Questioning The Implementation Behind The
“Free Quality Education”
Is it actual free or is it just a mere slogan?
Written By: Abdulai Kemoh Conteh
Founder & CVO (IT Specialists Without Borders)
Tel: +232 – 79 – 200 – 472
Mr. Abdulai Kemoh Conteh possesses over ten (10) years of practical working experience in the field of Computing, Project Design, Implementation and Management. Whilst currently the Founder & CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) of an innovative idea that has transformed into an organization called IT Specialists Without Borders. Which he single-handedly founded in 2018 with the predominant mission of taking ICT at the doorstep of the underprivileged through ICT educational programs, research ,training, workshops and scholarship grant. An ambassador for World Literacy Foundation, and a United People Global Sustainable Leader 2021 fellow. He holds renowned computer certifications such as; CCNA certificate at IPAM – University of Sierra Leone (inclusive of Cyber Security Certificate, Certificate in Mobility Fundamental Series, Certificate in Internet of Everything (IoE), ISC2 CISSP (Cyber Security) & CompTIA A+ certificate at Cybrary, Microsoft Application Packages Professional Certificate at YDM, and an awaiting BSc. Degree in Networking & Telecommunication at UNIMTECH.
With the total absence of a consensual deﬁnition of the word “Quality or Quality Education”, and not surprisingly, of a consensus on how to define it and how to know when it is or not in actual implementation in the case of the “Free Quality Education” in Sierra Leone, this article wouldn’t be imposing, but will be consensually presenting a precise arguable and agreeable viewpoint to readers.Abstract
Therefore, the indulgence of every reader is free to reference this articles viewpoint about the “Free Quality Education” depending on one’s espouse. The overall viewpoints was sponsored on a firsthand experience the author had during a short stay at the Village called “Matumbu”, which is located in the North-West of Sierra Leone. Having seen and taken pictures of a Primary School building in the aforementioned village that is dilapidated beyond repair in a not to talk about inconvenient, discouraging, and an unconventional learning environment respectively.
This immediately fueled the yet unanswered question throws to Ministry of Basic & Senior Secondary Education in particular and the general masses to pass objective judgment on the implementation behind “Free Quality Education”
According to my comprehension about the word “education”, it is or can be refer to a set of knowledge that is acquired through learning using various methods of teaching for the purpose of providing answers to the challenges that face our environments. And the word environment in this particular context is ascribed to a professional meaning, which includes humankind, plants, buildings, and animal etcetera. Education has evolved over time and thus some scholars consider and emphasize on the difference between education and skills. However, looking at education with an eye of an educator like me that is thinking radically, one would realise that when education is accrued, it has the tendency to revitalise the minds of kids learning. Certainly, there is a need to find out the role of education in this current increasing dynamic world. Apparently, there is a unified and diversified thinking regarding what is education even to people of the same society/locality.
Over the past years, some researches have shown diversity on the perception of what education is truly about and its relevance. The International Institute of Training, Research and Consultancy was amongst those that come up with some responses on the perception of what education is and its essentiality to human (IITRC, 2006). Whilst other responses are as follows:
- “Education is a process for training of hand, head, and heart. It is all round drawing the best in child’s body, mind and soul”
- K. Gandhi
- “Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, morals, belief, and habits. Education can take place in formal or informal setting”
- Albert Ensa Fornah ( BA (Honours) in Mass Commination at Fourah Bay College – USL)
- “Education is the manifestation of divine perfection already existing in man”
- ”I can ascribe to the undeniable fact that it is the transformation of ignorance to intelligent in seeing and realising the unknown to known in depicting the ills of society through rational thinking being applicable to society which goads the ideals of having a civilised environment. Educational steams the rationale on having a well-balanced society that is in any case couldn’t streamline the informality but rather creating a balanced scheme that would be participatory in many given circumstances to ascertain the existential need of its existence.”
