SL: ‘Poor Conditions Of Service For Abysmal Failure In Public Exams’; Say Teachers.

By: Christian Conteh

Sierra Leone’s Free Quality Education was launched in August and rolled out in September of 2018 with a view of providing education for all children in line with governments human capital development drive.

Two years into its implementation the country in 2020 recorded the worse performance ever, only a mere 4.5% Pass Rate in 5 Subjects was recorded, when compared to other countries including, Ghana with 68.5%, Nigeria- 65.8%, and The Gambia – 64.8%,

The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Dr. David Moinina Sengeh has largely attributed the mass failure to the crack down on examination malpractice. On the contrary teachers across the country have attributed the mass failure to many factors including late payment of school subsidies and the demotivation of teaching staff among others.

School Subsidies

The first major challenge that cuts across the board is the late payment, under payment or in some cases unavailability of subsidies meant for the running of the schools.
Mrs Musu M Alie is the Principal of Nusrat Jahan Girls School she said she appreciates government for paying the fees as it now means they no longer struggle to collect fees from parents. However, the late payment and underpayment is a big concern.

“I am an example, in 2018 when the FQE started I was underpaid to the tune of 30 million leones for that year, at another time I had an 11 million Leones shortage from the subsidy due the school, so nothing developmental could be done for the school that year.”

She further noted that if this shortage continues she may have to reduce her kids to correspond with the resources made available to her.

Ishmail Nallo is Principal Ahmadiyya Senior Secondary School Bo, also doubles as the National Chairman Conference of Principles of Secondary Schools in Sierra Leone, he says government has indeed been paying fees for all school going children, but the challenge is that the fees come in late and this affects the budgetary allocation or planning of the school.

“For effective and efficient school administration we expect this subsidy to be paid at least before or latest on the 1st week of the reopening of schools. Worst of all it will interest you to note that I have run this school without subsidy for quite a while and I sometimes cannot put my finances together since it has created a huge vacuum which I am yet to fill.”

Demotivated Teachers

Lack of motivation for teachers is perhaps the most significant challenge teachers are faced with, Mr. Lappia is a teacher at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School Bo, he says the teachers who are the drivers in the implementation of the project are demotivated.

“The President in his maiden statement in the Well of Parliament promised to make the class room enviable to an extent that those who are there would not think of leaving, and those who have left would want to come back, but I feel that has not been done. The salary in the class room is not commensurate to the market demands in the country, it is grossly insufficient” he said

Michael Kossia is Vice Principal Government Secondary School Bo he confirms that there is a lack of motivation for teachers revealing that there are still a lot of unapproved teachers most without pin codes, “we now exert all our time and energy on the children yet our conditions of service remain a challenge, most teachers are demotivated and some do not teach with their maximum capacity.”

Lucy Boi Pompae is a teacher at the Tahir Ahmadiyya Junior Secondary School for boys, she noted that the initiative is like having a boat, the children are the passengers and the teachers the operators, if the operator does not have the requisite tools to operate, you think that journey will be successful? She asked.

She further noted that the key people to satisfy in this programme are the teachers, she recalled the President promising to make the teaching profession enviable.

“At the end of the day we feel it’s a mockery, a three hundred thousand addition to our salaries is nothing to make noise about, it’s not enough for us.

“So if the president really wants the initiative to be successful, he must increase teacher’s salary and make life comfortable for us, because it is only when we are satisfied will he be able to accomplish his goal, if not, this wonderful initiative will be a waste of time.”

Removal of S.S.S.4

Sierra Leone’s educational sector had for years been on the decline. In 2013 the Government set up a Commission of Inquiry to bring out the causes of the decline. The Professor Sahr Thomas Gbamanja Commission launched an investigation and discovered a number of problems with the old system of education (6-3-3-4).

Following its findings, a White Paper was issued recommending series of changes which included the introduction of the 6-3-4-4 system of education.

Key among the recommendations was the inability of schools to complete their syllabus within the three-year period. The abrupt removal of the SSS4 left many topics in several subjects uncovered thus affecting the outcome of the exam results.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School teacher Mr. Lappia also observed that there seems to be a poor coordination between W.A.E.C. and the Ministry of Education because B.E.C.E results come in late and the pupils coming in to SSS1 miss a whole term and they most times do not compensate for that lost period. This affects the completion of the syllabus, taking into consideration that there is no longer an SSS4.

Influx of Pupils

According to Michael Kossia Vice Principal Government Secondary School Bo the introduction of the FQE has led to an explosion of student enrolment, many of who, have not been going to school, this he says is one of the reasons responsible for the poor results.

“Most of the exam candidates only came back to school when the FQE was introduced and they came ill prepared for the exams, most were admitted to SSS3 because as government policy dictates we cannot send them away.”

Miss Isatu Foday is a teacher at Tahir Ahmadiyya Junior Secondary School for boys, she says the Free Quality Education is indeed a good idea, but there are certain things that have not gone down well with them, “some kids have left school for several years, because their parents cannot afford to pay school fees for them, now with the introduction of the FQE all these students have returned to the schools and the schools are now full, it is these set of students that have challenges at external exams.” she lamented.

Mrs Musu M Alie from Nusrat Jahan Girls School is of the view that allowing pregnant girls to go to school is a way of encouraging more girls to go down that path, this defeats the purpose of the Hands off our Girls campaign of the first Lady. She said

“if you provide support for pregnant girls and lactating mothers, that would serve as an incentive to the other girls to be mothers as well because they would think that is the surest way of getting support.”

Urban Bias

Most teachers in the provinces spoken to are of the view that the Free Quality Education is Urban Bias and focuses on the cities predominantly. According to them, more attention is paid to Freetown and the District Headquarter Towns. villages or Rural Communities are either left out or not adequately catered for.

According to Mr. Lappia, a teacher in Bo, there are certain subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Mathematic that teachers are not available to teach.

“If the Free Quality Education should be a success there must be special incentive for teachers who opt to go to remote areas, that is a policy that exists but has never been implemented.” He noted