What has happened to the education system in this country and for the purpose of this letter, higher education? I am a British born Sierra Leonean, partly educated in Freetown. I am now a lecturer in the UK. I would like to start by asking several poignant questions; in particular what is the job of an educator? How does an educator encourage and support students to learn? Who decides what is quality teaching and fairness in marking? Who are your teachers / lecturers / professors accountable to? My concerns will become apparent as I progress during the course of this letter;
As an educational professional, I am very concerned about a system I found so in need of committed and new professionals, who need nurturing and encouragement to thrive and succeed but are met with punitive obstacles because they have weaknesses in certain aspects of their chosen pathways.
As teachers/lecturers, our value is to encourage and offer all the support necessary to enable students to succeed. During the course of what is commonly termed the First degree, learners who unfortunately have one or two referrals are allowed to resit the referrals with encouragement, feedback and support to progress to the next level. It is usual for a learner with that support to progress; a referral is what it is and does not warrant the expenditure of resitting a whole academic year as is the practice in Sierra Leone. In my area of work and through out the course of a degree or any other course of study, the learner, without prejudice is offered as much support to succeed.
I find it rather puzzling that educationists in a country, so unfairly ravaged by ill-advised rebels who then wreaked havoc on the fundamental tenets of a civilised society, can be so mercenary and draconian towards learners whose access to education has been so damaged and disaffected.
The fundamental concerns of this education system.
Please enlighten me as to what checks you have for the professionals who are employed in your higher education institutions (once the envy of West Africa) as to the quality of their delivery of teaching after qualification.
In my experience in the UK and elsewhere, every teacher imparting knowledge onto learners are subjected to rigorous checks and observation on a yearly basis to ensure the quality of learning meets a certain standard and codes of practice. Every teacher is graded within a rating of 1- 4, one being outstanding, four being unsatisfactory. So the onus in on the lecturer to ensure learning and understanding of lessons are met and understood by all present in the lessons. A teacher’s success is based on results and achievement, if students are not achieving, it directly reflects on the effectiveness of the teaching. The minister and his education officials needs to answer these questions and also the opening questions contained in this piece. If students underachieve who is in the firing line? Who is accountable?
If a country with so many impressionable minds, waiting to be nurtured, to be filled with knowledge and skills, curiosity and engagement can only produce a few medical graduates and so many failures, who is accountable? How can this happen? Who delivers? How does delivery take place? What resources and styles are used to deliver to learners who have been so let down by a previous system which downgraded education in favour of brutality?
I bring this to your attention because I am aware of medical students who against all odds kept the momentum of education going. These odds included lack of resources, lack of facilities, electricity and some of the external support needed. However, for a referral in one or two subjects were so severely penalised by the medical school and are not allowed to return to the university to finish their studies. Whilst, other students in the same faculty and year as these students, who were fortunate to leave the country and continue their studies elsewhere have now qualified and started practicing medicine.
The parents (of these failed and referred medical students) have made enormous sacrifices to ensure the education of their children was paramount to the family machinery; paying exorbitant fees through out. These students ‘failed’ (a word I use advisedly) to get the required grade for one or two subjects have been so severely penalised. These young people have lost all hope of pursuing their dreams to become medics and make a worthwhile contribution to their country and society. Is this fair in the face of what the country has been through and what it presently needs?
To get this country and the education back on par with the neighbouring countries, learners need to be encouraged to learn without prejudice. Lecturer’s ability and style of delivery needs to be under scrutiny and constant evaluation to keep them in check and to enable the learners to achieve. Exam sat, should be marked within a timely manner and moderated to give a more objective rating to the students’ efforts and to standardise quality and expectations in results.
The governments desire to entice Sierra Leonean professionals in the Diaspora to return to these shores will not happen if the education system is punitive and unfair. Professionals in any sphere are accustomed to fairer treatment and systems of redress if there is a smidgen of unfair practice. If unfairness is rampant and there is no fair system of redress, we will not return and if we do there will be a mass exodus returning to ‘their’ foreign lands. We have laws that protect us as lecturers from unfair treatment in the western world and whilst it may not be perfect, it is nevertheless a safety net and protection if any untoward circumstances occur. Learners also need this level of protection, as they are our country’s future.
I urge you to look at the case of these particular students from The College of Medicine whose lives have been blighted, whose dreams have abruptly come to an end. The professionals of the future that the country so desperately needs, who are being buffered out by the last of the vestiges so desperately clinging to archaic regime to keep the future of the country miles away from where it should be; whilst other countries encourage their learners to learn from the existing masters and progress further to make the country the envy of others with its research and cutting edge innovations of the future. A referral is what it is, it calls for feedback and support for the student to address their weaknesses not for unscrupulous lecturers to use this to bully, bribe and shatter the confidence of learners.
Finally, education is a right in whatever community or country we inhabit. Knowledge is passed down and shared with the next generation. Learners need to gain knowledge from lecturers and develop their skills in line with demands of the society. Penalties have no place in the education process and should never be used as a deterrent to control and stifle the progress of learners.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend the following:
•The education ministry needs to set up a system in which quality checks are made on the performance of lecturers and teachers
•That success of lectures and teachers is measured by the achievement of their students.
•To stop bullying and discriminatory practices in educational institutions
•Any lecturer or teacher caught taking any kind of payments must be suspended pending thorough investigations.
•To review the results of all unsuccessful medical students in the last five years and allow them to resit only the modules they “failed” without any extra cost to them and their families or pass those students who have been unfairly marked or penalised.
•Students must sit only the modules they were referred for, and all extenuating circumstances must be considered (e.g. loss of family members, financial constraints, illness and accommodation etc), at no extra cost.
•All exams should be marked within a time frame of six-eight weeks after sitting to give students the opportunity to resit any referrals with a view of joining students in the next academic year.
By M Clarkson.