Successes and Challenges of the Free Quality Education after One Year of Implementation
The Free Quality Education is the flagship program of the New Direction government under the leadership of H.E Julius Maada Bio. During his first speech in the well of Parliament in 2018, president Bio clearly stated how the Free Quality Education will benefit over two million Sierra Leonean children from Pre- primary, junior and Senior Secondary School.
School going children from all classes in government and government assisted schools can gain free enrolment with yearly tuition paid and school learning materials provided. But after its first year in implementation, one major concern raised by many sierra Leoneans is that, was the Free Quality Education a success in its first year of existence within schools across the country?.
Reporter at I Rep Salone, Morlai Kargbo, takes an exclusive look into the challenges faced by this highly praised program aimed by the government to bridge the illiteracy gap in Sierra Leone and make learning a necessity for all.
The Free Quality Education was for sure welcomed by Sierra Leoneans with open hands despite few others who are at some points sceptical of it successful implementation.
Aimed to reduce the stressful burden on parents who hardly have the resources to send their children to school, the Free Quality Education was also met with numerous challenges which have been major concerns from parents, teachers, school authorities and civil society.
Though its was a welcoming news by Sierra Leoneans to be able to send their children to school costs free, the timing of it implementation was further questioned taking into consideration, the availability of adequate facilities by school authorities, the prompt provision of learning materials and thorough sorting out of teachers welfare – who are major players towards the implementation of the Free Quality Education in a limited time of under five months of the “New Direction Government”.
This first year of the free quality education was indeed met with inadequate learning facilities, late arrival of learning materials, ineffectiveness and ineptness of teachers performances.
The blame and counter blame game resurfaced as to who’s responsible for these alarming concerns which might dwarf the President’s intending longstanding legacy?.
Head of Finance, Admin and Program Support of the Education For All Sierra Leone Coalition – EFA, Augustine Kambo says, despite it is an over ambitious move then by the government, the Free Quality Education will be a success despite a gradual process that will take up to five years.
One key success achieved so far according to him was the recruitment of school supervisors to monitor learning within the protectorate and interior, a department which at then been understaffed.
The establishment of the Learning Assessment Unit for Basic and Senior Secondary was also a big boost to the implementation of the government’s flagship program.
He further highlighted key areas which are challenges if met by the government would make the Free Quality Education a success. The school feeding program he firstly mentioned, hasn’t taken a comprehensive kickoff though he did not denied the fact of its implementation, but questioned it consistency. The prompt response to teachers welfare he said, will enhanced the successful outcome of the Free Quality Education.
“Teachers must be given better conditions of service to keep them motivated in the classrooms” “The government should redirect investments towards teachers and provide more training for them”, he said.
Mr Kambo also said government and civil society should intensify monitoring on the free quality education the coming years to ensure it effectiveness. WASH facilities in schools were also concerns he said the government must address citing it hygienic effects on both boys and girls for a safe learning environment.
The Free Quality Education have been adjudged by different sects across the country with different perspective applauded by the lame man, with further more critics from others who think the loopholes created by its implementors threatens it survival.
According to the National Coordinator for the Civil Rights Coalition, Alphonso Manley, the Free Quality Education during its first year was faced with so many challenges that if not tackled, might threatened it successful implementation.
He said the Free Quality Education is a very good initiative by the government which will give unlimited access to education to Sierra Leonean children across the country, but has to be well supervised to meet it intended standards.
“The Free Education aspect have been achieved from government but thorough monitoring is needed to enhance its Quality”, he noted. He added that the first phase of the Free Quality Education which was the payment of tuition fees was quite successful, but questioned the delay in the provision of learning materials for pupils and teachers in the second phase.
“Effective monitoring should be mounted by government and Civil society organisations to ensure transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the process.
“Government must also ensure it does regular checking on headteachers and principals for the proper usage of the yearly subsidies given to them for the running of their schools”, he said
Alphonso Manley also questioned the availability of conducive learning facilities for children especially in the interior where he laments about the deplorable sitting conditions pupils are faced with.
“More learning infrastructures should be built by government to ensure proper sitting accommodation for pupils both in the western area and the interior”, he continued.
The side of the ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education is yet to be heard on the issues put forward as challenges by the above CSO’s on the Free Quality Education but government as manifested is continuing to show strong commitment to making it successful despite many Sierra Leoneans still have sceptical thoughts of it implementation.
By Morlai Kargbo