Friday, February 15, 2013

The Annie Walsh Crisis-News From the Homeland

Annie Walsh Students
There is something going on in Sierra Leone today that is very unfortunate. This small and potentially affluent West African country that was once a magnet for West Africans in the immediate post colonial period, now seems to be mired in one self induced crisis or controversy after another. The sad problem is that in Sierra Leone today, every single decision made in the country that affects more than 25 people is now made on the basis of political expediency. No longer are decisions made on the basis of careful systematic review or made following the prescribed steps of private or public decision making, but is made on the basis of political convenience, pitting one group against another, with very little room for cultured dialogue.

 Even decisions that should have very little to do with politics are influenced by the never ending, mostly unnecessary press releases from State House, and the decision to relocate Annie Walsh Memorial School, the premier female secondary school in the country is bound to be mired in mediocre controversy, mainly because those close to the president do not realize that the decision to relocate such an important school should be a decision for the school executive, their board of trustees, their alumni and the municipality of Freetown. At best, the office of the presidency should be involved in such a debate as a last resort, and only when that is absolutely necessary.
Class of 1909

Many people may wonder why the Segbwema Blogger would want to jump into this debate. Well I happen to have done sixth form and obtained my 'A' Levels from Sierra Leone Grammar School in the early 90s. Grammar School, originally CMS Grammar school is the brother school to Annie Walsh. I can therefore safely state on the basis of this small information that I am not poking my nose into affairs that do not concern me, as I have some emotional attachment to Annie Walsh because of the ties between the school and my supremely esteemed Alma Mater, the Sierra Leone Grammar School.
Inside Campus

Now my own two cents on the issue. I have read the superficial statements on the proposed relocation and have not been privy to the internal discussions. I do also believe that the many Sierra Leoneans who have made statements on this issue, or engaged in passionate and sometimes acrimonious debate on social media, may not also know the genesis of the school issue. The decision on whether to move or not to move Annie Walsh Memorial, a school that is an integral component of the history of Sierra Leone, should only be made with the best interest of the current students and future students in mind. Though sentimental and political variables will invariably be part of the arguments, it is only an honest and impartial assessment of the current needs of the students and future students that should be of primary concern, not of course disregarding the emotional attachment to the school of its famous and influential alumni, but they should be an integral part of seeking a way forward.
The Problem

I believe that the area around Mountain Cut, Kissy Road and Eastern Police that surrounds Annie Walsh Memorial School, must have been a majestic and prime location when the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) decided to move the school to its current Kissy Road location in 1865. Annie Walsh Memorial School has a long history. It had its origins in the establishment of a small school for girls in the mountainside village of Charlotte in 1816 with the purpose of educating young African girls, enabling them to achieve educational excellence on the basis of a strong Christian Foundation.

The current school got its name from the sad story of a young English girl named Annie Walsh who was passionate about embarking on missionary work in Africa. Tragically, she died in an accident on Wednesday, January 31,1855, before realizing her dream of missionary work at the young and tender age of twenty. Her grief stricken parents decided to set up the Annie Walsh Memorial Fund to further her dreams. The Church Missionary Society was able to add to this fund to establish the current day Annie Walsh Memorial School which was moved to its current in 1865. The school was formally named the Annie Walsh Memorial School in 1878 and has become a trailblazer in the education of African women from that time, turning out the first female medical doctor in West Africa, the first female aeronautical engineer in West Africa and the first female graduate of Fourah Bay College, among a list of many other notable  firsts. In 1934 Lati Hyde Forster was the only female student in Fourah Bay College and the first female graduate of this renowned university.

 Most of the early notable women in the administration of the countries of British colonial West Africa were graduates of the Annie Walsh Memorial School and the school has consistently produced some of the best results in international exams in West Africa for a very long time and therefore has a very formidable set of alumni.

The decision to move the school is therefore generating such a  controversy because of its long history, its stellar reputation in Africa and the emotional attachment the formidable alumni have to the current location.
The Environment

In all honesty, I have always thought that the Annie Walsh environment became unsuitable for the school many years ago. The area of Freetown housing the school was a hot bed of crime and many other vices, even when we were growing up on the streets of Freetown. The Mountain Cut and Kissy road environment slid out of affluence into poverty years ago and the area is noisy, full of traffic, with very unsanitary conditions. I have never seen a study of how the impact of all the noise and hub of activity has affected the current students, but even as a student in Freetown many years ago, I always thought that one day it may be a good thing to move the school.

However, I can understand the emotional attachment that current students have to the current location. Some of our best moments in life, some of the best memories are forged in school. I know how I would feel if they told me they were going to move Grammar School, Bo School or Wesley Secondary School, the schools I attended. By pure empathy, I truly do understand why the alumni of AWMS are so emotional about the proposed school move and I think these emotions come from a good place and is natural. I know Bo School boys will riot if they ever decided to move the school, but Bo School is in such a great location , that the move may not be necessary for the next thousand years. Such is not the case with Annie Walsh
Proud Annie Walsh Alumni

However, even with the unsuitable environment, the decision to move the school must be given very serious thought. All the stakeholders involved should have a say in the decision and it should be totally devoid of party politics. There are times when it is necessary to put politics aside and make decisions on the basis of what is best for the key stakeholders. The Key stakeholders here should be the present and future pupils, the staff and alumni, and the school board. The Freetown Municipal Council should also be an important key player in this debate. This should not be a time for APC, SLPP, PDP or PMDC politicking, not at all and those who are introducing politics into this debate are doing a great injustice to the current students and alumni of this great institution.

My own suggestion is that the current stakeholders should get together, identify and honestly define the problem. Is the school location no longer conducive to the learning environment because of the impact of human geography, could things be made better in the current situation or will a move be in the best interest of current and future students. If the school is to be moved, what will be an ideal location, considering that most areas of the capital are already crowded? I believe that these are questions that the key stakeholders should ask. They should then generate a list of alternative pathways to solve the current crisis, debate each alternative and finally settle on a solution which may not be acceptable to all, but would at least have the support of the majority. Politics in debates like this will only poison honest discourse.

I believe that the best course of action will be the one that will make the greatest impact in improving educational outcomes for the crop of present and future students. That is my own take, but unfortunately I do not have any say in the matter. So I am just letting off steam.

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