By Fatima Gbla.
In its 2018 election Manifesto, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) promised free education at both the primary and secondary education levels – a promise that community leaders hope will lead to less school dropouts.
In an exclusive interview with the Global Times Newspaper, the Section Chief of Kroo Bay Community, Pa Alimamy Kargbo disclosed that one of the major challenges for parents in sending their children to school is the lack of financial capacity to afford to pay school fees for their children.
In addition to the standard school fees of Le75,000 per term, Pa Kargbo said that teachers often force pupils to pay additional costs for items such as food and pamphlets. If they cannot pay, Pa Kargbo said they are sometimes flogged and even driven out of class.
He furthered explained that, although dropping out of school is not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone, the rate of dropout seems to be increasing – especially among school going girls in vulnerable communities, as high teenage pregnancy rates lead to increased dropouts from school.
Pa Kargbo spoke to the need to ensure that the new President Maada Bio administration fulfils its free education promise as highlighted in his party manifesto.
Yeyah, a 60-year-old woman living in Kroo Bay also told this newspaper that her daughter, now age 17, has been a dropout from school since 2016. She lamented that after her daughter sat to the National Primary School Examination (NPSE) she had no money for her daughter to continue her schooling. “My child was left with nothing to do which led her to become pregnant,” Yeyah stressed.
According to Father Emmanuel C. Ajah, Acting Director at Freetown’s Don Bosco Fambul – a charitable organization that supports street children to get back into school – some of the things that make children drop out of school are poor family status, and a lack of support in the community.
“Instead of encouraging the children to go to school they are encouraged to make money through farming or selling on the streets,” he noted. “This makes the child to discourage and drop out of school.”
In Kroo Bay Community, Pa Kargbo says that hundreds of girls have dropped out of schools in the community in recent years. He does not see the situation improving.
According to the SLPP Manifesto, the party believes “in giving every child a good education so that they can develop themselves, support their families and build our nation for the future.” Yet, it is a reality that most of the population lacks or has limited or no guaranteed access to basic services including education, healthcare and social protection.
For the APC government, education is not a right but a privilege. For SLPP’s‘New Direction’ – outlined in its 2018 Manifesto – to succeed, the party believes Sierra Leone needs a new education model that prioritizes free education.
For the New Direction, the primary objective is to increase access to quality pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational education and training, as well as university education that will enable citizens to engage in meaningful productive economic activity.
The New Direction also states that it will implement and fund a new free education programme for primary and secondary levels, and promote inclusive education through improving facilities and free education for the physically challenged. Specifically, the SLPP government has stated through its manifesto that it will provide free education for the physically challenged at all levels. That is, pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary level.
“The costs of the flagship programme are indicative and will be reviewed annually,” reads the SLPP 2018 Manifesto.“Our analysis shows that unit cost per pupil per year is about US$51(equivalent to Le380, 000) covering tuition, core text books, uniforms and other learning materials and with projected total enrolment of 2,090,385 pupils over a five-year period based on 2016 Annual School Census figures.”
In order to implement this plan, the SLPP Manifesto states that the government “will require Le115 Billion in 2018, Le126 Billion in 2019 and Le140 Billion in 2020. This estimate will increase at an average of 10% consistent with the school enrolment rate.”