By Alfred Kamanda
The decline in the standard of education in Sierra Leone has been exposed on several fora and in many ways including in international competitions. We noticed it during the school teaching programme on radio and television during the Ebola outbreak, and we see it every now and again through posts or comments on social media. And over the weekend and on stage at the recent Miss Sierra Leone beauty pageant. Now we are left asking what should be done to address this problem. In my quiet moment I have scribbled down these recommendations in a bid to revamp our educational system.
1. The government and donor partners should conduct a nationwide research to gather relevant data on the problems affecting the education sector and advance workable recommendations. Research is key in this whole process.
2. The state should recruit qualified teachers and provide the requisite classroom training for them. Government should also encourage the recruitment of trained and qualified teachers and send them to the rural areas. Educational standards in the remote areas scubas villages have further plummeted because most teachers who are recruited are neither trained nor qualified; and they are demotivated.
3. The state should also increase the salaries and improve the conditions of service of teachers. People who are trained and qualified who venture into the interior should be encouraged with suburb allowance and other amenities.
4. The state should also provide bursaries or scholarships for teachers - both internally and externally - especially those who decide to teach in rural communities. People who struggle to provide teaching services in rural communities but are not qualified, should be encouraged with the scheme so as to upgrade and make them fit for purpose.
5. Most classrooms these days are overcrowded and as a result they provide little or no room for effective learning. Teachers are unable to properly asses students and provide the necessary encouragement for the dull ones. These classes should be reduced to 50 pupils at most. Teachers should be willing to asses their kids through assignments, class work, tests and the final exams. Presentations should be introduced at the senior secondary school level.
6. The 6-3-4-4 system was a big mistake and should be replaced with the old 6-3-3-4 system. The additional year has had no positive effect in upgrading the educational system in the country. In fact it has been proved to be more of a problem than a solution. The idea of a 6-3-4-4 system has necessitated the construction of more classrooms, more expenditure on families, the recruitment of more teachers which has its financial implication too on the state, and finally social problems especially for girls who face the risk of being pregnant before they write their WASSCE Exams.
7. In addition, the afternoon shift has been a curse to the educational system. Since its introduction we have actually experienced a surge in enrolment but sadly the standards have dwindled and many especially girls have been dropping out. It was a perfect thing to have classes conducted in the early hours of the day.
8. We should also encourage healthy competition in schools. Catch them young, they say, because when they grow up they will not depart from it. Reintroduce essay writing, quiz, drama, debate, drawing, singing and dancing competitions in schools. These help in building the writing and speaking skills of students. It builds their confidence and makes them willing and ready at all times to face the crowd.
10. These competitions should earn the winners valuable prizes and the recognition needed so that others will emulate their worthy moves. We continue to admire Messi and Ronaldo because they are not only performing but their performance comes with great rewards. The best of these students should be celebrated and losers given consolation prizes. Please revive the literary and debating societies (L&DS) in schools.
10. Parents and guardians also have a role to play in helping to restructure the broken educational system. They should provide the kids with the learning materials, monitor their studies, their coming in and going out. With these they will help in augmenting the efforts of the teachers in building up their kids. Discourage the idea of meeting teachers and examiners to make their kids pass exams. This is not helping in anyways.
11. Libraries and laboratories should be provided and they should be well equipped to provide students the opportunity to access books needed for their studies and for science students to put into practice what they have been taught. Computers should also be made available at a certain stage so that they too can match their peers in other parts of Africa for a start.
12. Students who perform extremely well in public exams should be given scholarship on the basis of merit and not as it is done under the current system of “Connectocracy” or “Partyism”. With these scholarships provided on a meritorious basis, performing and not connected students are rewarded forcing the latter to take their studies seriously.
13. Subjects in which students perform extremely well, the teacher(s) in charge of those subjects should be highly motivated. By so doing the tutors too will take their teaching job seriously.
14. The Anti-Corruption Commission should continue - and more seriously - to monitor examination bodies in schools and colleges, as well as in the public examination body. Public examination papers should be marked in a single hall where all the examiners meet and mark their papers without taking them to their homes. This should be done with the full supervision of a credible body.
15. The media and civil society can also play key roles in revamping the education system. The media should celebrate students who are performing well. These students should be given airtime on radio and television to share their success stories and the secret behind their success. This I strongly believe will serve as an inspiration to others. Civil society can come in to complement the effort of the government and teachers, with effective monitoring of teachers, students and the proper handling of school learning materials provided by the government or donors as it is being implemented in the free health care project. Education, like health, is important in the development of a nation. And must be treated as such.
(C) Politico 26/05/16