There is a saying that sometimes, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”. Unfortunately for some of us, the urge to open the mouth can be irresistible. It is no secret that the president’s tenure of office has been dyed in the notion, that we are on the twin tracks of agendas for “change and prosperity” road maps. It is an undeniable fact, that if the government, and with the support of the people, is to achieve these lofty ideals, then “investing in people” should be the surest way forward. Like him or loathe him, we cannot deny that visible efforts have been made in the infrastructural sectors of the country.
The road networks have been significantly improved. In days gone by, the only way you could tell that you had arrived in Freetown on a night flight was when you touched down with a thud. It was always pitch dark, and the noise from “Kabba tigers” was not the best of wake up calls. The electricity situation has improved noticeably, although there is room for improvement. Let’s us be honest with ourselves here; when you look at the natural resources in our country, Sierra Leone deserves “more” and better. But in fairness, the current government’s efforts, in comparison with those in the past, makes for an interesting read.
It will be preposterous to conclude that President Koroma’s government has an unblemished record. It is an open secret that his government has been mired in and dogged by the perennial disease called “corruption”. We have all seen that in spite the “efforts” of the Anti-corruption Commission, “corruption” remains the bane of our society. But let’s give credit where it is due; it took me one hour from Makeni to Mashingbi, thanks to the rehabilitation of the road networks, which has been hailed as a success nationwide. I saw village clinics and schools sprouting in various parts of the country, among others. But room for complacency is premium.
But if the government is to succeed in its much vaunted programmes of “Agendas for change and prosperity”, then investing in the people should be its cornerstone. True leaders don’t invest in buildings, they invest in people. Jesus never built a building. So your legacy should not be in buildings, programs, or projects only; your legacy must be in people. There can be no better way to achieve this than through education; for the foundation of every nation is the education of its youth. Interestingly, this clarion call appears to have been heard by all and sundry; except my Okada cousins.
It is therefore not surprising that there have been an unprecedented number of private schools mushrooming from every nook and cranny in the country. There appears to be an unspoken competition between the private and mainstream educational sectors. At face value, it is a good thing; but is it value for money? There is a temptation to think that all you need to establish a school is a structure and a collection of a few WASCE “graduates”. Are there checks to monitor the standard of education in these schools? Are the fees levied on poor parents regulated, or is it a question of “naming your price”? By the way, do we still have Inspectors of schools; the ones whose visits made my headmaster quake in his boots?
There is a popular notion that education is the key to success in life, while others believe that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world; because the purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one .. The most important function of education at any level is to develop the personality of the individual and the significance of his life to himself and to others. This is the basic architecture of a life; the rest is ornamentation and decoration of the structure.
I remember in my day, we had “evening classes. It was compulsory for the students and our teachers gave their spare time voluntarily without any financial incentives; just the raw desire to see their students succeed. Failure to attend such classes was a sure bet for a minimum of 6 lashes during the next morning assembly. In my day, it was art and craft. The boys used to craft cars, houses etc. from bamboo (pokaa) stalks, and the girls used their knitting needles (kushay pins) to make pillow cases, bed sheets and handkerchiefs for the teachers.
Today, it’s no longer “evening classes” but “lessons”. During my recent visit back home, I was really troubled by the demand from my 8 year- old primary school niece, who kept pestering me to pay a “daily ransom” of le 2000. (Two thousand Leones) for LESSONS. The lessons were compulsory, and the penalties for not paying were blooming obvious; FAIL. Why would a year- 3 child need extra lessons? Should it be compulsory? Today we are told that the Arts and Craft have now been replaced by soap, tooth paste, and other toiletries. Stories abound about some teachers even demanding mobile phones; and in some cases, phone credits are sent to their phones as part payments. The notion is that these practices are so rampant that some students allegedly don’t even bother to attend the classes. Instead they just get the phones or what’s demanded to move on to the next class. How things have changed; and don’t blame it on technology, whatsapp or Facebook.
If these allegations and rumours are anything to go by, then our educational system is DOOMED. The roots of education can be bitter, but the fruits can be sweet. But if the teachers are to make a lasting impact in the lives of their students, this is one of the surest ways of how not to do it. This is no attempt to debase the good work of our teachers or proprietors; as I am sure that the majority is well meaning. But has the educational system become the new cash cow on the block? Is there an alarming connection between learning and earning at the same time? Yes I know about the delays in salaries but PLEASE. My teacher used to go 6 months without a wage packet but I never got taxed for his troubles. I am not the least suggesting that it is acceptable not to get paid on time for honest labour. But unless we make education a priority, an entire generation of Sierra Leoneans could miss out on the “Agendas for change and prosperity”.
I am sure that there is a band of excuse merchants ready to spew out and play the “poverty card” as the causal factor for these ills in our society. But what about the undeserved burden that is placed on our poor parents? In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of (Confucius). As it turns out, advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us. If this trend is allowed to continue unchecked, there will come a time when only those who can afford it, will access education.
So as the Presidents embarks on the last legs (so I heard) of his roadmaps on his agendas for “change and prosperity”, let us make INVESTING IN PEOPLE the lasting legacy of his tenure. And there can be no better way than taking the scalpel to the heart of our educational system. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to be investing in our students and our schools. We must make sure that people who have the grades, the desire and the will, but not the money, can still get the best education possible “(Barack Obama).The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”; but the direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.
Over to you my President.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.