The Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education Dr Moinina David Sengeh has regarded the decision taken by universities to conduct entrance examinations for students after getting their university requirement as a reflection of the successes of the Free Quality School Education (FQSE).
“No matter where one sits on the discourse of education transformation in Sierra Leone, it is undeniable that adding 38% more students to the school system will yield many more students who transition out of schools. It is thus no surprise that today; we have about 100,000 students who are eligible for entrance into higher and tertiary institutions (over 206,000 candidates attempted the national transition exams). If you invest $1 billion USD, hire and train more teachers, provide more books and teaching materials, children are bound to do well in their hundreds of thousands,” the Minister said.
According to the Minister, the expansion seen in the Basic and Secondary Education has happened much quicker than in higher and tertiary education, noting that the lag is expected, adding that the entire number of students in the higher and tertiary institutions in 2019 was around 54,000 and that means more than 2 times the number of candidates are eligible to enter university this year alone than the entire university system had just 3 years ago.
He said the government was anticipating this, noting that the government has opened new universities and expanded Government Technical Institutes to 10 districts with additional community colleges, adding that several other tertiary institutions have been opened by private citizens.
He said over 60% of students in public institutions are supported by government grants, stating that the investment in education is unprecedented in the country, noting that government has further clamped down on education fraud and examination malpractice, even if not totally eliminated, noting that to eliminate this will rely on the public.
“How does one deal with these large numbers of eligible candidates who can enroll in higher and tertiary institutions? The answer is simple- entrance examinations! Entrance Examinations are nothing new in the higher and tertiary sectors across the world where the number of available seats is far below those eligible. Many countries do have entrance exams for those who pass their secondary school transition exams,” he said.
The Minister said entrance exams do not mean the transition exam is worthless, but an extra layer of competitive selection.
“Some argue that it also allows for students to potentially change tracks. If an ‘arts’ student wants to study biology in college, she can now take those entrance exams as long as they have the minimum requirements from the transition exam. It also is fairer- how might you otherwise choose only 250 students for a course where 25,000 have requirements? I think personally that in addition to these entrance exams, students should demonstrate a community service portfolio,” he said.
He calls on Sierra Leoneans to understand the value of the West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) certificate, noting that there are many owners of those certificates who do not want to or cannot go to higher and tertiary institutions, adding that they can use those certificates to transition into work and other areas of entrepreneurship.
“One thing is clear; we are fast on the way of eliminating illiteracy in our country within one generation. The question that arises is, are we leaving Civics behind? What role are you playing in improving the access to quality education,” he asked.