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Teaching Service Commission Gets New Chair – Is It A Step In The Right Direction?

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Teaching Service Commission Gets New Chair – Is It A Step In The Right Direction?

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It is no secret that the education system in the country is completely dilapidated and in need of a complete reconstruction. This being said, the powers-that-be must put aside partisanship and work tirelessly to rebuild it with all sincerity and might. Education is the backbone of every society. Failure to provide the right education for the citizenry is lethal, and will ultimately lead to unwanted consequences.

According to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the human mind is our fundamental resource. Education might not have been considered as one of the three basic human needs, but it is of equal importance. Its far-reaching significance for the progress of a nation and for the general enrichment of a society can never be ignored. A country’s literate population is its asset and, indeed, its backbone. Neglecting the importance education plays in the development of society would be foolhardy. The future of a nation is only considered safe when it is in the hands of the educated. For a nation to grow economically and develop socially, education must be a priority.

It is a wrench to agree that Sierra Leone, which once had the best educational institutions in all of Africa and was rightly named the “Athens of West Africa”, is now at the bottom struggling to find its footing on the educational ladder. For this anomalous and pitiable situation, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the powers-that-be. After the decade-long brutal civil war that tore the country apart, the rulers of Sierra Leone ought to have learned a lesson. While factors like marginalization played a role in igniting the war, neglecting education can be cited as the utmost reason. Who but an illiterate fellow can hack off the limbs of the very people he claims to be fighting to liberate. The very rebels that hacked off the limbs of their fellow citizens claimed to be freedom fighters. With some education, they could have known that one does not hack off another man’s limbs, least the person you claim to be defending. With some education, lives could have been saved and cities like Koidu in the Kono District would still have continued being vibrant today but was deliberately destroyed with very little hope of reconstruction after the war.

Education is like a shining light on the dark path of disillusionment. It wipes off wrong and pessimistic beliefs from our minds and gives us hope for the future. It helps create a clear picture of things around, it creates a sense of belonging and erases all the confusion that has clogged the mind of a disillusioned nation. Education kindles and rekindles the flame of curiosity and helps awaken the abilities to question and to reason. The more people learn, the more questions they have, and without questions, there are no answers. Education teaches the population to find answers thereby breeding in self-awareness. In a nutshell, it leads to enlightenment. With enlightenment, people grow to love their country and all that comes with it. Educated people don’t take guns; they use the pen to bring even hostile conditions under control. How often had our teachers drummed it into our ears that the pen is mightier than the sword! Have we stopped to think why Western societies have no wars? Education brings in eternal peace; it is known as the soul of a society.

The words “cultivate” and “civilize” are synonymous with “educate”. Education teaches people the right behavior and good manners. It is the basis of culture and civilization. It is instrumental in the development of human values and virtues. An educated population is capable of planning for the future, and taking the right decision in life. A wise man once said that education is more than a luxury but a responsibility that society owes to itself. Education gives the citizens an insight into living thereby teaching them to learn from experience. It breeds self-confidence, self-determination and develops the human ability to think, judge, and analyze. It is only through education that the principle of equality and socialism is strengthened. Education forms a support system that propels humans to excel in life. Being the backbone of society, education makes a human more human. According to Peter Brougham (1778-1868), education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to manipulate; easy to govern but not easy to enslave.

With the above analysis, it is mandatory for all governments, especially in Africa, to make educating the very people they represent a priority that is second to no other. According to the great French writer Victor Hugo, “He who opens a school door closes a prison”. The benefits of education have been well documented by research to have multiplier effects.  Education is the most effective measure that all governments, especially those in developing countries, can embark upon to improve the standard of living of the people. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized the following at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000: “No development strategy is better than one that makes women central players. It has immediate benefits for nutrition, health, savings, and reinvestment at the family, community, and ultimately country level. This simply means that educating one’s people, and especially women, is a long- term investment that yields very high returns. Those in power must change things and form an alliance for girls’ education.” (Paragraph 12). Educating women can play a symbolic role in the reduction of hunger and poverty. It has been documented by the Brookings Institute that an increase in women’s education led to a 43% reduction in child malnutrition. When the people are well educated, they make better decisions in all spheres of life that may benefit the society at large. According to the report by the Brookings Institute, when governments, especially those in middle and low income countries, fail to educate their people, they lose about $92 billion dollars each year.

