Former Media Adviser to the Former president,Ernest Bai Koroma Oswald Hancil has written Emotional note on why Sierra Leonean Teachers are Trapped in Poverty.ย  The guru further highlighted factors affecting the country’s educational system

Dear Sierra Leoneans:

I cry for “us”. I wail for the children and youth of Sierra Leone. When I do my early morning walks on the streets of Freetown, I come across hundreds..
thousands…of children and youth in their school uniforms. Neatly dressed. White socks, most often. Their “poe-poe bags” on their backs. Faces oiled and bright, alight with hope that what they learn in school today would make them in 10 to 15 year’s time .. doctors; engineers; lawyers; million dollars business people; politicians; parliamentarians… My heart reach out to them with joy. They are some parents’ son or daughter. They carry the hopes of their poverty-stricken parents that their tomorrow would be better than the poverty they have been born into in a country that has squandered its enormous wealth, generating poverty for about 70% of its people, and according to the 2019-released National Medium Term Development Plan (NMTDP), “multidimensional poverty” for 10% of the populace.

“Multidimensional poverty” means in the Krio language would mean “bad bad poe”. Or, in the English language: “dirt poor”.

The NMTDP states that about 70% of the poor people of Sierra Leone live in the provinces – where about 62% of the country’s GDP is sourced from. Those who generate 62% of the GDP bear the burden of 70% of the poverty of the country. What are people in the Freetown Peninsula who consume most of the country’s resources producing?

Think on that question.

What do most of the people in Freetown who are not attending some educational institution really doing from sun up till sun down, and after the sun goes down? What are the educated elite who do about 90% of jobs in the formal sector producing, or managing?

Have the elites in the SLPP and APC ever gone into the HUGE SLUM we are making of Freetown? A couple of days ago, as I did my daily morning walk, I walked from Berry Street/Circular Road junction… up the hill to behind Parliament building (littered with plastic filth!!); I went past the “50-50” building; I went past “Mamie Dumbuya’s'” huge church building, and decided to follow the route of some school pupils…into Fort Street. What I saw!! Wow!!

A slum community has grown up just across the road from Parliament building where there used to be denuded forests and bare rock…leading to Fort Street, where there are four schools with huge new buildings.

Those school children!! There is no general bookstore in Freetown! With a population of about two million people, and about 80 percent of them children and youth in schools and colleges, there is no general bookstore in Freetown. There is only one library that can barely sit 200 persons. Stop screaming “SLPP…APC” like a crazy person and reflect on that information.

Can someone or some Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora who have taken the lead to scream “APC…SLPP”, and spew incendiary language in social media; or some of the political and bureaucratic elite within government in Sierra Leone who have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars of the people’s money entrusted in their care, finance a study on …

What are really inside those bags all our children tote on their backs to school daily?

In the public schools, how many children sit in one classroom? (Sorie Tarawally, in the classrooms in the Albert Academy in Freetown where there used to be on average 33 pupils when we attended there in the 1960s/1970s, there are on average 100 pupils sitting in the same classrooms today. They are crammed on long wooden benches. Teachers barely have space in front of the classroom to write on chalkboards!).

Are there libraries and laboratories and sporting facilities in our public schools? No! I doubt whether most pupils have ever heard of the word “laboratory”. A couple of years ago, I used my authority as media adviser to former President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House to go inside some of the relatively quality and very expensive PRIVATE schools in Freetown. They are not crowded as the public schools – on average of 20 pupils in spacious and airy classrooms with lots of light entering them. The pupils looked definitely well-fed, and they carry themselves with that air of self-confidence that borders on arrogance that is typical of elites in every country on earth. (Hey! Do you know that what we have evolved in Sierra Leone since the end of our civil war in 2002 is an APARTHEID-like system in the educational sector, no different from what the racist Afrikaners did in South Africa during the height of Apartheid era?). But even in these private schools, when I would go into their spacious laboratories, they would be either devoid of laboratory equipments, or have equipments with absolutely no materials. And dusts gathering on where there should be laboratory materials. Grateful science teachers would gladly show me around, hopeful that with publicity by someone from State House, their situation would be improved. And the teachers?

Even in the expensive private schools the teachers looked poorly-clad, and hungry-looking. I know of lady who had forty years teaching experience, and put 10 years service in an expensive private school, was given a retirement package of Le20,000,000. (For those not in Sierra Leone, Le20,000,000 exchanges for about $2,000. That is not enough for a middle class worker in Freetown to maintain his family of four in ONE MONTH). And the teachers in the public schools?

They pay some teachers in Freetown as low as Le500,000 a month. Few teachers earn above Le2,000,000 a month. Our survey should include seeing teachers as human beings. Asking them what they earn; what they eat; what they spend when they are sick; how much do they spend on rent and transportation? And how many teachers have built houses earning honest money – and not selling grades, and helping pupils to cheat in public examinations. As I joined Ben Kaifala and his Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) team on a provincial tour last year, 2021, it appeared as if the image of Ben Kaifala (Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission) with that of teachers he had paraded under the historic Cotton Tree close to State House after they had been caught redhanded helping pupils to cheat in public examinations. .was what was most memorable for them. In that provincial trip by the ACC, a constant complaint was that teachers’ salaries in the provinces from the central government would not get to them three to four months at a time. Ben Kaifala had called this phenomenon “Corruption Risk” – that is, if you don’t pay teachers in the provinces three months at a time, you are telling them, “Sell grades to your pupils and get money to survive. Or, commit suicide!”

Yes, the COLLECTIVELY MAD masses are screaming “APC…SLPP”… fighting themselves to sustain empowerment of, and further empower, the 1% bureaucratic and political elite who steal their money and ensure the teachers who teach their children get low pay…. which would result in only 1% of their children ever becoming doctors or engineers. Or, escaping from poverty. Poverty today for parents. Poverty tomorrow for their children.

What has been the policy and the practice of the APC and SLPP as regards “education” – since 1961? What are the PLANS and PRACTICE of the APC (and NGC; and C4C; and CUPP) for/in education – at national, district, chiefdom, village levels?

Can political parties only address issues of education when their party holds the reins of the presidency at State House? Look… As late Olu Gordon, Publisher of PEEP newspaper used to write, “ar tire seff”.

Let’s debate this issue – sustainably, until we overhaul the educational systems; until we imaginatively educate the people on the linkages between their poverty today and the permanent poverty of their children tomorrow and the Grand Corruption of the 1% of the governing elite: APC and SLPP….SLPP and APC….

I pause,

Oswald Hanciles, T Guru