No matter which angle you look at it, it is universally acknowledged that education is very fundamental for any country’s development, recognition, relevance and survival.
Unfortunately, somehow most times, it is education that bears the brunt of the ineptitude and mediocrity of other sectors. The recent unleash of Ebola and the subsequent closure of schools in Kailahun District is a case in point.
No doubt, the whole Ebola thing is a big dilemma. We know that there had been survivors but at the same time we are told that our strain of Ebola is the deadliest. Let us look at how Ebola has now affected education in the whole country.
I have been thinking a lot about the educational future of the kids especially in Kailahun District which now seems overwhelmed by the Ebola menace.
Many compatriots have the opinion that a national state of Health Emergency should be declared.
This in itself might not stop the disease but at least will allow government to take stricter measures to contain its spread. I am reminded that there is a regulation that can be used to take the same action. Perhaps it is in line with this that government recently closed all schools in the Kailahun District apparently to minimize movement and gathering of people in large numbers. This is all in place. However, on the other side, the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) has been postponed rather indefinitely until schools in Kailahun district can re-open. One big lesson is learned here and that is that what affects one part of the country affects the whole country.
Obviously, the rest of the country cannot take one exam and those in Kailahun district takes theirs at another date as the questions are the same. Do you see the point?
We are caught between the rock and a hard place. It is indeed a dilemma.
This same year, some 3,000 pupils were barred from taking the WASSCE because they had not passed the BECE and yet were allowed to proceed to the Senior School.
The next scandal was that schools had been collecting school subsidies for pupils who were not entitled to.
This has cost government a whopping 20 billion Leones in five years, according to a research done by a Governance outfit.
Now let us revisit the introductory paragraph to the 2010 Education Act. It says The Government of Sierra Leone is conscious of and committed to meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century, and education is a key tool to addressing them. Among these is the challenge of change technological, social, economic and cultural. One of the purposes of education is to prepare the individual to adapt to and manage change. The type of education which equips the individual with knowledge, skills, positive attitudes and values is determined by education policy; policy on what is taught and learned, the processes of teaching and learning, and the modes of assessing learning”.
One of the recommendations of the Gbamanja Commission of Enquiry into the poor performance of our pupils says: The timing of the BECE examination should be reviewed. The examination should be scheduled earlier to reduce the time lost for non-examinees many of whom have to stay away from school to make room for the examinees. It is common knowledge that many schools cease to function during the BECE. Early scheduling of the examination therefore would mean early release of the results, thus minimizing the time lost during the long wait for the results especially for those who would be transiting to senior secondary schools or to other paths of learning outside the mainstream formal system.
We all know that the challenge of late results occasioned by rather late exams is still with us. Whatever is responsible for this is now being complicated by Mr. Ebola. So basically what we are saying here is that if the exams are taken very late, then our kids will not start senior school in time. This is worrying, isn’t it? There are some questions we need to ask. One is what if the Ebola menace does not subside for another couple of months?
Tell me, can’t we on the other hand take the risk and conduct the exams with minimal Ebola threat? Can we move the kids to nearest safer places and get them to take the exams? This of course will have cost and security implications but life is actually full of risks.
Another alternative is other areas in the country take the exams excluding Kailahun district, meaning they lose a whole year. Well, these are all difficult scenarios.
The difference here with the war years was that only the affected areas really lost education.
I can remember most schools in Freetown were running, while the rebels ravaged the country- side. Well this time round it seems all for one and one for all.
Of all the scenarios, I think the best could be moving the kids out and letting them take the exams in safer environments. Do not ask me which the safe environments are. . This whole thing boils down to the gross depravity that many parts of the countryside suffer.
Most of these remote areas do not have even half the complement of the teachers they need.
Very soon Schools will close for the long vacation and that means, even if we get over the Ebola, the kids will not take the exams before say September. This means we will not expect the results in time for schools to re-open except of course the re-opening of schools itself is also delayed. Do you see some knock on effects seeming to emerge over this whole issue? In all this, I think some decision needs to be taken. Let us not bank on something we have no control over. No one can tell us when we can say the Ebola menace is over. What is certain now is that the kids can be moved to other areas for the exams.
We can do this and put this exam thing behind our back and give parents the much- needed relief.
Pupils of this nation and even students, go through a whole lot of rigors of academia.
While we thank the Government and humanitarian bodies for the support to contain Ebola, let the government find a way out of the BECE exams.
As they say, the sin of omission is graver than the sin of commission. Do something now Papa Guament, for our kids.
By Ben Cambayma
Thursday July 10, 2014