September 2018 marked the initiation of the free, quality education program. With the launch, parents, students and school authorities were optimistic that things would change for the better.
The free, quality education initiative was to pay school fees for all students, provide for a one shift system, provide free exercise books and textbooks, ensure quality education, limit class size to 50 pupils per one teacher and revamp the entire system.
Isatu Turay, a parent whose two children attend the Saint Augustine Primary School, noted the free quality education is a good initiative but what is going on presently is not what we were expecting.” She said she has paid over Le200,000 for two kids in just two days. The money is for school charges, PTA meetings and to support teachers whose names are not on the government payroll.
“The school authorities asked us to pay this money compulsory or our kids will not take the exams.” A teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said, “The government is collecting millions of dollars for this program from donors but we, the teachers, don’t see any extra. We still earn less than Le1 million and teachers need to be taken care of.” He said with good remunerations it can help them to do their job better as teachers.
According to the National Program Coordinator for the Free Quality Education Program, Amara Sowa, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) is expecting 90 containers of Teachers’ Guides and Pupils Handbooks in the next couple of weeks, more than half way through the first term.
Sowa revealed that a tour by Ministry staff and partners discovered the lack of promised exercise books to the schools and blamed the increased number of students. Senior Secondary student, Fatmata Dumbuya, said, “I received two small exercise books, which are not worth anything because I need up to nine in one term. We are all very disappointed in my class where we have over 60 pupils.”
The Program Coordinator said the government had paid school fee subsidies to over 4,000 schools amounting to over Le28 million. Apparently, the Ministry distributed a limited number of teachers’ guides to teachers in government and government assisted schools through a DFID-funded program known as ‘Leh Wi Lan”.
A student at a secondary school for girls, Rebecca Sesay, said, “We were told we would have one shift but now we have two shifts. We were also told the education quality would be better but we are doing the same old that we did last year.”