There’s an old saying that goes, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach that man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
The message behind the phrase is simple: education is the greatest gift a person can receive. If you teach a man how to think, you teach him how to live. A proper education provides the gift of critical thinking the ability to look at the world around you through a lens that exposes fiction among fact, the lies among the truths. Without that proper education, a man exposes himself to trickery and deceit. With it, he will have the tools to pull back the shrouds of mystery that engulf all of us.
This is why I feel a free public education is the most important gift a government can give its people. In fact, it shouldn’t be a gift; it should be a responsibility. Only an educated citizenry can truly participate in democracy. With the ability to think critically, an individual can more accurately decipher which promises made to him can actually be followed through; he can begin to truly know which promises are empty and which actually have potential to become reality.
By providing free primary school to all children and free secondary school to women, Sierra Leone has taken substantial steps in this sphere – certainly larger steps than some other developing nations. But there is always more to be done, and it is the opinion of this author that if the Sierra Leonean government truly wants an informed and developed citizenry, education must become a primary objective.
Take the mining sector for example. A few days ago I was fortunate enough to attend a Parliamentary meeting at which members voted to ratify a law that would allocate a development grant to fortify the mining sector and educate the public in skills necessary to work within it. The reason for this is simple: because Sierra Leoneans lack the training necessary to work in the industry, foreign mining companies have been using foreign employees to work the domestic mining operations that should be operated by domestic workers. It’s not out of a vindictive nature that these companies are bringing in their own; it’s just that the resources they need are not currently available within the current Sierra Leonean workforce.
And how are those resources made available? The same way that a foreign mining company can be turned into a Sierra Leonean employer: proper education. Parliament recognizes this and has taken the first steps to ratifying a solution. But the fact of the matter is that this country needs that proper education in more spheres than just the mining industry.
In Sierra Leone, the literacy rate currently hangs at around 40 per cent, maybe even less. Regardless of what the precise figure is, one thing remains certain: this is far from unacceptable. As important as industry is, the education of its people must be a government’s highest priority. Once the literacy rate of a developed nation is achieved, all the rest of the dominoes will fall into place. Innovation will become the norm rather than the exception, creativity will overtake dependency, and the people of Salone will hold in their hearts the mental resources that companies are looking elsewhere for. There will no longer be a need to outsource employment because everything an employer would be looking for would be found right here, in Sierra Leone.
But all the responsibility cannot be placed solely on the government either; education is something that can also be furthered on the ground. Cooperation on part of the citizenry is of equal importance to state enforcement.
For example, you may have noticed the convoy carrying the wife of the US Vice President, Dr. Jill Biden, traveling through town Monday. She was here finishing up a three-country tour of Africa in which she urged girls to finish secondary school. Because just having the opportunity to acquire an education isn’t enough; the students themselves must push through whatever obstacles and social pressures stand in front of them in the extremely important quest for knowledge. This goes for both men and women equally, but they won’t be able to do it without encouragement from the people around them.
There needs to be a revolution of thought in Sierra Leone. We need to start recognizing the importance of an adequate education not just for the sake of employment, but for the sake of logic, creativity, better lives and a better country. There are many steps that must be taken, but as long as we all have our sights set on the same goal, nothing is impossible.
Development is only the first step. With the power of knowledge, the entire world is at our fingertips. Let’s go out and get it.
Wednesday July 08, 2014