By Michaella Bonnie
Sierra Leone Embassy South Korea
Sierra Leone’s President, His Excellency Julius Maada Bio flagship program, which is the Free Quality Education has been described as a pro-poor service as it has greatly helped to empower children whose parents are poor and cannot afford to pay their tuition’s fees.
Since His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio took over office in April 2018 as head of state, he did not waste any time but to officially launch the Free Quality Education in September 2018 and since then, it has encouraged more pupils to gain free admission in schools. Contrary to the past regime, when some of these children whose parents cannot afford to pay their tuition will be left out and denied admission into the formal system of learning. As the narrative has been changed by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio through the Free Quality Education, many children can now boast of free and quality education in the country. This move of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has been applauded by all except the members of the main opposition APC party who have also considered the Free Quality Education program as a political gimmick.
President Bio stated during the official launching of the Free Quality Education that, “When I promised free and quality education, my opponents said it was a political gimmick. But today, I have proven them wrong. In less than six months; we have shown that free education is possible. I have always prioritized education as a means for development. As President, in order to demonstrate my commitment to education, my government has increased the budgetary allocation to education to 21 per cent of the national budget. Several other strides have been taken already in this short time to commence the implementation of free quality education programme across the country,”.
Through the Free Quality Education, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has achieved huge success in narrowing the gender gaps; especially in promoting girls’ education in the country. President Bio whose emphases are on Human Capital Development has on several occasions implored the private sector to support the agenda of the government through providing support towards the Free Quality Education that has helped to reduce the number of school dropout in the country.
“While my government is ready to cover the expenses in paying tuition fees for students, providing textbooks, books, pens and pencils, sports equipment, rehabilitation of schools, provision of furniture, and the commencement of the school feeding programme in government and government assisted schools, we encourage parents, guardians and teachers to show commitment to the education of their children. It is the responsibility of teachers to teach properly and the duty of parents to ensure that the child goes to school, stays in school for the full day, and has time at home to do homework and rest. Subjecting the child to excessive chores, and sending them for trading instead of schooling will not be acceptable. In line with the 2004 Education Act, we will enforce and convict any parent who neglects to send their children to school,” President Bio warned.
Harking to the call of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio who is very enthusiastic about impacting the lives of all Sierra Leoneans through the Free Quality Education program; the Managing Director of Mercury International, Mr. Martin Michael has pledged huge support towards the Free Quality Education especially in building of more schools in the provinces. This move has helped tremendously in admitting lots of children whose parents are poor and cannot afford to pay their tuition fees. Eager to contribute to sustainable development in the country, Mr. Martin Michael said: “Since education is now free, we utilized the funds we had allocated to a project that would create a lasting legacy for Mercury but, way more importantly, a project that would create an opportunity for our children-particularly girls-to have the best education possible in the best available classrooms and schools”.
The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education must be commended for its most recent annual school census report, which is more revealing than in previous years. According to the census report, 53.4% of pre-primary, 78.7% of primary, 76.7% of junior secondary and 80.4% of senior secondary schools are now approved.
In 2018 before the launching of the Free Quality Education, less than half of schools across basic and senior secondary school were approved to receive government support.
With more than one generation streaming into primary, the gross enrolment rate (GER) has increased by 30 and 34 percentage points for boys and girls respectively between 2018 and 2019.
In primary, growth averages 29.2%, ranging from 18.4% in Moyamba to 48.1% in Pujehun. Growth in JSS averages 43.2%, ranging from 24.5% in Moyamba to 96.8% in Falaba. In senior secondary, there has been growth across all districts ranging from 19.8% in Moyamba to 78.6% in Kailahun. Considerably more students are learning and hitherto unreached areas have now been brought into the educational system.
The Free Quality Education is an important component as its maintain democratic principles of any government; as a result of the Free Quality Education which was implemented by President Julius Maada Bio, more than two million children now have access to primary and secondary education. President Bio has been lauded for delivering 70% of its manifesto commitment on the Free Quality Education within three years.