His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has officially launched the free quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education for government and government assisted schools starting 17 September 2018.
President Bio, in his keynote statement on the theme ‘Education for Development’ at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown, called on parents and teachers to support the initiative, noting that the introduction of his government’s flagship programme marked the beginning of free quality education in Sierra Leone and one that would be centered on development.
He averred that education was an investment for personal and national development, the foundation of moral regeneration, revival of the people as well as a strong pillar for the nation’s industries. He added that without quality education a nation cannot get the much needed manpower for socio-economic advancement.
“When I promised free and quality education, my opponents said it was a political gimmick. But today, I have proven them wrong. In less than six months, we have shown that free education is possible. I have always prioritised education as a means for development. As President, in order to demonstrate my commitment to education, my government has increased the budgetary allocation to education to 21 per cent of the national budget. Several other strides have been taken already in this short time to commence the implementation of free quality education programme across the country,” he said.
President Bio mentioned that in their early lives students should realise the importance of education and that it was imperative on parents to show their children that education was the ticket to fulfilling dreams as well as having a productive life. He therefore used the opportunity to call on teachers and parents to support the free education programme, adding that his government would take legal actions against parents who failed to send their children to school.
“While my government is ready to cover the expenses in paying tuition fees for students, providing textbooks, books, pens and pencils, sports equipment, rehabilitation of schools, provision of furniture, and the commencement of the school feeding programme in government and government assisted schools, we encourage parents, guardians and teachers to show commitment to the education of their children. It is the responsibility of teachers to teach properly and the duty of parents to ensure that the child goes to school, stays in school for the full day, and has time at home to do homework and rest. Subjecting the child to excessive chores, and sending them for trading instead of schooling will not be acceptable. In line with the 2004 Education Act, we will enforce and convict any parent who neglects to send their children to school,” he warned.
Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Alpha Timbo, observed that: “The waiver of fees for learning in any form will definitely ease the burden on parents and guardians who are making a lot of sacrifices under extremely difficult economic conditions to see their children become educated”.
United Kingdom Acting High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Colin Crorkin OBE, who spoke on behalf of World Bank, Irish Aid, World Food Programme and UNICEF as donor partners, congratulated the government for the initiative of a free quality education and commended the government for the bold step in increasing the budgetary allocation for education to 21 per cent of the country’s annual budget. He said the launch would mark the beginning of an exciting journey under the New Direction of which the UK government and its partners were ready to provide support.
“We are fully supportive of the free quality education. Our partners have been working closely with the Minister of Basic and Higher Education and we are pleased with the effort of the government. We are delighted to see free access for students attending government and government assisted schools and we are also happy to note that government has been able to meet the increased enrolment demands come September. We are ready to support the government’s efforts in providing the free quality education,” he said.
Following the plea by President Bio for everyone to support the programme, the First Lady Her Excellency Madam Fatima Bio also launched a multi-donor basket fund that would raise additional funds for the free education scheme. As he continued to lead by example, President Bio again used the occasion to pledge three months of his salary to support the free quality education programme.