By Morlai Kargbo
The Free Quality School Education (FQSE) programe, the flagship program of the New Direction government under the leadership of H.E Julius Maada Bio, hailed by many Sierra Leoneans after the President declared in his first speech in the well of Parliament in 2018, that it will benefit over two million Sierra Leonean children from Pre- primary, junior and Senior Secondary School and school going children from all classes in government and government assisted schools can gain free enrollment with yearly tuition paid and school learning materials provided, has been referred to by Civil Society actors and members of the public as being poorly implemented and may not reflect the President’s vision if not checked.
One year down the line, one major concern that is being raised by many Sierra Leoneans is that, was the Free Quality Education a success in its first year of existence within schools across the country? It must be said that many Sierra Leoneans welcomed the initiative with open hands but a lot more have remained skeptical about its successful implementation and this may be related to a number of factors.
Though many Sierra Leoneans welcomed the opportunity to be able to send their children to school, free of costs, the timing of the implementation of the FQSE was further questioned, taking into consideration, the availability of adequate facilities, the prompt provision of learning materials and thorough sorting out of teacher’s welfare – who are major players in the implementation of the Free Quality Education, in a limited time of under five months of the “New Direction Government”.
NewsWatch spoke exclusively to two Civil Society Activists working in the Education sector about what they thought about the emerging issues.
Head of Finance, Admin and Program Support of the Education For All Sierra Leone Coalition – EFA, Augustine Kambo says, despite it was a bit of an over ambitious move by the government, the Free Quality Education will be a success despite a gradual process that will take up to five years.
One key success achieved so far, according to Augustine Kambo, is the recruitment of school supervisors to monitor learning in all regions in the interior, a department which he said, had been grossly understaffed. He also mentioned the establishment of the Learning Assessment Unit for Basic and Senior Secondary as a big boost to the implementation of the government’s flagship program.
On the key challenges, Mr. Kambo highlighted the school feeding program as one that has not taken a comprehensive kick-off. He said he praises the effort but questions its consistency.
‘The prompt response to teachers’ welfare” he said, “will enhance the successful outcome of the Free Quality Education. Teachers must be given better conditions of service to keep them motivated in the classrooms. The government should redirect investments towards teachers and provide more training for them” he continued.
Mr Kambo also said government and civil society should intensify monitoring on the free quality education in the coming years to ensure it effectiveness. WASH facilities in schools were also concerns he said the government must address, citing its hygienic effects on both boys and girls for a safe learning environment.
According to the National Coordinator for the Civil Rights Coalition, Alphonso Manley, the FQSE and its implementation so far is fraught with many challenges and if they are not tackled in time, might threaten its successful implementation.
He said the Free Quality Education is a very good initiative by the government which will give unlimited access to education to Sierra Leonean children across the country, but has to be well supervised to meet its intended standards.
“The Free Education aspect has been achieved but thorough monitoring is needed to enhance its Quality”, he noted. He added that the first phase of the Free Quality Education which was the payment of tuition fees was quite successful, but questioned the delay in the provision of learning materials for pupils and teachers in the second phase.
“Effective monitoring should be mounted by government and Civil society organizations to ensure transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the process. Government must also ensure it does regular checking on head teachers and principals for the proper usage of the yearly subsidies given to them for the running of their schools” he said.
Alphonso Manley also questioned the availability of conducive learning facilities for children especially in the interior where he said most of the schools are still in very deplorable conditions.
“More learning infrastructure should be built by government to ensure proper sitting accommodation for pupils both in the western area and in the interior” he affirmed.
NewsWatch tried to get the side of the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education on the issues put forward but is yet to be granted audience. Nevertheless, we will endeavor to bring out the side of the Ministry in due course.