- Abubakarr Kamara (BSc. Hon. in Logistics & Procurement at UNIMTECH)
- “Education is the liberation from ignorance to intelligence. It is a process of learning which shapes your personality, society, and humanity”.
- Sulaiman Gbla (BA Hon. in Mass Communications and current a LLB Student at Fourah Bay College – USL)
- “Education is the cycle of attaining wisdom that brings positive change to mankind”
- Alimamy Sesay (BA in education – Linguistics & Literature).
These aforementioned quotations demonstrate the diversity of various beliefs about the meaning of education. Image completing this statement, “The meaning of education is…”? If you happen to ask five of your colleagues to complete this sentence, it is likely that you will have five different definitions.
Some will place the emphasis on knowledge, some on the teacher, and others on the student. Yet people’s beliefs that the true meaning of education lies at the heart of the individual learning behaviour or perceptive. Despite what I may or might have wished, there is no definite or constant definition of education that is agreed upon by all, or even amongst most educators. The meanings that are attached to the wordings are complex beliefs arising from their own values and experiences. To the extent that those beliefs differs, the experience of students in today’s classrooms can never be the same as well. Worse, many educators have never been asked to state their beliefs—or even to reflect on what they believe. At the end of it all, teachers owe it to their students to bring their definitions into consciousness and examine them for validation that could be attained in more formalised manner than informal. The question is where do we draw a line of formal and informal? At times methods used in our formal institutions are partly used informally. The differences of methods of providing education matters a lot as far as this topic is concerned. All in all the key question here lies in-between questioning the phrase “Free Quality Education for all” (Is it actually free or it is just a mere slogan?).
Deﬁning of Quality Education
From my personal experience in addressing the deﬁnition of the phrase “Quality Education”, it is informed by the inputs-outputs process conception of education quality. Inputs in this sense refers to teaching and learning materials as well as teachers and students. Their quality is ‘‘often measured quantitatively or through characteristics such as the qualiﬁcation of teachers, curricula relevance, conducive learning environment, and students intellectual and nutritional status’’. Contextually, the actual measurement of achievement constitute outputs, e.g., promotion and completion rates, and the kinds and quantity of facts and skills that students have learned. Whilst, process refers to how inputs are used to produce outputs. This includes ‘‘the proper organization of lessons, the correct use of texts and homework, the encouragement of child-centered learning and the absolute amount of time spent on a task’’.
The conceptuality behind the word “Quality” is arguably the most common when it is attached in defining education. While I wholeheartedly don’t reject the validity of such a concept behind “Quality”, I critically criticises the dominant black box approach to education. This approach relies heavily on standardised national examinations to measure quality, and thus to specify what it is. As to the layman’s point of view, a child is reported to have had a high quality education when they score high grades during class or public examinations. What happens inside the black box – the ﬁeld of action – is, often, ignored, just as it has been ignored by the implementers of the “Free Quality Education”
Free Quality Education: Enabling and Disabling Conditions
The strategy in improving the Free Quality Education, I assert, ‘‘require reaching beyond the tradition method of implementation on inputs to address the process of its reaching every school going kid in the 16 district of Sierra Leone’’. This implementation, as I further argues, has not taken proper effect owing to three principal reasons. Foremostly, regardless of its current focus (cognitive development, mastery of speciﬁed skills, or the development of desired values and behaviors), learning is at its core an interactive, face-to-face process that can only record maximum success in a well conducive learning environment. Learning objectives are less likely to be met where systems move away from this aforementioned core. Consequently, in the case of the “Free Quality Education”, learning objectives and learning practices has not been decentralised. This literally means that, ‘‘however supportive or unsupportive of this context, the Free Quality Education is centralized and due to this has only been achieved at a smaller scale’’. With a greater margin still left unnoticed and marginalised. Moreover, except in the most authoritarian settings, learning objectives are negotiated according to modalities that are multiple and vary across inclusive policies that caters for all and over time open to review/amendment. What is regarded as a “Quality Education” is therefore continually re-unified and re-speciﬁed. From this perspective, it is arguable that what is ‘‘best’’, ‘‘good’’ or ‘‘poor’’ changes periodically, and that there are not and cannot be universal best practices, but at least should cater for all. For all these reasons, strategies to improve the “Free Quality Education” must be applicable to all school going pupils in the 16 districts of Sierra Leone.
