One year ago, on November 7, 2019, I was appointed as Cabinet Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio. Although I was the youngest to ever hold that office for the Government of Sierra Leone, President Bio was direct and clear in his confidence in me. I was proud (still am) of his vote of confidence, but I knew we had an enormous task ahead.
Today, 2.6 million children and young people (approximately 37% of Sierra Leone’s population) directly benefit from the government’s flagship Free Quality School Education (FQSE) program.
MBSSE has around 33,000 teachers on the payroll – the largest single workforce category in the government – and a further 50,000 serving as community, volunteer or private school teachers.
In all, the government’s investment in education takes up 22% of its total budget.
Besides the sheer scale of the MBSSE’s remit, we were confronting a set of other thorny, urgent problems, which were exacerbated by decades of neglect of the education sector and deeply entrenched corrupt practices.
First, more than 4,000 teachers had not had their salary level revised to reflect their successful completion of professional development programs. Second, we had no updated syllabi or curriculum frameworks for the schools. Third, key positions in the MBSSE including the curriculum and research units were left vacant.
In addition, critical policies covering topics such early childhood development and school feeding were either stuck in draft stage or absent. Finally, new school infrastructure development was stalling even though our population continues to grow rapidly.
We needed to address all of these critical issues quickly to fulfill the potential of FQSE, and at the same time initiate a transformation of the MBSSE.