August 24, 2021
By Alusine Sesay
I recently posted a rhetorical question on my Facebook page, asking whether the West African Senior Secondary School Examinations (WASSCE), Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) and the National Primary School Examinations (NPSE) were not being paid for by previous governments in Sierra Leone.
Since I didn’t receive any answer from my good friends who are making a lot of noise about the free quality education, posing as if the payment of examinations fees for all pupils across the country is a novelty, I decided to put pen to paper so as to provide unchallenged answers to my question.
I was supposed to write my BECE examinations at the Kalangba Agricultural Secondary School in 1998, but that couldn’t materialise because the RUF rebels had overrun the entire Bombali district and by extension the entire northern region.
By then, everything in the north including education was totally disrupted and we were left at the mercy of the rebels who established self-government in that part of the country.
After sitting down for almost two years without going to school, I took a dangerous journey to Freetown, almost trekking from Kalangba to Mile 91, using the Magbash route via Magburaka.
The terrible journey amidst gun totting guys from Kalangba to Mile 91 took us almost three days. At Mile 91, we boarded a truck loaded with various food stuffs and other items to Freetown.
When I arrived in Freetown, I was enrolled at the Baptist Secondary School which was set up purely for displaced pupils. At Baptist, we were asked to write exams in Mathematics and Language Art and those of us who made it were placed in JSS3 and subsequently allowed to write the BECE exams for the 2000 to 2001 academic year. I couldn’t imagine if we had been asked to pay exams fees, then most of us would have been left out. We never paid a dime for the BECE exams.
When the BECE results were out, I proceeded to the Albert Academy where I sat to the WASSCE in the 2003/2004 academic year and all we were asked to pay was the school fees and other basic charges like ID cards, among others.
After the war, former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah undertook significant reforms, among which, were the payment of exams fees for all pupils across the country by the government and ensuring free primary school education. That particular policy was implemented throughout the Tejan Kabbah era and subsequently adopted by the Ernest Koroma led administration of the All Peoples Congress (APC).
Unlike the regular school fees which was about seventy-five thousand Leones for JSS to one hundred and twenty thousand Leone for SSS, but throughout the reign of the APC no parent was ask to pay fees for WASSCE,BECE and NPSE examinations.
Many would argue that previous governments were indebted to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), which to a certain extent I will agree, but the fact of the matter is that no parent was asked to pay a dime for exams. Even the current Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education must have benefitted from that scheme. For a government to be indebted is not a novelty because even the richest economies including the United States are indebted one way or the other.
One would want to argue that parent had the burden of paying admission fees, but what difference does it make if parent are currently ask to pay for uniforms, books, neck ties and several other charges, when their kids transition from primary to secondary and from JSS to SSS? That was exactly what used to happen in the past and the only difference is that school fees is not part of the current charges. And the only difference this government could boast of in terms of free education, because I will not mention quality, is the payment of regular school fees for all pupils across the country and nothing else. They promised to be providing uniforms and school bags, but yet to fulfil that promise.
The school feeding programme that would have boosted the free quality education has disappeared into thin air. Perhaps that would have been a booster to the scheme and presents a unique picture of the Free Quality Education. Nobody would be correct to say this administration should not be commended for paying school fees for all pupils across the country, but they should do more to ensure that the scheme is extended beyond the payment of fees.
During the APC era, a scheme supported by UNICEF to promote girl child education was implemented by the government, albeit with little supervision. Through that scheme, school fees for all girls in secondary schools-junior and senior, were paid for by UNICEF. At FBC where things were difficult for most of us to pay fees, the APC government in 2009 introduced provisional registration for all students from first to final year. That was a big relief for most of us who could not pay complete fees at a go.
Yes, this government could boast of statistics that the number of enrolment in schools has increased as a result of the free quality education. But if you check the records, you will establish that that has been the case since after the war. It has always been an upward mobility in the number of children enrolled in schools because there has been a conscious effort by parents to send their kids to school and the number will continue to rise as long as the country remains peaceful.
Likewise this administration, former Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education, Brima Michael Kamara would always tell you about statistics- that the number of enrolment had increased from so and so percent to so and so percent. Stop running government like mafias and do the needful. After all, you are not doing anybody a favour.
Imagine parent spend more money on admission than the fees government pays for an individual kid for over six years-from JSS 1 to SSS3.Currently,parents are obliged to pay from Seven Hundred Thousand Leones to One Million Five Hundred Thousand Leones on admission charges. The Free Quality Education is not absolutely free if parents are spending more to get their kids admitted.