- Says Regina Fallah-Hausman, US based educationist
December 14, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
There have been growing concerns about the state of education in Sierra Leone; literacy rate is currently at an abysmal 48%, which is hardly adequate for a country serious about advancing human development. How can the government improve the quality and quantity of education? In this exclusive interview with Concord Times’ Gabriel Benjamin, Regina Fallah-Hausman, a United States of America-based Sierra Leonean educationist, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of A Place to Grow Educational Center, reflects on her upbringing in Bo, southern Sierra Leone, explains the underlying factors hampering progress in the education sector and describes an innovative approach, which, if implemented, could revolutionise the sector.
CT: What was growing up like for you?
I had a pretty moderate upbringing: good values, with loving family, and I was told that education was important.
CT: How would you describe your schooling back then in Sierra Leone?
I loved my high school experiences. I went to Queen of the Rosary School (QRS) in Bo. I had many friends. I would say that I was popular but in a subtle way. Most people considered me quiet and reserved. I often stayed home and read good novels.
CT: You are married with kids. How do you combine your work as a wife, mother, educationist and managing your organisation?
Very challenging! My kids get the brunt of it because I am unable to spend time with them even during holidays. Unfortunately I have to be on the go – doing my travels. Nonetheless, I have a very supporting husband, sister and in-laws who continue to help.
CT: Why do you have so much passion for education?
I am a born educationist. I simply love enlightening others about what I know. I find every opportunity to teach in a very playful way without people knowing that they are learning. For example, my children, everything that I do with them, they consider it fun, but they learn. I would walk with my then three-year old daughter and we will count the number of different coloured cars that pass by. In the meantime, she was learning her colors as well as her numbers.
CT: How will you assess Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola education sector?
I would say deplorable. This is saying it mildly. Children are at least three grades below their academic grade level on average. For example, I conducted an interview in Queen of Rosary School, the students in Senior Secondary School wrote an essay and I could barely read.
Some of the kids in Senior Secondary School, for example, when tested with simple math or reading, are at best, in Junior Secondary School levels. Many students in Senior Secondary School could not read a Junior Secondary School book. Some could not even recognize and know their alphabet sounds. It makes me feel sad. And if they are not taught the basics, they become frustrated and drop out because their families cannot afford to pay for continuous failures.
As far as qualified teachers, that’s even the saddest situation. I had a conversation with a Sierra Leonean teacher who could not construct grammatically correct sentences. I believe it has to start with a good teachers’ training.
What I have seen in schools is that children are taught rote learning; which means they memorise information and they really do not understand the concept. For example, the Junior Secondary School students can recite the alphabet and when you show them the letter (G- uppercase and lowercase) they can’t tell you it is “G”. And this goes for a majority of students across the school and even at university levels.
CT: You are in the USA as an educationist. What lessons have you learned that you will want to be replicated in Sierra Leone?
I would like a holistic approach to quality early childhood education curriculum. I would like to introduce the primary school level educational tablets; as we need to embrace the 21st century technology).
CT: How do the educational tablets work?
The educational tablets are ideal for children in primary schools because they can be used at home as they are solar powered. Children could have been learning in their homes during the Ebola crisis. These tablets have downloaded books, lessons, student work; they are interactive and have math, English, science and social studies on them. The educational tablet is very economical because each has Primary to Secondary school lessons on it so a family could use one for every child in all of the classes. While Sierra Leone education authorities didn’t show interest, other African nations such as Kenyan, Zambia, South Africa, and Liberia have embraced it.
CT: Did you try to work with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology?
An official of the Ministry of Education said they would let me meet the minister but that never happened. I also met with the Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Osmond Hanciles, who was receptive but couldn’t push the idea forward.
So for now, No! I have conceded and ventured out to other countries because they are reaching out for my service and not the other way around. But I would dream to help make education in Sierra Leone the way it should be. I truly believe that education is the only way out of our poverty.
CT: There are thousands of Ebola orphans in the country. What are you doing to support them?
I am not quite sure who is specifically an Ebola orphan at the Seventh Day Adventist School [It is actually quite a large populated school] that I am going to launch the educational tablets. But my efforts are not only to reach out to only Ebola orphans but to all deprived children in Sierra Leone, including the orphans of AIDS, Ebola and children from poor families.
I am scheduled to travel to Sierra Leone later in December with one of my partners from Zambia. We will be launching and piloting the educational tablets in a small school in Bo. Our pilot efforts will cover only two classrooms. We intend to monitor this innovation for one academic year.
CT: What are some of the challenges you and your partners have been facing specifically in Sierra Leone?
Politics everywhere! In the past three years, I have traveled to Sierra Leone at least three times per year trying to introduce my idea. No one listens to me. People in high positions do not even have the time to look at my idea. They think that I have money and so I need to lobby them to key into the idea. By the way, I first reached out to the Catholic Mission Schools because I wanted to pay back as I was educated in the Catholic school but politics played out there, and it never pulled through.
CT: What is the way forward?
I know that education needs to be improved so I am currently working in Kenya in partnership with three organizations. I was in Liberia and they are ready to collaborate. I would love to bring to Sierra Leone what I know best – quality and quantity education.