With the progressive decline of education in Sierra Leone, those in power must do all that is possible not only to revive it but to nurture it. The foremost way of tackling this problem is by giving budgetary priority to the education sector. Once this is done, and with the money being used for what it is meant for, things will change for the better.

The money laid aside for education can be better spent in (a) renovating dilapidated public schools that have seen no makeovers for three decades (b) paying teachers what they are worth (c) scholarships for high-performing students regardless of their backgrounds (d) professional development for educators, and (e) Internet technology labs.

Renovating Public Schools

Most if not all public schools in Sierra Leone today need complete makeovers. The civil war and years of neglect by the powers-that-be have left most learning institutions in ruins, thus making teaching and learning difficult and unpleasant. It is worth knowing that the very buildings that are meant for teachers to teach and students to learn have great psychological effects on both the learners and the facilitators. A dilapidated building with cobwebs hanging here and there and a crumbling roof threatening to crash down can bring nothing but stress for the occupants. In this case the teachers and their students. Research has it that well-lighted and healthy-looking environments make students feel motivated, active, and lively. On the contrary going to a school that has ruined buildings and in total disrepair can make both the students and teachers less enthusiastic about what they are there to do. Repairing school buildings therefore will have positive effects on learning. A visit a few years ago to the high school I attended, the Government Boys Secondary School in Magburaka (MSSB), commonly and fondly known as Boys School, left me very disturbed. The school that was once vibrant and lively with beautiful classrooms and dormitories, favorable landscapes and education-oriented atmosphere now lies in ruins and abject neglect. That remarkable paint work that adorned the buildings has long since dissipated leaving the walls desert-naked and ancient-looking. The accommodating lawns outside where we used to sit and read with pleasure have now been over-grown with weeds that are tall enough to harbor wild animals of all kinds, coupled with the acidic stench of the toilets that greet visitors immediately on arrival. The neat luxurious-looking student benches that were once present in classrooms have long disappeared. The classrooms are now full of locally made awkward wooden benches, such as could be found in distant village schools. The living quarters for teachers that once ignited the desire of young university graduates to be part of the institution now look awful enough to keep them away. The Koyeima School further south, which once attracted students from far and near because of its buoyant location and sparkling neat appearance, now bears the same fate as its counterpart, MSSB. Those lovely buildings in the middle of the forest now look like farm houses. Magburaka Boys and Koyeima School are just two examples of public institutions that have been blatantly and willfully neglected. The rest are pretty much the same or even worse.

Paying Teachers What They Are Worth

Teachers in Sierra Leone are the lowest-paid educators in the world. This needs to change. When teachers are not well paid, they remain unmotivated. A teacher whose monthly salary is not enough to provide for the family will always remain an unhappy an unenthusiastic educator. A good pay is an incentive that enhances teacher performance and student progress. Studies have revealed that salary gaps between teachers and non-teachers with similar technical training dissuade potential teachers from entering the profession and discourage current teachers from staying (Chair and Miller, 2009). When teacher salaries are very low, highly skilled potential teachers look for higher paying positions elsewhere. It is absolutely true that retaining the best teachers depend on the pay scale. When talented teachers are compensated well for what they do, they stay put. When they are not, they move on to where they get paid well.

