History-Fear-Excitement-Belief: Hitting Education Milestones COVID-19 Style
Today, amid a pandemic, after months of brainstorming, consultations and planning by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and its partners, especially pupils and parents, 143,816 Year 6 pupils from 3,927 schools nationwide, are taking the National Primary School Examination (NPSE) in 262 centres. I am emotional! (Yes, I do get emotional)
History: I’m pretty sure I got my knack for memorising dates from my Father, Sanah Johnsen Mara. His memory for dates, events and chemical formulae is World class. My obsession with milestones, I definitely got from my Mother, Zaria Amina Mara. I am certain societal constructs of milestones around girls’ education, learning to cook and caring for a home, and the expectation of getting married by a certain age, play a massive part in this. Nurtured by these two veteran teachers, educationists and public servants, whom both served stints in the Ministry of Education, has meant that educational milestones have always been important to me.
Certain aspects of Sierra Leone’s colourful history the civil war, military coups, teacher and student strikes- have had severe ramifications for our educational system. Pupils and students are prone to missing entire academic years whenever these interruptions occur. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) coup occured after my friends and I set national records at the NPSE (#notcockyjustfacts). Thousands of children missed school. Some missed an entire academic year, others never went go to go back . A few of us were fortunate to enroll at a private school, the Limount College, while public schools remained closed.
Till this day, as proud as I am of the Limount College, I look back at the coup and see the reason why I couldn’t attend the Annie Walsh Memorial School (AWMS), my mum’s alma matter, for junior secondary school years. Being a science student then, I was unable to fulfill my dream of completing my Sixth Form at the Prince of Wales Secondary School (POW) - (girls were allowed to attend by then). Public schools eventually re-opened and I recall reports of the names of my smart friends and myself being read out from the register at the AWMS —Form One1 ( class of best NPSE scores, nothing less, wink) for nearly a term.
Fear: I am grateful for not missing out, and learning under the leadership of Madame Daphne Pratt and Madam Janette Davies. However, I still have this innate fear of kids missing school due to circumstances beyond their control. This fear returned when COVID-19 showed up, uninvited, definitely unwanted. Apart from the envisaged aggregate impact on lives and livelihoods, I was specifically concerned about education and the possible loss of another academic year across all levels of formal education. Thankfully, building on lessons learnt from the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the Government was proactive in implementing measures to mitigate the impact of the disease on lives and livelihoods.
Excitement: As Focal Person for the Human Capital Project, I work with the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education (MBSSE), Dr. David M. Sengeh, together with Dr. Yatta Kanu, Grace Kargobai Amara Sowa, MS Sesay and other members of the MBSSE team.
I am sure the Minister would recall a brief conversation on the possibility of holding the exams, especially the NPSE during COVID. With blinkers on, my main concern was for children not to miss this critical milestone and lose a whole academic year.
Among the numerous reforms happening under his leadership (https://mbsse.gov.sl/), he set up the Education Emergency Task Force to support learning during and after COVID. This Team is a mix of Government staff and Development Partners . After months of planning, in addition to developing and implementing the Education COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan, 143, 816 Year 6 pupils are today taking the NPSE 2020, COVID style (https://mbsse.gov.sl/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Sierra-Leone-COVID19-Education-Response-Plan-PDF.pdf). Zero school transmissions so far. Zero tolerance for exam malpractice. August 3rd 2020 , NPSE milestone not missed!
I am beyond excited! I am sure a few challenges remain, but we are all committed to continuous learning, doing better and being better. I am elated that leaders in the education sector did not give up in the face of ‘danger’. Personally, with support from our friends and donors, the Yak Jones Foundation provided exams kits (http://www.yakjonesfoundation.com/) for pupils of the Salt Pond Community School taking the exams today .
As I write this, I am still smiling as wishes of good luck to kids flood my Facebook timeline and WhatsApp groups.
We have NPSE candidates in the family too! Shout out to Gisele Akibo-Betts, 1st daughter of one time NPSE Record Holder, Binta Akibo-Betts! Best wishes to the kids of friends, colleagues and all Sierra Leoneans!
Belief: Yes, its ‘Belief’ not ‘Hope’. I firmly believe education in Sierra Leone is being transformed for the better forever. The Government has prioritised human capital development. Radical transformation is ongoing at MBSSE and Higher Education, including the Technical and Vocational Education space. Several Development Partners, non-governmental organisations and ordinary citizens are contributing to promoting education, especially investments in girls’ protection and education. There is a general increase in awareness of the importance of education.
I firmly believe that by the time my daughters and their colleagues would be taking the NPSE, Sierra Leone would once again be on track to becoming the Athens of Africa.
Thank you, Teachers! Thank you, Parents! Thank you, Children! Thank you MBSSE! Thank you, Government of Sierra Leone!
Last year, the top three schools in the Yak Jones Foundation’s Reading, Comprehension and Quiz Competition placed top three in the country’s NPSE. Let’s see what this year brings.
Till then, lets keep, #learning and doing