Free Education Of Questionable Quality

As the New Direction political drama unfolds, comedies of errors are brought to the fore, giving the Fourth Estate (the media/journalists) enough food for thought.

In the main, when marketers give you something for free, chances are it is of such high quality, you would be inclined to buy that product. They give it to you cost free in the hope that you’d be so impress with the quality you’d do as projected – want more of the product.

As the PAOPA political comedy proceeds, and as expected, whenever their functionaries are ‘caught with their pants down’ in obvious violation or contradiction of any of their manifesto promises for which they won the presidential election, they would automatically switch to one or more of their other promises in a weak attempt to deflect the people’s attention from the issue at hand.

Three years after getting the mandate from the people through the ballot box, in blanket acknowledgement of having lost the war President Bio declared on corruption, leakages, violence and lawlessness, PAOPA has switched focus from them to what they commonly refer to as their flagship programme, Free Quality Education (FQE).

In Sierra Leone, however, free and quality don’t match, or go hand in hand. As a matter of fact, in our reality, anything that is free is of poor or low quality. That stated, what’s quality about the SLPP government’s Free Quality Education (FQE) programme? Far from producing the calibre of graduates that necessitated the sobriquet, Athens of West Africa, education in Sierra Leone is in such a bad state that the paper our diplomas, certificates or degrees are printed on is more valuable than the education we receive. So, if the quality of education we currently pay for is so low and cheap, what should we expect when it is free? And having unofficially lost the critical flagship wars on the country’s main developmental challenges, should we expect the FQE to produce better results than we have come to expect of our students who continue to fail public exams in large numbers?

Tabling a list of what they consider to be his government’s accomplishments after President Bio’s three years in office, the Ministry of Information and Communications, in a well written public relations spin (something that should have been done for the President instead of having him face the nation in his failed and unimpressive media blitz aimed at listing his government’s accomplishments), said the president has tackled the downward spiral our once highly esteemed education was heading on, and is now on the upward movement.

The ministry bragged that; 2.14 million students in government owned and supported primary and secondary schools are benefitting from the FQE; have sustained budgetary allocation to education to 21% in 2018 Supplementary Budget and 2020/21 Appropriation Acts; made payment of Le66 billion as subsidies to 4,007 schools; provided teaching and learning materials; spent Le3 billion a piece to provide furniture to 90 schools and rehabilitation of a further 50; procurement of 50 school buses; 210,000 pupils in five districts receiving food at school, with Le69 billion allocated for the remaining 11 districts; commissioned 200 new schools in hard to reach places; budgetary allocation to hire 2,000 additional teachers, with many receiving pin codes; securing $20 million loan from World Bank in support of skills development in the formal and informal sectors, among others.

While their listing is very impressive, however, many questions remain unanswered about their implementation and sustenance by a government that is now known for alleged financial and other corrupt acts it has repeatedly failed to address. The government is accused of trying to accomplish the FQE in a similar vein as how it is presently trying to accomplish other agendas including the Midterm Census – in a big hurry. It is very clear that government does not have the required infrastructure or finances to fund such a project that is expected to grow year in year out. PAOPA has been advised by parliamentarians to go back to the drawing board for an honest review of its implementation strategies.

Questions abound about how it plans on addressing the perennial corruption in schools including sex for grades. Also an unmotivated teaching cadre coupled with those with pin codes that either don’t get their salaries or get them in time and schools not receiving adequate supplies while some receive more than they need, should have presented scenarios that should have informed PAOPA that more time should have been dedicated to planning, instead of rushing to get votes.

Suffice to say that for a government that is showing itself as not being willing to take advice or constructive criticism, PAOPA will never admit that it is grossly unprepared to accommodate the present congestion at government schools. With all the money that they plan to borrow and are begging for, 200 schools are far from what is needed to accommodate the number of students projected to benefit from the free education of questionable quality.

The fear is that plenty of money is being and will be spent on a project whose poor planning would result to it failing to accomplish its lofty yet very simple objectives aimed at firmly positioning our country for future prosperity, development and growth. But just like this government’s rush to accomplish things in superhuman time, it is in a hurry to accomplish an agenda that would take decades of planning and execution, with room left for improvement, hence is a continuity project that won’t be accomplished in one or two presidential terms.

This rush to get things done PAOPA is why the expected quality will never be delivered, leaving as the only benefit the expected financial windfall from donor and partners agencies and governments. Sadly, PAOPA has so far set a track record of disappearing monies from state coffers. Meanwhile, education will be free, but we should not count on it being of the kind of quality that will see us reclaim and surpass our past laurels.

Should the FQE fail, PAOPA would have run out of excuses for its failed promises to the people, as they would not have anything else to switch to and deflect the people’s attention.

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