Such has been the case in Sierra Leone. After much effort training good teachers, they are left to melt away to neighboring countries where they get well paid and are more respected. Almost all Sierra Leone-made educators that I have come across in other countries agree that they decided to leave because teacher salaries in Sierra Leone are awful and negligible. Ninety percent of teachers in The Gambia are from Sierra Leone. In a survey I did, almost all of them agreed that they would very much like to return home if conditions for teachers were made better, for example, if Sierra Leone could increase teachers’ salaries to match that of The Gambia.  Their demands are not much. After four years of rigorous studies in the university and the option to become a teacher, compensating them for training the future workforce of the country is just the right thing to do. It is mathematically very unsound to use taxpayer money to train professionals just for them to take exodus and help boost education in another country. As it stands, education in The Gambia today is on a firmer ground than Sierra Leone. While formerly Gambians used to depend on Sierra Leone for a good education, at present many children of Sierra Leonean descent are filling up Gambian schools. His Excellency YayahJammeh has made so much progress in the education sector that Gambia today remains a force to reckon with when it comes to serious academia. He deserves that praise. The secret is that a greater part of his annual budget is allocated to the education sector. Teachers are not just well paid; they are pampered and given a better working environment.

My visit to Angola to help improve on the curriculum of a private school left me so impressed. The school infrastructure is exemplary. According to an education official I spoke to on conditions of anonymity, a lot of money is being spent on education to make up for past mistakes and to satisfy the population. Asked to explain further, he agreed that with good education for the population, the devastating Angolan War could have been avoided. When is Sierra Leone going to learn? Education breeds consciousness and unconditional love for one’s country. Without good education, problems will always linger. Additionally, when one is well educated and employed, one’s focus is always positive with healthy thoughts about a better life, not war and destruction. James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, once said that next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, in the absence of which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained in a society.

Reports had it that rebels who hacked off the limbs of their fellow Sierra Leoneans claimed that cutting off their hands would prevent them from voting. At the same time, they claimed to have been emancipators that took up arms to free the people. How can you cut off the limbs of the very people that you claimed to be fighting for? At one time I even saw the picture of teenage rebels dragging AK 47 rifles that most didn’t have enough strength to carry and had to pull them as one would do a dog on a leash. Those drugged teenage rebels wore tee-shirts with Tupak’s pictures on them. They were obviously wearing those tee-shirts because they were admirers of Tupak. They were too illiterate to know that the fellow pictured was a gangster rapper that himself knew little or nothing about emancipating a people in bondage. Those illiterate teens were not only very ignorant, but superbly “miss-educated” by their war lords who were themselves what they were because they lacked the education that makes a man a man.

Having spent the better part of my life in Europe and the United States, I can fully attest to the fact that those nations which were once no better than Africa is today made good use of education to bring their societies to the level of development that they could boast of today. While governments in these societies might spend a lot on social programs and defense, the bulk of the budget goes to education and financing researches. It is quite unbelievable that at this information age, only a few privileged Sierra Leonean children actually know how to switch a computer on and off. This breaks my heart. With education prioritized, all public schools in Sierra Leone at the moment should have IT Labs fully equipped. It is a right for our children that every government must uphold. The funds are there but, unfortunately, they are spent on the wrong things. Our children have remained forgotten for far too long. They deserve air- conditioned classrooms, free tuition, free textbooks, daily free lunches in schools to keep them focused, and buses to take them to school and drop them home from school. This is not too much to ask for. It is not a pipe dream. It is possible to achieve if the powers-that-be make it a priority.

Bringing corruption to an end in the country will help save enough money that will help bring to fruition educational goals. Money saved can help with increase in teacher salaries, face-lifting public school buildings, providing free lunch for pupils, and establishing Internet Technology labs.

A recent Education Country Status Report on Sierra Leone published in September, 2013 states that “the proportion of unqualified teachers has witnessed an upward trend since 2004/05 school year, when 40 percent and 10 percent of primary and secondary teachers were not qualified.” This translates into the present. Unqualified teachers must have no place in the classroom while qualified ones are left to serve the sub-region.

Teaching is an art that must be learned with continuous follow-up. Below are some simple steps that the government must take to improve education in Sierra Leone:

(a)    Pour more money into the education sector. Money, coupled with the determination to perform positively, is the key that can open doors for more opportunities. With money, a lot of improvements will follow.

