By C. Magbaily Fyle
The curriculum for basic education in Sierra Leone appears to have undergone radical changes in the past decade or two, systematically eliminating the teaching of the history and geography of Sierra Leone in the Junior Secondary Schools. These seem to have been replaced by Social Studies. Students therefore get the Basic Education Certification without learning any of the history and geography of their country. Most of the students from Junior and Senior Secondary Schools end up with no history and geography of their country throughout their school career. Only those who offer Sierra Leone History in Senior Secondary School, and these would be a few, have the opportunity of learning about their history and the geography of Sierra Leone.
I have recently heard teachers complaining about the lack of teaching particularly history of Sierra Leone as part of basic education. I join these teachers today in addressing what I consider this grave mistake that has been made in directing our basic education away from these extremely relevant areas of study. It seems clear to this writer that this was the design of some Western funding agencies adversely influencing the direction of our basic education curriculum. It is nice to learn about social studies. It is far more relevant to be familiar with the history of our country as part of our basic education. A lack of knowledge in this area leaves a yawning gap in the background of the students who are emerging to man the workforce in our country today.
Perhaps some elaboration is necessary as to why the familiarity with our history is necessary for our emerging men and women of tomorrow. One of the greatest problems in Sierra Leone today is the lack of a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in our country. Sierra Leoneans are way behind citizens of other African countries in their attachment to their country. This nationalism leads one to love one’s country and develop a sense of giving the interest of our country pride of place in whatever endeavor we find ourselves in as we go along. The people who condemn Sierra Leone most are Sierra Leoneans themselves. They do not appear to feel any responsibility toward their country and can therefore give away the interest of their country with alarming ease.
We talk often about corruption in government and generally in Sierra Leone. At the heart of the kind of corruption we find in Sierra Leone is the lack of commitment to our country found among its operatives. Thus many of the commentaries about what we feel is wrong with our country are very superficial failing or refusing to address the underlying factors that are largely responsible for this kind of attitude. Development is human centred and if humans are not motivated in the right direction, developments efforts are bound to have little benefit for our country.
A strong sense of nationalism does not fall from the high heavens and no amount of fasting and praying will solve that kind of problem. Nationalism is nurtured and those countries that are developed today spent a lot of effort in instilling in their citizens, right from their basic education, a sense of loyalty and love of their country. In short, right down from their early schooling they have to be taught to have deep respect for their country and to come to love their country. The seeds of a strong nationalism are planted right down from these early years.
Thus when we say basic education, it should mean teaching our school children about those things that would make them love their country. The things that would make them very familiar with the basic geography and history of their country. As they learn about these matters, they come to be able to talk about the history of their country with pleasure and understanding. For you find Sierra Leoneans who know little or nothing about the basic background history and geography of their country and therefore feel ashamed to talk about these matters, and easier to simply condemn and trash their country.
The best source for building this kind of endearment towards one’s country is a knowledge of the history of our country. If properly written, taught, and presented with the right kind of context and analyses, our citizens would become proud of their past and feel like associating themselves with it. They will, therefore, feel obliged to defend the interest of their country no matter what.
Take one example, the story of Bai Bureh. If we teach about this nationalist as one who was defending his country from being taken away from them by the British and was willing to risk his life to defend that value, it becomes a different story than claiming that he was some humbug who was fighting not to pay hut tax. I have written on this recently that the proper context and interpretation is necessary to make our history come alive and make it worth learning.
Teaching about our history as an important ingredient of basic education would then serve to give our students information about themselves and their background that they will feel confident about. It would make them proud of their identity as Sierra Leoneans and thus provide the basic value for the development of a strong sense of nationalism, indispensable for development.
But what have we done. We have allowed ourselves to be influenced to wipe our history out of our basic education. JAD Alie, who followed me in writing useful school texts to teach Sierra Leone history, was lured into becoming the writer of the Social Studies Junior Secondary course book and thus tacitly contributing to this virtual elimination of Sierra Leone history from the basic education curriculum,
This factor needs to be revisited and I call on the Ministry of Education to take another look at it. Teaching Sierra Leone history as part of basic education is not just another subject like social studies. It is at the heart of a functional basic education for our citizens of tomorrow.