The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), has concluded its final tour on the inspection and monitoring of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFAFTI) Schools in the four District Headquarter Towns of Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Freetown constructed under the World Bank Catalytic Trust Fund (CTF) through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST).
This initiative is in fulfillment of the pledge made in the 2000 Dakar-Senegal Declaration in enhancing the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) programme on education.
If properly handled, this is one of the surest means of enhancing free and quality education to all by the year 2015.
However, the questions that keep pondering in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans is what practical steps have been put in place to ensure that the set goals in meeting the millennium development goals are achieved, judging by the standard of education and the overall performance of students over the years that is clearly resonating within the boundaries of the universities; how as a nation do we hope to achieve some of these set goals; and what is required of us to be done to ensure that the standards in education are met?
As I write this piece, I shall be focusing on some of the practical challenges needed to overcome in meeting the MDGs by 2015, consistent with the educational policies in respect of the Professor Gbanmanja White Paper on education.
How these recommendations will actually form the basis for a makeover in the educational sector, reverting from the 6334 system to a 6443 system of education and deficit indicators captured by the Commission which were not comprehensively applicable to fit the then 6334 system.
Overcoming some of the practical challenges in meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is not only extraordinary but one that requires more than the unwavering determination to ensure that Education for All by 2015 is a reality.
What we have in our educational development and support services is gearing towards a free and improved quality in education. However, it is estimated that there are seventy five million out-of-school children around the world and approximately 18 million Teachers needed to be trained and recruited by the year 2015.
InSierra Leonea UNICEF Survey conducted in 2008 reveals that 32,122 Teachers were recruited between 2004-2006 academic school year whereas 45,000 trained and qualified Teachers were needed within the educational services. Primary school enrolment in 2002-2003 was 1,115,291 as opposed to 2010-2011 which records an enrolment of 1,687,308 which means that there are more children in school today than in 2000.
Though major progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is practically evident, yet there are factors that largely conspire against achieving the Millennium Development Goals and over the multilateral and bilateral agencies working on the FTI to deliver on the 2000 Dakar Declaration, yet the Government of Sierra Leone has spent 11.3% on the education budget in 2010 leaving a gap of 8.7% to meet the Education for All by 2015.
In financial terms about 28.4 million Dollars per annum needs to be spent on education to meet the Teacher’s ratio of 40:1.
In actual fact, the anticipated 20% budget allocation in education clamored for by civil society organizations like Education for All Coalition Sierra Leone means an increase in the size of the national budget by simply challenging restrictive macro-economic policies and promoting more expansionary policies. This relatively means, an increase in education in respect of other budget spendings like Defense to at least 20%.
Unlike budget increases, one notable area where such challenges need to be overcome is the Ministry of Education where the involvement of civil society organizations and non Governmental organizations, Teachers’ unions and human rights organizations are building a strong and cohesive national educational coalition. Such action plan will guide and influence the MTEF in the budgetary allocation to education for the 2012-2014 fiscal years through engagement with key stakeholders at national, district and community levels in effective dialogue sessions.
The indications have always been that principal stakeholders were left out in the planning and designing of the MTEF process, which leaves us with questions like who determines the sealing for the Education Sector in the budgetary process? Is the national budget really designed to reflect the national context and sensitive to national priorities?
The Inspection Tour started off in the Western Area through the North and ended with schools in the South and then the East led by the Deputy Chief Education Officer in the Ministry, Dr. Alhaji Kamara together with a team of Civil Works Engineers from both the Ministry and the Decentralization Secretariat (DECSEC) led by Engineer Max Horatio Govey.
Speaking to the various Councils, the Project Coordinator of EFAFTI, Mr. Reginald King, told the District Education Officers (DEOs) that the first phase of the project is expected to be completed in December 2011 but that as a result of the delay by some contractors particularly those in the Port Loko and Kono Districts where the construction works are still slow with more than 40% of the construction works still remaining to be done before the deadline of December 31st 2011, an extension period of six months was agreed by the World Bank, immediately after the December 31, 2011 deadline where it is expected that all construction works should have been completed in June 2012.
Giving an overall assessment on the monitoring aspect of the works, Engineer Max Govey highlighted amongst other things that since this is a learning programme much of the contractors lapsed in time management and construction techniques were simply not adhered to. This he attributed largely to the lack of effective monitoring and supervision mechanisms in the various Councils by Council Engineers although he commended other construction works in areas like Waterloo Rural Area, Kambia and Kailahum where almost the all the construction works were done within the time limit. He pointed out that he was convinced from an engineering point of view that the average services were incredibly appreciated by community members.
The Chief Administrator in the Kono City Council, Mr. Tamba Allieu, attributed the lapse in time management in the construction of schools to the delay in the disbursement of funds by the Ministry of Finance through the coordination method. He said prompt payments were not made to the contractors, which left the Councils very vulnerable so that what was expected to be a fast track Initiative gradually became a slow track initiative.
The Deputy Chief Education Officer (DCEO) in the Ministry, Dr. Alhaji Kamara, admonished Education Officers in the various Councils to enhance commitment in upholding these facilities, and warned that the Ministry will soon get rid of all mushroom schools throughout the country.