 (b)   Increase teacher salaries. The profession will become more attractive with a pay increase. As it is at present, teachers cannot even afford a bicycle while political party stalwarts, most of whom are illiterate, can afford expensive cars and luxurious mansions. This is why qualified educators look for greener pastures elsewhere. A university graduate that I found driving for a Non-Governmental Organization once told me that he was doing so because that was the only way he could make ends meet. The big question is: Why earn a university degree only to end up being someone’s driver? In other words, the message is “Drop out and be a driver.” If this continues, the future of our nation with a poor workforce will be bleak. This worries me a lot.

 (c)    While I am an advocate for teacher pay increase, I must agree that with that must come some stringent rules. Teachers must be better trained and better qualified. Graduating from an education program is not enough to make one a better teacher. All incoming teachers must sit and pass a National Certification Exam in their subject areas and there should be a continuing Professional Development structure. While passing the subject area exams measures the abilities of teachers in their subject areas, the professional test measures their abilities in the rules and regulations that govern the profession. The rules and regulations must be based on local ethics. Teachers who break the rules eventually lose their jobs. Experts could be called upon to set up these exams. This is how it is done in most countries where results have been great.

 (d)   Make workshop opportunities available for teachers. Good teachers become great teachers by going beyond the call of duty and beyond the textbook. To do this, teachers must continue their education. Enough provision should be made for conferences, workshops, and continuing education that could give the teachers that extra help for their students. While there are on-line workshops, I recommend that teachers attend on-site workshops and classes. The benefit of attending an on-site workshop is that teachers have the opportunity to meet and share ideas with their fellow teachers. Administrators must make it part of their jobs to relentlessly encourage teachers to continue their education as well as make opportunities available for them to do so. Workshops on how to integrate technology into the classroom and how to make it cross-curricula will give the teachers the information and tools they need to integrate technology in the classroom which will help their career and boost student learning. Provision should be made for professional development days in the academic calendar. On these days, students can stay home while teachers and administrators attend workshops. Teachers and administrators must also be encouraged to present workshops to their fellow teachers.         

What makes a professional stand apart from others in his field? It is true that he has the educational chops and the hands-on experience that make him well-rounded and widely respected in his field. But true professionals don’t make a halt; in other words, they are not static but always dynamic. They keep on going-wanting to learn more. Evidently, research is always coming up with new things, and trends are always changing. It is the dream of any good professional to want to be on top of and responding to these changes.

 (e)   Make education free for all at the primary and secondary levels. The reason why many socio-economically disadvantaged children find themselves out of school is that their parents cannot afford the money to pay their fees. Children who cannot afford schooling find themselves being exploited as child laborers. This is evident in the west-end of Freetown where most stone-breakers are children under the age of ten. They do this simply to help their parents out with household responsibilities. Remember that these same children, when properly schooled, end up becoming productive citizens, not child soldiers miss-educated and recruited by warlords.

 (f)     Make college grants available to socio-economically disadvantaged children. It is an incentive that may entice them to seek college education, instead of dropping out prematurely to become Okada or Omolanke drivers.

(g)    Make Internet/Information Technology (IT) available to pupils. This is a right and not a privilege at this age and time. We must go along with the trend. Most elementary and secondary school children in Sierra Leone don’t even know how to operate a computer. This puts them at a disadvantage in an age where everything is IT-based. How do you expect children to advance in modern times without the right tools?

To conclude my article, I want to make it abundantly clear to all my readers that nothing I write is politically motivated. I am an educator who spends his time helping children, especially those that are marginalized. What I say comes from my mind and the love I have for my country. It therefore bothers me to see the direction my country has taken in academia over the years. Anyone who considers my opinion in this matter negatively must be doing so unjustly. A man must love his country more than he does himself, and by so doing strive to make out of it the best society for human existence.

There are those who have lost so much hope in the system that they might consider my proposals to be delusive. After all, they have the right to think that way. Nevertheless, with the dedication that befits a true son of the soil, all is possible. Putting an end to the corruption that is the order of the day in Sierra Leone will add more money to the country’s coffers in order to bring all the above suggestions to fruition. The powers-that-be must do all they can to wipe out corruption. Those that are engaged in the act are taking us back to the dark ages. One thing is certain: a nation without a formidable future workforce will cease being a nation.

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