On my recent trip to Salone (by the way when are we going to change our colonial name – Sierra Leone to something indigenous) I came across countless sorry scenes of despair and outright disregard for basic rights of the Wretched of the Earth especially among the youths. Issues that deserve attention at the highest level of the country’s leadership are swept deep under the filthy red carpets of state house and parliament building. On a daily basis I witnessed the struggles of ordinary young people battling to make their way through a society that sees no good in the abilities and future of the young. Despite the occasional lip service statements of goodwill from the ruling elites, what I saw in the majority youths was despair and desolation.
Certain questions have always occupied my mind: why is it that young people have to endure blood sweat and tears and sheer hassle to get an education? What will a teacher gain if their students are unsuccessful? I would think that every teacher wants to see their student’s blossom and contribute to the advancement of society. But in Sierra Leone I think the reverse is the case. Most teachers/lecturers seem to have an avowed aim of stifling the growth of their students.
I am saying this because I came across a group of students who are so frustrated, shattered and rightly feels that there is nothing in the Sierra Leonean society that makes them feel proud to ‘belong’.
These students are calling for the radical reform of the examination system in Sierra Leone which I think is justifiable given the low level of successful students from our School of Medicine.
College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) is notorious for an archaic and obnoxious exams system that has wrecked the ambitions and prospects of many young people who want to become doctors highly needed in the world’s worst place to live, with life expectancy placed at ’41 `whilst say Jamaica, with far less natural resources can boast of a life expectancy of ’70` according to UN figures.
COMAHS students have decried among other things the harsh policy of referral in the college. “If you have below 40% in one subject you are asked to reseat the whole exam instead of just one” a year three student said to me. If you are referred in two subjects you are withdrawn from the course all together”, the student, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal action by the university administration said.
“Some of our friends who left mid-way through the course to study abroad, have returned with their qualifications, whilst we are subjected to frustrating measures and debilitating education structure in COMAHS”
It is clear that the lecturers at the university, like most of our university campuses, are bent on stifling the growth and achievement of their students not the other way round helping to train the next generation of Sierra Leoneans.
Authoritarian university administrations abound in Sierra Leone, from FBC to Njala University meaning that students are stifled instead of developed. Students have no rights and no channel of complaints against nefarious and unscrupulous lecturers. This backward mentality must be challenged because it will take Sierra Leone nowhere.
Another sickening thing that’s happening is that the exams are set not to allow for breathing space thereby causing “too many casualties”. Ali said, “we are overloaded so much that we take exams everyday from morning to evening so that there is no breathing space to revise and catch up with areas that we are weak in” One of the COMHAS students told me amidst clear signs of frustration in his voice.
But the unfair examination system is not the only “disgruntlement” they harbour. The students say that the courses are not coordinated properly. Sometimes two lecturers are assigned to one module and most times they work separately causing immense confusion and problems for the learners. Consequently, there is duplicity of topics as well as disjointed approach which makes it difficult to grasp the topics. “……..one topic should smoothly lead to another. But this is not the case here…one lecturer will start with topic A and
the other one starts topic 10…this makes it difficult to follow as you lose touch and can’t grasp topic 10 because you need to understand topics 8 and 9 first…” another student who seems the quietest said.
In some cases, the students assert, that lecturers are just interested in finishing the outlined topics “…instead of thoroughly going through a particular topic from the syllabus, sometimes they declare a topic ‘covered’ even though they have only asked a student to make a class presentation on it”. There is no coverage of this topic and a clear lack of continuity.
It is easy to see the despair and abandonment of the students in this case. When there is no accountability measures within the university where lecturers will be made to account for poor delivery or failing to bring the students to accepted standard. It is also worth noting that the education system is not (yet) free, most times working families have to drain all their resources in order to pay incredibly high fees (unjustifiably so) to fund their children’s education only for those kids to be frustrated and treated as though they are begging for services. Some of the courses cost up to Le 4.5 million per year. How many families can afford that? Only the ‘anyampie families’ can, those who are honestly toiling on a daily basis can hardly afford that.
This also brings me to the question of the withdrawal of grants to the students by the APC government. Grants administered to learners by the previous government were withdrawn by the current government administration without the knowledge or consultation of the students. Lecturers as well as college administration saw fit to withhold student’s results as a direct consequence of that decision.
First and foremost, I think education should be made free for everyone up to university level. The claim by the World Bank and their local surrogates that what we need in Africa and Sierra Leone is ‘basic education’ is not only insulting and deplorable, it is also preposterous. How can a nation develop without solid education? How can Sierra Leone lift its people out of illiteracy and poverty (induced by IMF and World Bank neoliberalism) without the development of vital personnel such as medical professionals?
The worst situation of all is that the students are not allowed to see their grades at all. This makes it even difficult to know why they were referred. They don’t show us our grades” the students say. This is most unfair and tantamount to bullying. It seems the case that universities in Sierra Leone are still stuck in the ancient regime, when education is a privilege not a right.
As a people we have to learn that there is no magic bullet of building a new society. People have to feel as real citizens who ‘belong’ to something and are willing to serve it and ultimately defend it. This does not come by conjuring juju or witchcraft, or shooting people with witch guns at Upgun roundabout, as some of our people think. A new society based on social justice for all has to be planned with education at the core. Education is certainly one key route out of backwardness and World Bank induced poverty in Salone. Fighting for a more transparent and improved quality education in our country should be part of the struggle for social justice in Sierra Leone and also part of struggle by the Wretched of the Earth to better their lives and those of their children. It is a just struggle for NUSS and various Students to take up to the last end.
Our ruling class is prepared to sell our natural resources (rutile, bauxite and diamonds) for pittance to foreign multi-nationals in the name of free market privatisation, than use these resources for free education and health care for our people. These are all part of the struggle we are ensconced within and struggles we will overcome with decent education for all and knowledge to develop into the country we can be.
Karim Bah is a Pan-African community activist with PANAFU and various Pan-Africanist and civil society groups in Salone and UK. Was head of Youth Empowerment programme with Sierra Leonean civil society group, Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD). Karim also worked with For Di People and Democrat newspapers as news reporter and later Sub-editor. Karim is currently a communication practitioner and youth leadership trainer also currently researching and promoting the concept – African Centred Transformational Youth Leadership Training whilst working on the film
By Karim Bah