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Sierra Leone News: President Bio announces free education for over 2m pupils

Parents, school authorities, pupils, education authorities and government officials outside the Miatta Conference Centre were in a celebratory mood prior to the unveiling of the free, quality education package.
Haja Rabiatu E. Conteh, National Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Market Women’s Association said as women they are the head and champion of homes and the children. She described their position as the direct beneficiaries of the program stating, most of them are widows, husbands have no work and the entire household depends on women. She said, the money she usually spends on school fees can now be used for food and on other areas of the home.
Olive Maya Fofana, from Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG) called on both government and her colleagues to take advantage of the program. She said the government should ensure teacher’s salaries are increased. She hopes the program works.
On Monday 20 August 2018, President Julius Maada Bio launched the first phase of the free, quality education package for government and government-assisted schools.
The package includes:
School fee subsidy for pre-primary, primary, junior secondary and senior secondary students.
For students who are over the age for primary school, there will be an opportunity to attend non-formal educational learning centres.
The government will pay for pupils taking private examination; BECE, NPSE, WASSCE and NVT examination fees will be provided.
Core subject textbooks will be supplied in English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science and Civic Education.
Essential teaching and learning materials for pupils and teachers and including exercise books, pen, pencils, chalk, registers and sports equipment.
School feeding program to every school.
Furniture will be supplied to schools in all districts.
More trained and qualified teachers will be integrated onto the government payroll.
The Minister of Basic, Primary and Secondary Education, Alpha Timbo, said there are 2.14 million pupils in over 8,000 government and government-assisted schools according to 2018 school census. The Minister said the project is for five years and the 2018/19 school year will mark the beginning of the first phase.
Isatu Marie Kamara, a teacher, said quality goes with meaningful services so they want to see their welfare considered seriously by the government. She said they want one-on-one teaching and learning materials for the children. She said there is a need for massive sensitization to parents especially those who cannot read and write. She called on her colleagues to stay in class and deliver quality learning to the students.
The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, said they have released Le32.7 billion for tuition subsidy that is now being processed by the Accountant General’s Department.
The government has received and validated bank accounts for 85% of the primary, junior and senior secondary schools. The Ministry continues to collect and validate school bank accounts. By 7 September, payments of the tuition subsidies will be paid to schools.
Competitive, open bidding has opened to start the procurement for teaching and learning materials and also procurement for school buses.
The Acting British High Commissioner, Colin Trorkin, said this is the first step in the launch of the first phase of the project and that they will provide support to the government to achieve the goal.
He disclosed DFID and other UK agencies will be providing pens, pencils, chalk and books. They will also contribute to the renovation of junior secondary schools in selected rural areas and one-on-one coaching for teachers. He said with the free education, children will have the opportunity to flourish and reach their full potential irrespective of their sex, religion, ethic grouping and background.
In his statement, President Maada Bio said free education is possible and education is an investment for personal and national development. “With the introduction of the free quality education,” President Bio said, “parents and guardians have a role to play” …by paying for school bags, uniforms, footwear, extra pens, pencils, notebooks and optional subject text books.
It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children go to school and stay there and focus on their studies. “Subjecting the child to excessive domestic chores will not be accepted anymore,” said the President. The Education Act of 2004 makes it compulsory for parents to send their children to school and the Act also provides punishment for non-complying parents or guardians. “This Act will be strictly enforced,” he added.
Another important announcement was made during the launch. A free hotline – 4060 – was initiated to handle calls from parents, teachers or students who have complaints or comments about the program. If a parent has a concern, they can call the toll-free hotline, which will be set up shortly.
The Multi-Donor Free Education Basket Trust Fund was launched Monday. The President has pledged to donate his salary for three months and the Vice President has pledged to donate half of his salary for one year and to give ten cows for the school feeding project.
BM/20/8/18
By Betty Milton
Wednesday August 22, 2018.

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