Politicizing education is a grave mistake 

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By Alhaji Haruna Sani

Examination malpractice in Sierra Leone has escalated to alarming levels, posing a serious threat to the nation’s development. This prevalent issue is deeply intertwined with political interference, undermining the integrity of the education system and jeopardizing the country’s future.

Examination malpractice is not a phenomenon unique to Sierra Leone, nor is it a new issue globally. However, the rapid increase in such practices within the country is deeply concerning. If left unchecked, it will inflict irreversible damage on Sierra Leone’s future.

The politicization of education has allowed examination malpractice to become endemic. This trend gained momentum after the Ebola epidemic in 2015 and was further exacerbated by the rise of WhatsApp groups a few years later. During that period, the All People’s Congress (APC) governed until March 2018, before the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) assumed power.

The SLPP’s election campaign centered on addressing economic hardship, poor educational administration, and rampant examination malpractices under the APC-led Ernest Bai-Koroma administration. That resonated with many Sierra Leoneans, leading to President Bio’s election. Upon taking office in 2018, the SLPP launched the Free Quality Education (FQE) program, promising free education for pre-primary, primary, and secondary school students, malpractice-free examinations, and a return to the 6334 education system Six years into the SLPP’s tenure, examination malpractice is at its worst.

Addressing examination malpractice is crucial to achieving free quality education. Nevertheless, after two years in office, the SLPP faced criticism due to widespread failures in examination classes. In response, the government became negligent in preventing malpractice. When the number of successful students dramatically increased in 2021, the government quickly attributed that to their educational policies, using it as a campaign message. Though, the increase was largely due to widespread malpractice, which the government denied, choosing instead to claim it as a policy success.

The leakage of external examination questions before exams has become routine. The ongoing West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is a clear example, with authorities turning a blind eye. Examination questions flow in most WhatsApp groups with solutions before the actual exam time. Once fraudulent results are released, the government boasts of success in the education sector, ignoring the underlying malpractice.

The poor quality of students entering universities with seemingly stellar WASSCE results has forced university administrations to implement new policies to identify and manage incompetent students who have manipulated their way into higher education.

The consequences of examination malpractice are severe and far-reaching. If this trend continues, Sierra Leone will face national and international embarrassment due to poorly educated citizens. The integrity of the education system must be restored to ensure that students are genuinely competent and capable.

A genuine commitment to educational reform is needed, one that prioritizes integrity over political gain. The government should work closely with educational institutions, teachers, and parents to create a culture of honesty and hard work. Strict measures should be implemented to prevent the leakage of examination papers, and severe penalties should be imposed on those found guilty of malpractice.

By fostering an environment of accountability and transparency, Sierra Leone can restore faith in its education system and ensure that its students are truly prepared for the future.

In conclusion, the politicization of education and the resulting examination malpractice is a grave mistake that threatens the very foundation of Sierra Leone’s development. The government must act decisively to restore the integrity of the education system and secure a brighter future for the nation’s youth.

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