Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fallouts of the Eblola Crisis: Returning to school in Post Ebola Sierra Leone :


        Laughter perched on their faces,
        smiles brightened the corners of their eyes.
        With swinging steps and swaying paces
        clutching satchels, and bags and what-have-you,
                 They trudged on,
                            ...drove on
                          .... raced on.....
                       'Tis time for school once again.

The chirping was endless. Careful not to hold hands unnecessarily, they nonetheless told their stories with zest. Each had his or her own story to tell: Each with his group of friends. All you had to do was listen as some shouted above their voices and others laughed on. For school children of all ages in Sierra Leone, Tuesday 14th April was a welcome 'release'.
After almost 7 months away from school, and a hard to calculate degradation of Education in Sierra Leone, Schools were instructed to reopen by government on Tuesday April 14th, 2015. In an effort to encourage parents to send their children to school, government also announced it would pay the school fees of all children in government schools. But typical to Sierra Leone, the first week saw less than 50% return rate. However, one week on, the number of returning students and pupils doubled.

For many parents it was great joy that their children would begin the upward climb again -- to gain an education they so badly need. For others it was a blessing that Government had promised to pay the school fees of all students in all government schools.

For a few of us though, this was a 'red-flag'.

The intentions are no doubt noble, but the practicality of it bothers the thinking mind. With yawning gaps in the quality of the facilities and school assets and the salaries of teachers and education workers waiting to be serviced, and the unpaid subsidies to government schools, plus the many other commitments struggling the capture government's limited resources, one wonders if this good intention is not, in actuality, a recipe for disaster. A local newspaper reported an encounter in Bo, at the Methodist Primary School. One of the teachers could not help but say:

 "we have not received any subsidy from government for two terms now and yet government says we should not collect fees..." She left the sentence hanging. Her unspoken words painting a far more clear picture than any spoken words could have done.

It is an Igbo proverb that says: you look at the size of a child's hand before you cut Eba and put into it. Unfortunately for Sierra Leone, government is both the parent and the child in this instance.

While in Freetown many parents may indeed still keep their younger children in the non-government owned schools , knowing that these schools do provide a little more in terms of quality of education , parents in the provinces on the other hand, may decide to seize upon this goodwill gesture, and before you know it the schools may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of students turning up.

The bigger question however, is this : How does a government whose economy is in dire trouble, fund a project such as this ? Where will the money come from ? I must admit that NRA claims they have exceeded the projected target for the quarter, but I guess it is no secret that a number of very vital multinationals operating in the country have either scaled down considerably or closed shop.

Being the fourth month of the year it is quite certain that government did not provide for this expenditure in the 2015 appropriations. If indeed this government intends to open up the education space and offer more children the opportunity to access education would it not have been better to encourage truly international non-profit organizations to assimilate the fees for students as a direct responsibility, with a few select government schools(on a trial basis at first), so that government can free itself to attend to its obligation of providing quality facilities and assets for the schools under its care, as well as ensure that workers in the education sector receive their salaries and compensations as at when due without 'ifs or buts'. To develop such a plan of action would require detailed consultation and rigorous work with technocrats in Education from Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora as well as those at home and  in concert with International community.
                                                           ..... Victor Omotayo Sawyerr 21/04/2015

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