By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Free Education Project Secretariat, on Wednesday January 4, commenced the distribution of free uniforms and shoes to special needs children and pupils in the poorest communities across the country.
They also gave out free assistive devices, including wheelchairs, brail embossers, underarm crutches, laptop computers, and dictionaries to Special-Needs Schools countrywide.
The distribution which is in support of the Free Quality Education Initiative and the Radical Inclusion Policy of the Government of Sierra Leone, aims at ensuring that pregnant girls, children with disabilities, and children from remote rural areas access free quality education.
Speaking at the symbolic distribution of the items at the Milton Margai School for the Blind on Wilkinson Road, Freetown, Coordinator of Free Education Project, Ambrose T. Sesay, said the Sierra Leone Free Education project’s development objectives are to improve on the education system, teaching practices and learning condition in Sierra Leone.
He said the project is a $72.8 million funded by World Bank, European Union, FCDO, Irish Aid and GPE forming a multi donor trust fund.
He said the project through the Global Partnership for Education Grant for Education COVID-19 Response funded the procurement of 14,669 uniforms, and 6,324 pairs of shoes for the most vulnerable and marginalized pupils in society, noting that various assistive devices to aid teaching, learning and movement for kids in special needs schools are also provided.
He said all 1,206 pupils in all 17 special needs schools across the country will benefit from the uniforms and the shoes and some will also benefit from the assistive devices.
He further noted that the remaining uniforms will be distributed to 13, 463 pupils in 53 schools and the remaining shoes will also be distributed to 5,118 pupils in 28 schools that are in extremely poor communities in the country.
Operations Officer at World Bank, Lydia Mesfin Asseres, said the Free Education Project financed by the World Bank, Global Partnership for Education and Multi Donor Trust Fund has distributed school uniforms and shoes to 53 schools that needed the support and 17 special needs schools, disclosing that about 15,000 pupils have benefited from the support.
“The government of Sierra Leone is making a commendable effort to remove some of the financial barriers to education, such as fees for school and exams. However, we often hear that parent out-of-pocket expenses, such as cost for uniforms, shoes, and transportation still become a barrier to access to enrolment and participation in education,” she said.
She further stated that lack of enough learning materials supports to children with special needs also remains a challenge in the country.
Minister of Basic and senior Secondary education (MBSSE),Dr. David Moinina Sengeh stated that at the launching of the Free Quality Education Project in 2018, President Julius Maada Bio stated that the kind of education he needs for the country should be inclusive and reaches every child in the country, including poor communities, pregnant girls and children with special needs.
He said the president allocated 22% budget of public expenditure to education which is the highest education budget allocation in the world.
He said with funding from the World Bank, they are providing free uniforms and shoes to all special needs pupils across the country and also provide free uniforms and shoes to the poorest communities across the country.
He said they will also be providing office equipment including laptop computer and also provide recorders, writing materials and dictionary for blind pupils to all special needs schools across the country.