New Government Policy Impacts Church Schools

Students of the UMC Kulanda Town  Source: UM News

In 2018, the government of Sierra Leone launched the Free Quality School Education initiative providing no-cost admission and tuition to all children in government-approved schools.

As a result of the program, school enrollment has increased drastically. The Ministry of Education provides funding for textbooks, tuition, school buses and subsidies for school administration. Additionally, the government has promoted the professionalization of the teaching through salary increases that have resulted in an estimated 40% compensation increase nationwide.

Further, children of teachers who have taught for at least ten years will now qualify for scholarships that fund their education up to university.

Currently, there are more than 350 United Methodist schools in Sierra Leone and the majority of them are now receiving government assistance.

Harford School for Girls Principal Isatu Peacock said, “Free education has positively impacted lives. We see more girls coming to school because parents are not being asked to pay fees, which used to be a challenge.”

(Harford School for Girls is the United Methodist Church’s largest and oldest girls’ school in Sierra Leone. The school offers both a day and boarding program, both of which are supported by the government.)

“We are seeing a remarkable change from where we were previously to where we are now,” said Moinina Sengeh, the country’s Education Minister for Basic and Senior Secondary Education.

“We have done all of what we promised in our election manifesto on education governance,” he said, citing depoliticizing education committee boards, training school management committees and hiring quality-assurance monitors.

The government paired its rollout of free schools with a major anti-corruption initiative to crackdown on cheating. In the past students have protested not being allowed to cheat on exams. Spearheaded by the government’s Anti-Corruption Commission, officials have engaged in raids on exam centers, homes, and other locations that unlawful administer exams to students.

Additionally, the government has taken a wider line of bribes to education officials who are paid by students and/or their parents to give them preferred status while taking the exam.

Though corruption remains and the pace of progress remains slow, the education ministry has pledged to support schools throughout the country that have seen influxes of new students with building, teachers and other supports to undergird the surge of new pupils.

Despite feeling overwhelmed at times Kai Jimmy, principal of Koidu Secondary School, a United Methodist school in the diamond-rich Kono District remains optimistic that at least the government is pledging to continue its support to schools like his.

“Our school is the only school with an equipped science laboratory,” he said. “It attracts a lot of students, but we cannot accommodate all students who apply.”

As the government continues to tweak its program to assist schools like Koidu Secondary, Leonard Gbloh, Education Secretary for Primary Schools for the Sierra Leone Conference United Methodist Church insisted that flawed assistance is better than no assistance while acknowledging, “More needs to be done to ensure quality education in government-assisted schools.”

Source: UM News