Another argumentative argument is that the teaching-learning process which is essentially a communicative process; and communication is primarily done through language. The language of instruction can therefore be an enabling or disabling factor in a learning process of children, depending on how familiar both the teacher and the learner are with it. In this article, I will lament painfully on the obvious with providing examples showing that Sierra Leonean kids are able to express themselves well and creatively if they are allowed in using their familiar local languages or their mother tongues like; (Creole, Temne, Mende, Limba etc.). Conversely, they normally encounter diﬃculties when forced to learn and demonstrate learning in a foreign language, one that they hardly hear and never use outside of school. A provable ﬁnding I have done in several village schools is that, when the foreign language (in this case of their mother tongue like; (Creole or Temne) is used, there is a much larger spread of learning performance between them. What this implies is that the vast majority of children fails while a small group swims through the system. This is arguably one of the explanatory factors of the pyramidal shape on enrollment current seen, with many students at the bottom and a few at the top. Another trend of discussion is the adoption of open-ended/constructivist instructional practices. This trend is the result of calls for pedagogical renewal on the basis of the well-known critique of the kind of teaching that characterizes the current schools classrooms: rigid, chalk-and-talk, teacher-centered/dominated, lecture-driven. In classrooms where this kind of teaching prevails, children ﬁnd themselves in a passive role and their activity is limited to memorising facts and reciting them back to the teacher during lessons as well as during assessments. They are also thus limited to developing only lower order skills. To help children understand subject matter conceptually and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, my argument is that, teaching must be learner-centered, participatory, more interactive and adventurous, relying heavily on cooperative learning and inquiry. Adopting these practices that associate with open-endedness/child-centeredness is, however, proving to be extremely diﬃcult in some cases but can be realised, especially if implemented at a large scale.
The existence of a historically constructed ‘‘grammar of teaching’’ is reported to be another explanatory factor as well. The majority of people learn this grammar during their schooling; those who embrace teaching as a career consolidate their knowledge of it as they go through a professional preparation teaching programme (if any); and when they become teachers, even if their preparation programme tried to challenge this grammar, they revert to ‘‘tradition’’ unless they are posted in a school where there is a collective attempt to move away from lectures and rote learning. Poor teaching and learning conditions (unavailability of textbooks and other materials, large class sizes, and lack of school structures etc.) constitute another set of explanatory factors that needs to be looked into. As in the case of a dilapidated primary school structure in a village called “Matumbu” is a clear illustration which shows the real nakedness behind the poor implementation strategy of the “Free Quality Education” that should construed its shifting from learner-centeredness to learner-decentralisation. This does not mean, however, abandoning other strategies. It means being aware of the greater challenges inherent in adopting this path and acting accordingly upon the enabling conditions. Among these highlight capacity enhancement for those who are entrusted with the responsibility to prepare and support teachers as they struggle to ﬁnd meaning in the desired change and embrace it.
Arguably, I stand to be corrected with this emphatic assertion that the adoption of a renewal school curricula using the competency-based approach should have positively influenced the implementation of the “Free Quality Education” also, an approach I envisioned could have been behaviorist. This approach has been implemented in the educational system of some African countries like; South Africa, Rwanda and Ghana etc., and evidentially proofs to be profitable. Drawing on the case of the current uncompetitive curricula, its oﬀers an evidence-based critique showing that the implementation of the “Free Quality Education” has not improved “Quality” but “Quantity”.
