The free education program by President Bio is already failing, and, sadly, the same administration that brought the initiative is the biggest contributor to its failure.
When the current Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government launched the free quality education initiative, many questioned its timeliness and the lack of proper planning before its implementation. The administration argued that, as a nation, we’re never fully prepared to kickstart initiatives like this and that “we must leapfrog” to get to where we want to be.
Shortly after its launch, the people of Sierra Leone saw a sort of commitment to this initiative as the government increased the nation’s spending on education and allocated more resources to the sector. The spending saw the construction of more schools, increased teachers’ salaries, and provided more training for them. It created a “radical inclusion” scheme that saw an increase in girls’ education and the disabled.
While these are great strives, there are still significant challenges, including overcrowded classrooms, teachers compelling parents to spend even more on education due to the delays, and sometimes the lack of delivery of urgently needed materials for teachers to adequately do their work. And despite the huge budget allocation, quality is also missing in the education provided in most schools and among pupils.
The much bigger problem is the level of dishonesty in dealing with many of the issues surrounding Sierra Leone’s Free Quality Education. In almost all instances, the President is credited for the country’s positive impact on education in the last four years but fails to take responsibility for the areas in which his administration failed. Often, the administration blames underperformance by schools on either the teachers, pupils, or parents while taking full credit for, say, a high number of passes nationwide. The President and his education ministers believe the pathway to a better education system has been set forth, and any missing quality is caused by the beneficiaries – pupils, teachers, and parents.
In addition to the dishonesty, the government also has actions that undermine any possible success of the Free Quality Education. There are several utterances by Moininah David Sengeh, the country’s Minister of Basic Secondary School Education, tying any possible future of Sierra Leone’s education on President Bio and making it seem like his contribution to improving the education system is for the President and not the nation. Despite being a fine minister who has, in some ways, contributed to building better foundations in the education sector, David Sengeh has already ruled himself out of the possibility of or his willingness to work with any other President to continue his current work aside from working with President Bio. From discussions on radio stations, television, and social media, the minister has stated several times that Sierra Leone’s only hope for a better education system is through President Bio. Without the President, the minister believes everything will head back to its ruins.
Then there is the administration’s silence on the recent fake Ph.D. scandal in Sierra Leone, which revealed the lack of seriousness by President Bio’s government in ensuring the nation progresses towards achieving quality education and reclaiming its past glory.
For a president who prides himself a champion of quality education yet filled his administration with fake degree holders, and even when caught, he remains silent about it, goes to show that President Bio doesn’t care about putting quality in Sierra Leone’s education. Like the overcrowded classrooms and the worrying performance of students in public exams, the President craves more for quantity and would therefore endorse fake degree holders if the data shows an increase in the number of people holding Masters, PhDs, and other degrees since he took office.
It is one thing not to crosscheck people’s qualifications when they apply for jobs or get appointed to hold public offices; it is another to remain silent and do nothing about allegations of fake degree holders serving in some of the country’s top and most important institutions.
But through his silence, the President is also sending a message.
The silence is the President’s direct message to the thousands of students across Sierra Leone, telling them to not worry about working hard in school and if they end up getting caught for buying fake results, that he, the President, has their backs. It is a message telling pupils to pretend to their parents that they are going to school, and as long they return home with a result, even if it’s fake, their parents and society will accept them.
The President’s direct message to parents is that they can buy their children’s way into obtaining any degree of their choice if they have the money to pay. It is a direct message to teachers and school administrators that they can continue extorting money from students and parents and give them certificates they don’t work for or deserve.
Above all, it is a message to the nation that morality and hard work no longer matter, and what counts is money and buying your way through education. The President is saying to us that it is okay for citizens to purchase fake titles and still hold top positions like Ambrose Sovula, our country’s Inspector General of Police, and Paran, the clerk to Parliament. And even when obtaining those fake qualifications has directly impacted the nation’s growth, President Bio is saying it is still okay not to dismiss people or hold them accountable for their role in pulling the country backward.
Our education system is doomed, with no hope of saving it anytime soon. And pretending it is getting better when the evidence through our actions shows otherwise makes us, as citizens of this great nation, guilty of the crime of destroying our learning institutions.