To further concretize this pronouncement, once he was elected President and during his first visit to the Conference of the Commonwealth of Nations, he reiterated this same commitment to member States to demonstrate the seriousness his new government attaches to improving the quality of education in Sierra Leone. Additionally, in the State opening of Parliament called the first session of the fifth Parliament of the Second republic, President Bio also clearly communicated to Members of Parliament, on behalf of the nation, his plans for education including the provision of Free Quality Education for pupils within the Basic and Senior Secondary structure of the education system.
With the President's appointment of Hon Alpha Osman Timbo (Esq.) as Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, the responsibility of charting the way forward for actualizing this free education rests squarely on him. With this in mind, Minister Timbo wasted no time in hitting the ground running alongside the highly trained; qualified and professional staff of his Ministry. In order to ensure there is proper planning of the process toward introducing the Free Quality Education, certain structures have to be put in place. For this reason, there is now an Inter-Ministerial and Partners Group (IMPG) comprising the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Economic Development as well as Development Partners such as DFID; World Bank; UNICEF; Irish Aid etc.. This Inter-Ministerial and Partners Group is headed by the Chief Minister. Then there is also a Technical Committee headed by the Chief Education Officer in which you have the Directorate of the Inspectorate; the Planning and Policy Directorate; A senior officer from the Ministries of Finance; Agriculture; and the Ministry of Economic Development. While these committees are working on a daily basis to provide a solid definition for the proposed free quality Education, Minister Timbo has proposed a National School Survey. He has looked at the National School Censuses of 2015; 2016 and 2017 and even though he finds them useful, he desires to know more about the school system in the country for which he thinks a National School Survey is imperative. In order for this survey to be thorough and effective, proper sensitization has to be carried out.
Therefore, on Wednesday 20th June, Minister Timbo and a selected number of staff of his Ministry set out on a tour of the district headquarter towns of Makeni, Port Loko, Bo and Kenema to engage Paramount Chiefs and sensitize them on the plans for the survey and the Free Quality Education. In every one of these engagements, the Minister clearly communicated his plans to introduce another layer in the educational structure which is a Ward Education Committee. According to the Minister, if a layer exists at the Ward level to monitor how many schools, how many pupils, how many Teachers and how many teaching and learning materials we have in those Wards, it will be easier to plan properly for not only the Free Education but for any other programs and services that are related to education. He clearly explained the composition of this Ward Education Committee, which includes The Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom or his or her representative; the sitting Councilor who will enjoy automatic membership; a highly reputable individual within the Ward to be selected by the Minister or recommended by the Paramount Chief to serve as Chairman of the Committee; a representative from each of the political parties represented in Parliament; a male and female representative of the school pupils in that Ward; and other members as may be deemed necessary by the Minister. The creation of this committee is in line with the authority given to the Minister by the 2004 Education Act to form any committee within the educational structure that he finds necessary for purposes of promoting education in the country. The Minister further reiterated that the role of Paramount Chiefs in the education system and indeed the proposed Free Education cannot be downplayed or overemphasized. He explained to the audience that special tablets that are GPE-enabled have been configured and will be distributed to the Enumerators once they have completed the training on the survey exercise. He cautioned all those who would be involved in this exercise against falsifying information because the configuration in the said tablets will reveal any attempt by anyone to cook figures and numbers that will have a tendency to render the exercise inaccurate and futile. Teachers will be verified and their photographs taken. Photographs of school structures and those of the school pupils will also be taken by the Enumerators. The Minister further stated that questionnaires for the survey have been sent to the Deputy Directors in each District to be distributed to all heads of schools in the respective districts. The selection of Enumerators, according to the Minister, will be carried out by the Deputy Directors in collaboration with the Paramount Chiefs. Enumerators should be selected from unemployed college graduates within the Wards.
When asked what constitutes the Free Education, Minister Timbo cautiously stated that because there is a lot of planning that should go into the process before the start of the new academic year in September this year, school fees for all pupils that are currently enrolled in government and government-assisted schools will be paid by government. Admission fees will be waived completely. Some Teachers will be recruited through the Teaching Service commission. The usual fees to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) for the three public examinations - the National Primary School Examination (NPSE) the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) will be paid by government. There will be meals for the over 1.2 million pupils in our government and government-assisted Pre-primary and Primary schools across the country. Teaching and Learning Materials will also be provided all as a start in the coming September.
According to the Minister, since the free quality education is being planned for the next five (5) years, other components such as uniforms, school structures; core text books and other remunerations will be considered progressively. Minister Timbo also reaffirmed the President's commitment to phase out the Senior School 4 (SS4) starting this academic year in September; and for that reason, those pupils who are currently in SS3 will be put in a category called Special 3 because there will be no SS4; while those who will be promoting from SS2 to SS3 will be provided with additional tuition during the long holiday to help them catch up with the examination syllabus in time to get them properly prepared to take the 2019 West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). The Minister elaborated on many other aspects of the plans to improve the quality of education beyond the free education and encouraged all stakeholders to work assiduously toward actualizing the dreams of the President as they relate to improving the standards of our education in Sierra Leone. The Tour ended on Thursday and the Minister and team returned back safely to Freetown.