One key point in this article is that curriculum reform may be a necessary but not just a pinpointed mandate for improving the “Quality of Education” in schools. Regardless of the nature and content of the reform, the challenge ultimately lies on its eﬀective implementation or reflection in children classrooms, which loops back to the challenge of pedagogical renewal and what it entails, including teachers development and their conditions of teaching needs to be looked into as well.
In my exploration of what this means for science & technology education also, my disposition on this particular issue is to move the debate beyond the binary of Western science versus indigenous knowledge. This article will present ways in which both kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing can be integrated in today’s classroom processes. Even though I also argues that the basis for eﬀective science learning in the context of our current educational system is the conception of science as performance and not just representation. At the core of the conception of science as performance is the idea of doing science as an activity, that is, how it is performed. ‘‘When the performative side of science is emphasised, then it is understood as a situated activity which connects people, creativity and skills: science is locally produced through processes of negotiation based on the social organisation of trust and not empirical veriﬁcation/falsiﬁcation’’.
Consequently, the decade absence for the introducing or the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in schools is also another major loophole that has impelled the implementation of the “Free Quality Education”. As I states its context inclusive of its importance below;
A country recovering from a devastating ten (10) years civil war and an Ebola outbreak in 2014 that has destroyed its entire infrastructure, Sierra Leone still has huge gaps in both ICT policies (National & Educational), which has gotten a negative implication for the effective use of ICT most especially in its educational system.
As such, Information and communication technology (ICT) plays a very significant role in the advancement of any nation; through digital economic productivity which enhances the delivery of public and private services and achieving broad socio-economic goals in sectors like; education, health care, employment and human social capacity development. As a result of this factual reality, countries are advancing their National & Educational ICT policies every day to underpin growth in a variety of socio-economic sectors which helps them stand tall in terms of development and competition. Apparently, given the rapid evolution of ICT in the 21st Century due to a variety of newly emerging technologies, it is no doubt that systematic examination and evaluation of comprehensive policies and strategies are essential. In the education sector, policy-makers are yet to realize that access to ICT can help individuals to compete in a global community. Henceforth, the argument that ICT has a significant effect throughout the educational system is because;
- It facilitates learning and provides students with new sets of technological skills;
- It reaches students with poor or no access (especially those in rural and remote villages);
- It facilitates and improve the training of teachers to be technologically incline; and
- Minimizes the costs associated with the method of traditional teaching and delivery of notes in making it digitalised.
These technologies have often been presented as a panacea, capable of helping students make a quantum leap to catch up with the rest of the students around the world. In education, ICT has arguable wins it essentiality to be one significant source that helps children develop creativity and innovative mindset. My assertion is based on analyses of data gathered by the organisation called (IT Specialists Without Borders) during their 2019 Survey Campaign that involved nearly 500 schools around the 16 districts of Sierra Leone (Government & Non-governmental Schools), inclusive of ICT institutions, members of the public, leaders from the profit & non – profit organizations, and the public sectors. They asked them about the decade absent for the use of ICT in schools, and the aforementioned parties responded with a wide range of answers. The three areas of highest concern they received were (Drafting the National ICT educational policy, Curriculum and infrastructure) needs to be dealt with effective immediately before the introduction could take any proper effect.
Based on these findings and furthered by similar research on how other countries like; (South Africa) were able to successfully adopt ICT in their educational systems, six strategic impact objectives were recommended by the organization. Four of these objectives relate to the impact it would have on schools if implemented. However, in keeping with the findings of the Survey Campaign, the organisation recommends that MOBSSE should work on the below national impact objectives for the introduction of ICT in schools to take proper effect thereinafter. These impact objectives will concentrate efforts and resources on the areas most necessary.
