President Bio and his government promised to make education their central focus. While impressive progress has been made in the past three years, other promises look less likely to be achieved by 2023. For example, the New Direction promised to build 132 new Senior Secondary Schools equipped with a science lab, but as of now only one has been built, and another one is started in Kenema. In this article we are tracking a few of the promises made to education, and assess their level of completion.
New Direction Promise: “Promote development of child-friendly schools that will be provided with recreational facilities, toilet facilities and safe places in each district.”
State of completion: Promise in Progress, but challenges are many
The progress: Between 2018 and 2019 the total number of approved schools increased from 10,747 to 11,168. Of these, 13.8% are owned by the government, according to the 2019 School Census. David Sengeh, Minister at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), explained that the government created early childhood development (ECD) policies and built over 100 ECD classrooms with toilet facilities and access ramps for children with mobile disabilities. In 2020, the Minister said, MBSSE with partners built a total of 72 classrooms. MBSSE and Global Partnership for Education (GPE) built 30 preschools with 60 classrooms, recreational facilities, water wells and modern toilets. MBSSE and ORANGE built three preschools with three classrooms each with recreational facilities, water wells, water tanks, and three modern toilets. MBSSE and E-Learning built three preschool classrooms with recreational facilities, water wells, and two modern toilets.
According to Rugiatu Neneh Turay Koroma, founder and director of Amazonian Initiative Movement campaigning for the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the current government built several new schools in Port Loko, including the first-ever girls’ only secondary school. Mrs. Turay-Koroma and donors also built five schools, and are about to complete their sixth school. “I want to commend the efforts of Deputy Minister of Social Welfare; he has been very supportive in all we do.”
The challenges: The 2020 Service Delivery Index (SDI), highlighted that, “[d]espite substantive gains in school enrolment […], access and quality of education and healthcare remain a challenge particularly in remote regions.” Participants in the survey had challenges in access to textbooks and teaching and learning materials, lack of access to handwashing facilities, and almost 12% reported poor school access for children with disabilities.
The SDI, which was published in March 2021 by IGR, Oxfam and Global Partnership for Social Accountability, provides citizens’ feedback on the state of health and education in Sierra Leone.
New Direction Promise:“Build and support at least one primary school in every administrative section in every district, at least a Junior Secondary in every administrative chiefdom or electoral ward and at least a Senior Secondary School equipped with a science laboratory in every electoral constituency.”
State of completion: In progress, but efforts are too slow to complete by 2023
Sierra Leone has 190 administrative chiefdoms, 132 electoral constituencies and 446 wards, according to the National Electoral Commission. The government would have to build 132 Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) equipped with a science lab before 2023 to fulfill this promise.
The number of secondary schools increased from 581 in 2018, to 623 in 2019 due to MBSSE’s approval of a record number of existing schools to receive government support. Of these, only one was built since 2018, by Mercury International. Most of the current SSS schools don’t have a science lab. “It is surprising to know that nationally, only 2% of the schools in Sierra Leone reported having a science laboratory that is functional,” the 2019 Annual School Census noted.
Andrew Lavali, Executive Director for the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) agreed that President Bio may have overpromised. “When you overpromise, your economy heats up. There were many policy commitments that were made after elections, that were not included in the New Direction manifesto, that came with implications for budgetary commitments. And if you cannot afford that, what happens is you leave your fate in the hands of donors.”
New Direction Promise: “Construct student hostels for at least 500 pupils attending different schools in every district headquarter town and support schools with boarding facilities.”
State of completion: Stalled
This has not been started yet. No new student hostels were built by the current government, according to Amara Sowa, FQSE National Program Coordinator.
Access to secondary schools continues to be a challenge for pupils. An MBSSE study, published in December 2020, found that almost half of secondary school-aged pupils lived more than 3 miles away from a school. In total, 688,000 children ages 3-17, representing 26% of the total enrolled pupils, were living more than 3 miles away from a school.
New Direction Promise: “Establish at least one Functional Adult Literacy Centre using existing school facility in every chiefdom.”
State of completion: Promise Kept
According to MBSSE Minister, David Sengeh, there are 202 adult literacy centres, one in each chiefdom headquarter town. In addition, Minister Sengeh stated, 60 existing Community Learning Centres (CLC) received quarterly subventions until 2019. Information from the MBSSE’s Non-Formal Education (NFE) Directorate website indicates that as of July 2019 there were 30 formal schools hosting 30 Adult Literacy Centres (ALCs) in 13 districts with 1,666 adult learners enrolled in the 30 ALCs.
New Direction Promise: “Support special functional literacy programmes for women.”
State of completion: Promise kept
According to NFE’s website, as of July 2019 there were 59 CLCs in 53 chiefdoms to provide functional literacy and numeracy. A total of 2,590 adult learners were enrolled.
MBSSE also supported young girls who dropped out of school. For the 2018-2019 academic year, The Girls Access to Education and Services (GATES) for out-of-school girls supported 2,000 dropout girls. Of these, 1,253 returned to formal schooling.
Rugiatu Neneh Turay said that Sierra Leone has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and Bondo bushes, where girls are sometimes taken by force to be initiated, must be replaced by schools.
“Education for all, and radical inclusion [of girls] should mean, how do we bring in things that will change the way communities look at education. Most parents don’t see the need for education, they prefer sending their children into the secret society bushes. But when you have schools, [not Bondo bushes] people will pay attention to the education of their children. I think the MBSSE in their radical inclusion […] should also make sure they engage political leaders to ask them to stop building Bondo bushes. It will be better for politicians to build schools, not Bondo bushes,” Neneh said.