Four years of Free Quality Education:

David Monina Sengeh

-Govt. paid over Le500 billion tuition fees

-Paid over Le 200 billion examinations fees

-Procured over Le33 billion civic books

The Free Quality Education which is the flagship programme of the New Direction administration launched on August 20, 2018, has clocked four years, and according to the Ministry of Education, government has spent huge quantum of money to ensure the programme becomes a success.

Addressing journalists at their New England Ville office, National Coordinator of the Free Quality Education programme, Amara  said since the inception  of the FQE in 2018, government has paid Le.516,048,912,600 as tuition fees, Le. 276,131,565,000 as examinations fees, Le 33,624,547,819 to procure civic books, Le. 163,628,722,094 to procure text books for core subjects,and procured 106,041,645,000 worth of   Teaching and Learning Materials.

He recalled on the launch of the FQSE on the 20th of August 2018 by President Julius Maada Bio and that the scheme was predicated on the need to reverse the slump in the standard of education that had riddled the country over the past decade and to pre-position the country to attain Sustainable Development Goal 4.

“The FQSE Programme seeks to increase access to quality education by providing a positive and conducive learning environment for school-going children under the supervision of trained and qualified teachers with adequate teaching and learning resources,” he said.

Cited the packages in the scheme including the payment of school and admission fees from Pre-school to Senior Secondary School for pupils in Government and Government assisted schools, payment of examination fees for pupils taking public exams (NPSE, BECE and WASSCE),provision of textbooks in core subjects, provision of teaching and learning materials including exercise books, and provision of School Feeding to deprived communities across the country.

“All these provisions were aimed at boosting enrolment and invariably improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Since the launch, Government has through the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, implemented activities in tandem with the Manifesto promise and the President’s declaration,” he said.

He said since the launch of the FQSE, Lesson Plan Manuals for the Teaching of English and Maths have been supplied to all schools through the “Leh Wi Lan” Project,Le 3 billion was provided to 150 schools across the country for the fabrication of furniture for some overcrowded schools when the FQSE was launched.

He said government and its partners have rehabilitated and/or constructed schools and classrooms and that with funds from IDB, three hundred and thirty five additional classrooms have been constructed in existing schools.

He said the scheme is on the verge of constructing 100 classrooms and that Global Partnership for Education has constructed 30 blocks of 2 classrooms for each block totaling 60 classrooms in Pujehun, Bombali and Kambia Districts.

“The Japanese Government also supported the construction of three Early Child Development centers in Moyamba and Bombali. Mercury has constructed an ultra-modern girls secondary school and an Early Childhood Development center in Port Loko and  Moyamba Districts respectively.Orange Sierra Leone has also constructed 3 Early Childhood Development Centres in Pujehun, Moyamba and Kambia.The European Union also rehabilitated 100 Junior Secondary Schools in Bombali, Portloko, Bo and Kenema.Construction/rehabilitation of four government schools – Prince of Wales, Government secondary school Magburaka, Bo school, Government secondary school Kenema due to start in October 2022,” he disclosed.

He said since the launch of the FQSE, more than four thousand schools have been approved across the country and that 160 School Quality Assurance Officers have been recruited, equipped and deployed across the country The Ministry has established NPSE Centers in all chiefdoms across the country.

“NPSE Centres are established in all chiefdoms across the country.Through the Teaching Service Commission Government has recruited and replaced 10,878 teachers from 2018-2022.From 2018-2022 Government has reassessed 5,251 teachers. In 2022, 711 retirees were replaced. An Increase in salary was made for teachers in January 2019, 10% transport allowance was paid to teachers from grade 1 to 6 and another 30% increment in salary was paid in April, 2020 to all teachers in government and government assisted school nationwide. Negotiations with SLTU in 2022 resulting in increase of 45% over a period of 3 years commencing January, 2022.Collective agreement signed effective:  2022 – 2025.”

 In the area of policy formulation and implementation, he said a comprehensive Situational Analysis of Teachers and the Teaching Profession in Sierra Leone has been established,established  professional Standards for Teachers, and formulated National Teacher Management Policies ( Viz: Policy on: Registration and Licensing, Teacher Management, Teacher Professional Development, Teacher – Employer Relations).

The FQSE coordinator said government in collaboration with partners has expanded the scope of school feeding from 5 to 14 chiefdoms across the country since 2018.

“In 2018, 105,000 pupils were benefiting from school feeding, this was increased to 137,000 in 2019. In 2020 the target beneficiary figures increased to 435,000 and in 2021 it was 640,000. This gives us over a 315% increase in the number of children fed since 2018.Based on this trajectory we are projecting that by September 2022 we will be feeding 818,624 children nationwide,” he said.

He cited the development of the Radical Inclusion Policy,School Catchment Area Policy,Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy,School Feeding Policy,Teacher Management Policy,Teacher Development and Performance Policy and the Teacher Registration and licensing.

“Additionally Government has provided school buses across the country to help ease transportation of pupils to school and help reduce lateness and absenteeism. MBSSE has also introduced technology in its education transformation drive: We have the online dictionary, the results checker. We have digitized data collection during the Annual School Census and school feeding assessments. The One tablet per school initiative is being implemented and all senior secondary schools have been provided a tablet. The Learning Passport is a platform where students can access past questions papers, syllabuses and other learning materials. The Ministry is also implementing the Radio Teaching  Programme.”

He said to restore integrity and sanity in our education, MBSSE has since 2019 focused on reducing examinations malpractice and irregularities.

He said since 2018 total enrolment has increased by about 37%- 55% in pre-primary, 29% in primary, 48% in JSS and 55% in SSS with improvement in  General improvement in enrolment gender equity- in pre-primary to JSS more girls than boys enroll whilst more girls enroll than boys in SSS.

“School completion rates have increased at all levels by more than 20% since 2018- as at now completion rates are 84 % in primary, 74 %in JSS and 45 % in SSS. In 2018 it stood at 78%, 49%,19% respectively. Since 2018, the number of pupils passing the NPSE has increased by more than 30%. In 2022 we had an unprecedented 81% pass at NPSE.Since 2018 the total number of pupils passing the BECE has increased by more than 60%.Since 2018 the total number of pupils obtaining 5 credits at one sitting has increased by about 28%.Comparing the EGRA/EGMA assessments carried out in 2014 and 2021 it is worth noting that more pupils in P2 and P4 performed better in 2021 than in 2014,” he said.

Aside from the successes, Amara Sowa cited inadequate furnished classrooms to meet the demands of the increase in enrolment, inadequate trained teachers in the classrooms (in 2018 we had more UU teachers in the classrooms than trained teachers), among several others as challenges faced by the Free  Quality School Education.