Impact Objective 1: Survey: Executing a thorough research mechanism to know how many schools already have computer labs, those offering ICT as a subject, and those that are not yet E-ready to adopt ICT
Impact Objective 2: Drafting of the ICT Educational Policy, ICT Curriculum & Strategic Plan: Involving all key players in the process. i.e. Ministry of Education, Head of Schools (Principals, Head Masters & Mistress), Teachers, ICT institutions, both government and non–governmental organizations
Impact Objective 3: Training of ICT Teachers: Developing a comprehensive ICT training manual to train teachers for them to teach the most recent and trending ICT job market courses in the irrespective classrooms. E.g. Coding, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligent (AI) etc.
Impact Objective 4: Infrastructure: Setting up of standard computer labs, learning base internet facility & electricity in schools. As the teaching of ICT doesn’t only have to be based on theory, but rather the practical aspect is equally as more important and relevant. Besides, ICT training goes more with practical than theory.
Conclusively, the predominant issue that has affected the successful implementation of the “Free Quality Education” is centralisation, inclusive of lack of transparency for the local management of resources. In my sincere view this is probably the greatest challenge that centralisation has posed on a particular system in Sierra Leone. And my sincere recommendation is that workably decentralising the “Free Quality Education” is the only solution that will make it evidence implementable in catering for at least the last child who stays in the hard to reach village to enjoy and feels it. As such, this necessarily does not mean drafting another documented policy without physical monitoring of it workability. As in the case of its current situation, ‘‘Where inspectors of schools and their monitoring process is very weak, and whereas its absence is not properly backed up by a strong national/local accountability, the ineﬃciency and poor management that revolves around a well decentralised policy can never be productive neither evident base’’. In education, school inspectors and support are decentralised levels that embodied a key service to reproduce a well-balanced and proper school supervision/monitoring.
Unfortunately, in one of my physical visitation at a dilapidated school structure in a village called “Matumbu”, I then realized how this body (the inspectorate of schools) has in general proved incompetent and ineﬀective, from the point of view of both the beneﬁciaries (school level personnel) and the parents themselves. Even through to a large extent they do face a genuine strategic challenge to the extent that ‘‘their complex mandate by far outweighs their scarce resources’’. In addition to the issue of resources, there comes the challenge of reconciling two contrasting activities: oﬀering support and exercising control. Which has led to an internal role conﬂict and regular conﬂicts within their job description. There are possibilities, however, to improve this very important body, by bringing monitoring structurally closer to schools and granting the public the right to participate in school monitoring. The real recommended and adoption mandate to the lead implementing body of the “Free Quality Education” which is Ministry of Basic & Senior Secondary Education (MOBSSE) is to identify within the range of alternatives, and implement the most suitable ones. Having a clear vision of what a successful school inspector stands for as a critical element of this identiﬁcation is: ‘‘a successful school inspector [is] not just simply one who succeeds through regular visits in imposing respect for regulations, but a service which oﬀers the necessary support to the schools and teachers as well as identifying problems that needs urgent intervention which should not eventually disrupt the learning process of children’’. Given what I know about ‘‘traditional’’ monitoring, whilst embracing this vision may produce/reproduce an important paradigmatic change on the “Free Quality Education” implementation strategy.
Let me end my commentary here with the issue of limited or lack of primary school structures in a handful number of villages to facilitate conductive learning environment for children till date. This is the predominant issue behind pending down this article, and this unnoticed issue has disrupted the full realization of the “Free Quality Education”. Besides paying school fees for kids and providing them with learning accessories, and without an enabling or conductive learning environment, the fees paid becomes dormant. It is like “a parent paying schools fees for his/her child without monitoring what he/she does at schools”, the end product is failure agreeably. This is exactly what has happened to the “Free Quality Education”.
Attached are the photos of the Primary School Building in “Matumbu Village”
Is this the educational system we want to leave for our children and children-children yet unborn? Where defending a failed system is more important than humanity? Where a policy only favours a selected few leaving a verse majority unnoticed and marginalized? Let these unanswered questions serves as a resounding wakeup call to readers and the authorities in charge to do the needful effect immediately.