Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The 6-3-4-4 Educational System Debate in Sierra Leone

Dr Minkailu Bah
Sierra Leone is a country in which the journalists are doing a terrible disservice to the citizens. When I was a germ of a school boy attending Samaria Primary School in Freetown, my sister who was my guardian and a teacher at the time used to come home everyday with the Sierra Leone Daily Mail and throw it carelessly on a table or chair. This will always be the high point of my afternoon, as I will take the paper and carefully keep it in a safe place. After the Afternoon chores were done,  I will take the paper and my primary school dictionary, find an isolated corner in the house and immerse myself in the contents of the Daily Mail. In those days I took every thing that was in those pages as gospel truth and developed a deep affection for our President Siaka Probyn Stevens, as nothing bad was said about him in the Daily Mail.

Hope
Ironically the good thing then (if you can call one party good) was that we had no multiparty and all the potential political rivals of Stevens at the time; Salia Jusu Sheriff, Sama Banya, Francis M. Minah, Abdulai Conteh, Thaimu Bangura, and all the prominent politicians of that era, from north, east, south and west were eating from the same basin. Though there was the occasional embellishment of the news in those days, by and large, people did not report their personal opinion and tawdry gossip as news and stuck mostly to the truth.

Today, with the exception of a few Papers like Awoko that stick largely to unadulterated facts, Sierra Leone journalists are the main propagators of disinformation and political malice in the country. Sierra Leone is country today that does not engage in honest debate, because anytime an individual attempts to proffer suggestions on social affairs you are either classed as  APC or SLPP. This of course reduces necessary debate to political labels and discourages the influx of new and revolutionary ideas. For those of us who are so passionate about education, the attempt by the usual loudmouths to frame the current 6-3-4-4 or 6-3-3-4 educational system debate in terms of attacks on APC or the education minister Dr. Minkailu Bah is sycophantic, cheap, dishonest and a real disservice to the youths that this system will ultimately affect.
Students in Sierra Leone

I am not coming into this argument as a layman, but as one who was intimately involved in the adoption of the current 6-3-3-4 system from the 7-5-2 educational system under which we were educated. At the period of the adoption of the of the 6-3-3-4 system I was an Economics examiner for WAEC and the Head of Social Sciences Department in one of the oldest schools in West Africa. Initially I was apprehensive and skeptical about the then new system and had to attend many seminars and educational workshops to be convinced of the potential benefits of the new system to students in English West Africa.

Though the old 'O' Level and 'A' Level system was excellent for turning out great scholars, it was a poor system for students or pupils that were not academically inclined in the traditional sense, as it placed very little emphasis on the acquisition of alternative skills and relegated technical education to the background. The 6-3-3-4 was expected to remedy this shortcoming of the traditional system by providing alternative paths and greater options for students of all caliber.
Teacher Doing his Best

In Sierra Leone however, the implementation of the 6-3-3-4 system has resulted in a precipitous decline in educational standards across the board and in the highly politicized atmosphere that prevails in the country the quest for a way out of this quagmire has been buried under the avalanche of political horse trading. I honestly believe that as Minister of Education the intention of Dr. Minkailu Bah to modify the system was borne out of the genuine desire to improve the situation, as the current situation is failing the students in the country, breeding a generation of half educated intellectuals. On the other hand, those who do not see any use in adding an extra year are doing so because the social and economic costs of adding an extra year will be tremendous, without a guarantee that it will help. Though the whole argument has been politicized by both of the main parties and their bevy of paid journalists, Sierra Leone educators need to put politics aside and honestly debate the current educational decline in the country. A future country of half educated citizens will be of little use to either the APC, SLPP, or PMDC.

The analysis by the Awareness Times opinion piece that the old system of 7-5-2-4 was 18 years of education is seriously flawed and a deliberate attempt to misinform, mislead and misdirect the debate. More than half of the people who went through the old system never went to sixth form, but went directly to college on the strength of their 'O' Level results. In the whole Eastern Province if I can correctly remember  there were only one or two sixth form schools and most of my colleagues went straight to college after 5th form. In the old system, some schools employed the practice of "Double Promotion" which made some pupils spend only 5 years in primary school instead of 7. So Madam Blyden's highly political analysis as usual is highly starved of facts as she is inclined to do.

And for those who see no need in adding another year, why should anybody have to be educated for 17 years just to get a first degree. A lot of countries around the world are now letting very bright students take college level classes while still in High school, taking years off college education.

There is no guarantee that if you jail a criminal for nine years instead of eight he is going to be a better citizen and the same is true for education. If the system is rotten, staying there forever will not make you better, not by a long shot. Sierra Leone's problem is not the number of years students spend studying, it is about a system with low incentives for teachers, lack of adequate supplies, antiquated technology, and a disregard for the primacy of education. Gambia has some of the best school examination results in West Africa and you know what, they have the same 6-3-3-4 educational system. Guess what, their schools are populated by teachers from Sierra Leone! Teachers who are college graduates in Gambia earn enough to take complete care of their families and therefore devote considerable time and effort to ensuring that their students get great results, at least in the recent past.
They Are All That Is Important

Teachers are very special people. Though you have the few teachers that have bastardized and exploited the system, preying on underage girls, the great many are folks that have decided to devote their lives to ensuring the progress of others. In Sierra Leone teachers are downtrodden intellectuals forced to exist on the margins of society, condemned to perpetual poverty and want. As Jesus Christ said, a house built on a foundation of sand will be easily washed away. Teachers are like sand in Sierra Leone and unless we start to treat them like rocks, the rot has just started.
Sheku Sheriff
Segbwema Blogger











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