Free Education to be Launched on 20 August

18. 08. 03
posted by: Elias Bangura

The Parliamentary Committee on Education last Friday 27 July engaged the Ministry of Basic & Primary Education on its activities in relation to the free primary and secondary education, which has been scheduled to be launched on 20 August 2018.

  Chairman of the Committee, Hon Dominic Tschimbe, said he is pleased to welcome the Minister of Education and his officials to parliament, and requested an update on their work with regards the free education policy of the government.

  He said free education is the flagship program of President Bio's Government, so both the Committee and the Education Ministry has to come together to make sure that it becomes a success.

  "The Committee won't wait until projects are complete before it requests an update, rather it wants to be side by side during the implementation of the program," he said. "MPs should be included in almost all of your programs in the districts.

  "Also, we have perused your status report so far, and have found grey areas in it for which we want clarifications. And is there any regulation in relation to private schools, because the issue of them charging exorbitant fees is a cause of concern to this Committee.

"We really don't want this freed education policy to fail, therefore we will assist you in every front so that the nation will benefit in the end, as we have discovered that this free education is not an easy project at all - a lot needs to be done, and urgently too. We want your ministry to engage the Committee on all your projects even though Parliament will be going into recess soon, and as I have already stated that we are collectively responsible for this flagship program to succeed across the country, so we need to come together, to interact and share innovative ideas."

  Hon Dr Roland Kargbo, who was Deputy Chairman of the Education Committee in the last Parliament, said he is pleased to have the minister and his team here, along with the Teaching Service Commission. 

  "We don't want the last parliament to veil this new parliament and this Committee, as we had an unpleasant experience," he said. "All we want now is cooperation. I will only believe we will have a successful education when we have a separation in the education between primary and tertiary education. Before now, most of the investments on education had gone to the tertiary; hence we had a rotten and a low percentage of almost sixty-five percent illiteracy. What we need now is confidence building, and let us stop working behind each other's back but rather we should work side by side now."

  In her response, the Permanent Secretary, Nancy KS Tengbeh, thanked the Committee for inviting them to Parliament, adding that constructive engagement should be the way forward.

  She said the implementation aspect of the free education is on course, and a lot of structures has been set up and met already, including inter-ministerial and technical meetings, reports have been prepared too, and there are already on the ground 154 education ward committees, including the putting out of adverts for procurement of essential items and their provisions.

  The PS said fee subsidies meeting have also been held with the Ministry of Finance, so that monies come into the various school accounts before the re-opening of schools in September this year.

  "We have 245 vacancies to fulfill key areas to help the ministry and the free education to succeed, which behooves all of us to work together," she said.

  The Chief Education Officer, Dr Alhaji Kamara, added that indeed there has been serious erosion in our education, and thanked President Bio for the strong education he wants for every Sierra Leonean child.

  "We want to assure the Committee of our highest support, and to notify you that committees have been formed and meetings held and initial costing made for every item we would need in relation to the free education throughout the five years," he said. "On the area of private schools, an educational policy was made in 2010, and it covers the entire country, irrespective of the nature of the school, fees are supposed to be regulated by the minister."

  In her contribution, the Chairperson of the Teaching Service Commission, Dr Stanealla Beckley, said they are quite aware of the challenges before them with regards the free education, thus it is good that they all come together and work.

  "We are very encouraged by this minister for the engagement we now have with his ministry, because we have never been engaged before," she said. "Already, policies and standards for teachers, etc, have been drawn and will soon be actualized, for which we will need the Education Committee's support and parliamentary approval.

  "Now, we want to make our teachers accountable. And just like we have it with the Bar Association and the Medical and Dental Association we also want to have a Call to the Classroom. And I want to end by thanking President Bio for making all this possible because we have been talking about doing all this a long time ago, and it is only now that it is coming to fruition" she said.

  The Minister, Alpha Osman Timbo, in his response, said his Ministry has indeed had various engagements with relevant stakeholders, and they do consider the Education Committee as partners, and they are heartened by the words of the Chairman, because, collectively, they will all move forward.

  He thanked the former minister for the education status report that he met in the ministry, and since it is in line with the new government's education policy, they have gone ahead to work on the policy.

  The minister said that the important thing for the free education to succeed is to first of all set up the structure, which has already been done now.

  "The first layer of such a structure is to look at the school where we have the children," he said. "The pre-school is our first area of concentration, which starts at age three unto age five, then you enter primary one at age six - but it is only private schools that have had such a structure, and we are going to introduce it into the public school system, and have a coordinated curriculum for this category, so that we institutionalize the curriculum."

  "The second layer is the primary education which is Classes 1-6. Before now, we did not have a coordinated curriculum. At the moment, we are working on texts by Sierra Leonean and others authors, to produce works that would be used in September.

  "As for the junior secondary school, we have put the structures in place, including that of the senior secondary school. There's now a functional management committee - its composition and formulation will soon be gazetted."

  "Of course, for Boards of Governors of Secondary Schools, MPs should be a part of these committees in providing oversight. We want the political parties to have a representative each, (the National Grand Coalition NGC has completed their submission of members). We want the remainder political parties to also complete the submission of their members. The elected councilor is an automatic member, same for the ward committee. We think the district education committee too must have specific terms of reference, while we want the regional education boards to advise us on education and the National Board of Education to advise the minister," he said.

  Minister Timbo said there has to be amendments to the Education Act 2004, which will be brought to parliament for that purpose, and that there is already a termination of the 6-3-3-4 system, and the last batch of students will have a month tuition that starts in August, for which teachers will be paid for that extra work.

  He said there's been a pronouncement of the end of the two-shift school system, although some schools have challenges in that regard but they will be addressed, and will be allowed to operate the two-shift system for only 2018/2019 school year. Thereafter, the whole country will have a one-shift school system.

  "Now, SSS4 was really a disadvantage to us, compared to the region of Ghana and Liberia, with whom we share the West African Examination Council exams - but with its elimination, Sierra Leone is now at per with these countries," he said. "And I'm proud to report to this Committee that we have very competent people in the ministry, who are working diligently to see that we succeed.

  "And I want to also report to the Committee that our failure to incorporate WAEC in our planning was a challenge before but not anymore as we have brought them on board. So we have to pay attention to them now, so that we capacitate them, because we want to eliminate the issue of fake results, and to make the process robust and credible.

  "Finally, we are conducting social education across the country right now, for which we need the continual support of the Education Committee. President Bio said 20 August 2018 should be the day the free education is going to be launched, and we want to be ready by that date," he ended. 

Chairman Hon Dominic Tschimbe on behalf of the Education Committee thanked the minister for the update and their hard work, and promised the ministry their full support.

  He added that the fee subsidy of Le 10,000 per child is very minimal and should be increased, while public exams past papers should be published on WAEC's website, along with model answers to certain questions because there is often no correlation to certain definitions that students provide.

  "And, we want to be meeting with you more frequently: please involve us in all meetings so that we have better fruitful deliberations together," Hon Tschimbe concluded.