December 5, 2017 By Joseph S. Margai
The European Union (EU) and Bonthe District Council (BonDC) last Friday (1st December) commissioned a rehabilitated girls’ boarding home at the Centennial Secondary School in Mattru, Jong Chiefdom, Bonthe District, Southern Sierra Leone.
Centennial Secondary School was established by late Dr. Earl Dewitt Baker in 1955.The boarding home was functional until 2004 when pupils were asked out because it was in a very bad shape.
Giving the overview of the project, BonDC-EU funded Project Coordinator, Franklyn Alex Belmoh, said the 2015 annual district education report revealed an urgent need to upgrade education as 55% of teachers were untrained and unqualified, while 45% of schools do not have permanent physical structures .
“70% or 160 primary schools do not have access to drinking water. For the 68 schools that have access to drinking water, only 16 schools have source of drinking water in their respective school compounds,” he said and added that 152 primary schools do not have toilet facilities.
The teacher/pupil ratio was estimated at 97.1, while it was reported to be the second highest in the country, but ironically, Bonthe District has one of the world’s largest deposits of titanium ore (rutile).
“To address these challenges, BonDC under the leadership of Madam Rita Ngadie Savage, wrote a proposal in line with the EU call for proposal 2015 and secured funding to implement the project titled: “Achieving Universal Primary Education by Strengthening Education System Management in Bonthe District.’ The overall objective was to contribute to the achievement of quality primary education for all, especially girls, in line with the Agenda for Prosperity 2013-2018, the Education Sector Plan 2014-2018, EU’s Policy on Education and the National Indicative Programme Sierra Leone 2014-2020,” he explained.
He said the project commenced in October 2016 and that they were able to conduct capacity building training for council’s staff, District Education Office (DEO), councilors, ward development committee members, institutional support and capacity building training for DEO in Bonthe District to scale up supportive monitoring and supervision, training of steering committees, school management committees (SMCs) and Community Teachers Associations (CTA’s) on equitable and quality educational standards, developing linkage with Teacher Training Colleges (TTC) and training of untrained and unqualified teachers on Lesson Plan Manual, among others.
“Under this project, we rehabilitated the Centennial Secondary School and boarding home for girls, District Education Committee (DEC) Primary School in Mania in the Sittia Chiefdom, United Brethren in Christ (UBC( Primary School in Gendema, Roman Catholic (RC) Primary School in Kaleh, and the provision of WASH facilities,” he added.
He said girls who use the boarding home would be guaranteed reliable monitoring, regular and supervised study time at night, well-balanced diet, and spiritual emphasis for character and moral development.
He said since the closure of the boarding home most of the girls who stayed in town for schooling declined in their academic performance, coupled with an increase in immoral behaviour, high dropout rate, teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
He maintained that the rehabilitation of the dormitory would ensure a record improvement in quality of girl child education, reduced teenage pregnancy, and requisite and conducive learning environment for girl child education.
EU Team Leader on Governance and Civil Society, Sven Ruesch, said a year ago the former head of EU delegation launched the project in Mattru, adding that since then there had been massive achievement in the implementation of the project.
“Working with local authorities is an integral part of the EU in Sierra Leone as decentralisation allows people to actively participate in their own development. It lays the foundation for improved capability in governance, and has for more than a decade now ensured local ownership of development,” he said.
Mr. Ruesch revealed that in tandem with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the EU has started a twenty-nine million Euro (€29m) programme which focuses on four thematic areas – strengthening the education sector to improve primary school teaching and learning; management and delivery of technical and vocational education; and improve equitable access to secondary education with particular focus on girls.
“Our focus on education will continue as we are calling on civil society organisations and local authorities to submit proposals in the area of education and gender equality,” he urged.
He said the commissioning of the boarding home was convincing evidence of what could be achieved when different actors in the community work together.
“It is expected that other districts will follow the examples of Bonthe in implementing such project,” he said, urging users to put efforts in place in order to maintain the rehabilitated structures.
BonDC Chairperson, Rita Ngadie Savage, said when she took over five years ago she prioritised education, fiscal discipline, health, among other areas.
She recalled that prior to her election in 2012, pupils in some schools were not writing the National Primary School Examinations (NPSE), while most schools were being run from under trees, in churches and mosques.
She added that there was poor health infrastructure coupled with the lack of roads maintenance, adding that the district is better placed at present under her leadership than any moment since the re-introduction of decentralisation in Sierra Leone.
She said there had been continuous reforms in education in the district, particularly for the girl child, noting that BonDC has been providing transportation, accommodation and feeding to out-station NPSE pupils and that best performing pupils in public examinations have been awarded scholarships.
“The Centennial Secondary school is a proud testament in the fulfillment of my promise, and the school is a symbol of hope to our pupils particularly the girls,” she said.