is worth mentioning so that the people can see where this government stumbled before it finally fell in its promises to the academic community.
The Manifesto said Sierra Leone had an impressive education system dating back to the pre-colonial period.
Since the APC, the document noted, assumed power in 1968, the quality of education has persistently deteriorated.
“Only 2 out of every 5 adult Sierra Leoneans can read and write English. Access to education is low and the quality is poor,” the manifesto pointed out.
The poor performance in the academic sector, according to the People’s Manifesto can be ascribed to the low priority given to education by the former APC Government.
The low priority, the New Direction says is evidenced by the low budgetary allocations and disbursements to the education sector.
In 2016, the manifesto noted only 16.1 per cent of total budget was allocated to education which was less than the Education-For-All target of 20 per cent.
The Education-For-All policy was promulgated in the late 1990’s under the SABABU Education Project spearheaded by the current Minister of Higher Education, Dr Alpha Wurie who also Minister of education at that time.
Owing to the economic challenges, the manifesto wen on, actual disbursements are usually less than the allocated amounts.
“The low budgetary allocation is manifested in the forms of poor infrastructure including physical facilities and furniture, limited learning and teaching materials, poor management and supervision, low morale and productivity…” the document also noted.
The former APC Government was also vilified by the New Direction as it claimed that under the past government, education was a privilege and not a right.
The New Direction says Sierra Leone needs a new education model that prioritise free education with emphasis on science and technology, skills training and development and social enterprise.
It also noted that education under the past APC Government did not resonate well with the country’s development aspiration.
Suffice it to say thee education acquired under the previous government could not meet the labour requirements of a nation on an ambitious road to development.
In the past government, the manifesto continued, the education system produced candidates who were unemployed, could not find relevant jobs, and were unable to integrate themselves into the labour market and the emerging knowledge-based economy.
The manifesto concludes in Page-36 that mere change for the sake of change is never the answer.
It says the education system has been completely politicised and that employment and promotion of lecturers and even recruitment of students in tertiary institutions and award of grants have been biased in favour of persons perceived to be APC members or supporters.
The instances mentioned above is a gloomy picture of education painted by the New Direction against the former government.
The painting went a long way in making Sierra Leoneans to believe that the former government has done little or nothing to strengthen the pillars of education in Sierra Leone.
The New Direction thus highlighted three thematic areas in the education sector that demands immediate action.
These include: education governance, Training and human resource management.
The New Direction hopes that with much attention on the three areas, the education system would be tremendously improved.
In the campaign period and upon taking over state governance, the New Direction promised the people of Sierra Leone that it would put in place a sound education governance system in the academic sector.
Training for lecturers, the New Direction said, would be a priority in the academic community.
But, the most important area, Government said, is the human resource management system.
The concept of human resource management is a broad field in the management matrix as it encompasses several aspects.
A sound remuneration package which constitutes one of the fundamentals in managing people in an institution has not been sufficiently implemented by the New Direction.
As long as lecturers who are the prime movers of economic development in any nation are neglected, the notion of Free Quality Education in Sierra Leone is all but name.
Only the phrase: ‘Free Quality Education’ will be the success of the New Direction if the welfare of lecturers is not looked into.