Sierra Leone: Beauty and the Beast…Additional Ideas on the Free Education Fairy Story

Chidren in a classroom in Billytown, Liberia.

Pupils taking notes in class. Photo credit: The World Bank

Historically, Sierra Leoneans have not paid attention to the plans and proposals of their
elected officials. The conversation changed during this present democratic revolution. The decision by Africa Young Voices, and its civil society partners to organize the debate for presidential candidates was a step in the right direction.

PAUL A CONTEH.jpgyyy
Author:
Paul A. Conteh Public Affairs Analyst, Octopussian Library & Lab Lecturer, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone

This public discourse provided Sierra Leoneans with an opportunity to know the policy positions of those aspiring to lead them. Fast forward – we have Julius Maada Bio as our president. During the campaign period, Brig. (rtd) Bio promised to implement a policy on free education for school going children from primary through secondary school. This policy is prominent from the other components in his New Direction Manifesto. He has argued his policy position in local gatherings, at Chatham House, and in an interview with BBC Africa.

As an academic – social policy lecturer and public affairs analyst, I have been following the free education policy discussions closely. I do feel it has the potential to reduce economic inequality, increase the number of children attending schools and improve the intellectual capacity of the country’s youthful population. This can only achieve the desired impact if the policy is implemented in a manner that fosters social inclusion, economic prosperity, and sustainability.

Here are additional thoughts the relevant authorities might consider for integration into the flagship program to maximize the potential for success:
1. The government and its development partners should consider designing a program plan for the free education policy. The plan should incorporate the various facets of the free education policy. Sierra Leoneans have asked several questions – how many schools are going to benefit from this program? Which schools among those are considered “remote” for the feeding program? How is the policy going to enhance accountability? What is the sustainability strategy?

 

In an era of concerns about fake news, rumormongers, political aggressors and social media manipulators, a well-defined communication strategy can protect the free education program from the attacks of these possible detractors.

How is resource mobilization going to be actualized? These and many other unanswered
questions need to be addressed in a program plan.

At present, the people of Sierra Leone have read financial figures and client estimates from the New Direction Manifesto & Supplementary Budget 2018. These two documents do not explicitly provide a program design for the free education policy. To maximize success, the relevant stakeholders need to develop a comprehensive program plan, prior to implementation this academic year.

2. Evaluation of the program is essential to both success and replication. There seems much uncertainty with respect to a process in measuring success. The government and its development partners have opportunity to define success beyond figures. This includes creating a catalog that contains information on benchmarks.

In addition, citizens would have opportunity to follow the implementation process, engage these indicators, and evaluate whether the policy is providing quality academic experience.

3. For the free education policy to be fruitful, the relevant stakeholders need to take their
engagement a step further. They need to work with the local councils, authorities and
parliamentary representatives on ways to bring the free education message to local communities.

Local community involvement and ownership would be crucial to the prosperity of the initiative, even though the central government has designed it. The people can take ownership of the initiative to ensure success.
To date, the government has begun engaging stakeholders in the education sector on the free education policy. The educational meetings have pointed to the possibility of the policy been implemented this fall. Taking it to the local communities through the relevant channels can solidify its impact. Local communities can offer feedback and ideas on ways to improve the program on an on-going basis.

4. The government should consider designing a communications strategy for the free education program. The strategy should clearly explain how information is going to be made available, who is going to share the information, where is data going to be stored for public consumption and what communication channels are going to be employed by the program.
In an era of concerns about fake news, rumormongers, political aggressors and social media manipulators, a well-defined communication strategy can protect the free education program from the attacks of these possible detractors.
Even though I have questioned certain components of the education sector reforms of the New

Direction Manifesto, the path forward is to find positive avenues of change. Future
recommended initiatives include seeing money invested in strengthening the existing system, promoting research, entrepreneurship, and job creation initiatives. This includes recognizing that this program might affect other priority areas of the government.
As of now, our task is to ensure the free education is beneficial for all.

The program is strategically positioned to reduce inequality, increase student enrollment, and improve the human resource capacity of the nation’s young generation. The government and its development partners can ensure the policy is implemented in a manner that promotes social inclusion, economic prosperity and program sustainability. The education sector is one complex area to promote and create reforms. A strong implementation of the free education policy can lead the country positively.


 

 

 

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Categories: Sierra Leone

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