Source:| Alfred Kamanda, Sierra Leone

The educational standard in Sierra Leone is increasingly plummeting, which clearly poses an existential threat to the future of this country. There are too many unsuitable and poorly prepared teachers who have been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the lives of our next generation of leaders. Most of our students who graduate with the best results in our schools nowadays, when given the podium to showcase what they have learnt, perform abysmally, which is symptomatic of the comatose state of our education system.

There are countless reports about teachers receiving bribes from students in the form of money or sex in exchange for grades. A significant number of students these days seem to rely exclusively on “Leakages” which allow them to see the questions before they get into the exam hall. Some teachers have discovered a new way of soliciting from students by being business men in schools. Students end up buying their products, and some even receive weekly contributions from students as most of these teachers have not been approved by the Ministry of Education. They “cooperate” with the teachers just so they are in their good books. Parents are part of the problem too. Some even go the extra mile to contact teachers in order to help their kids pass exams. The WASSCE results, especially in the urban areas, to a large extent no longer reflect the true performance of students but the limits of their pockets and influence as well as the attractiveness of their body. These students subsequently wind up in universities across the country, and are ultimately churned out into our schools and the wider society. It is a vicious cycle.

I remain worried for two main professions in this country: Medical students who end up becoming Doctors – a life and death matter- and our teachers who will have to create and nurture all other professions. This is really troubling and calls for urgent fixing by the relevant authorities. When underserving grades are awarded to medical students only to help them graduate as doctors; it is one major step towards further destroying the health sector and putting the lives of us all at risk. Take a moment to think about this: The doctors we produce today will be performing delicate operations on patients tomorrow; they will be required to diagnose and prescribe treatment for patients. Imagine you are left at the mercy of one ill-trained Doctor who meandered his way through medical school. Scary!  You would be condemned to fate. In truth, that is what many citizens have been consigned to. No one gives what they do not have.

Sydney Hook has stated that “The teacher is the heart of the educational system.” It therefore follows that, if a teacher decides to be corrupt, inefficient and ineffective, his products will be more than corrupt, inept and dangerous in the job market. Helen Caldecott has also emphasized that teachers are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth. In essence, the better the teacher the better the fate of the earth would be and vice-versa.

As teachers, we have a moral responsibility today to give our best despite the beggarly salaries and poor conditions of service. We need not go that low to destroying the structures the country will rely on for ages. The only way we can secure the next generation of leaders is to instill discipline, hard work, integrity, and patriotism in them. Corruption hurts – and has held us captive as a nation for a very long time. It is important to remind them that obtaining “success” by resorting to bribes, sex for grades, or phone calls from parents or some people in high places is both degrading and unsustainable.

The health sector is far from being healthy, and churning out ill-trained doctors is far worse than having limited Doctors attending to millions of patients. Quality – not quantity without substance -should be the maxim in the educational sector, especially for the medical profession.

Now to the teacher who trains all the professionals! As a teacher, you have an opportune choice to make or break the nation. It is your choice to make, but in truth, there should be no doubt about which direction your decision should go. If you choose to be a bad teacher, then we are simply headed for doom as a nation. The road not taken by you is what will make this nation great again.

According to Alexandra Rodriguez, the teacher is to the students what the rain is to the field. So when a teacher prefers to be bad in order to fill his empty sack then you are helping to train teachers who will teach your own kids and ours too in the not too distant future. The kids you are training today will have to train our future Doctors, our future engineers, our future law makers, our future journalists, and our future policy makers. The stuff the teacher is made of is more important to the students than what he passes on to them and they will keep remembering the teacher and what she/he teaches them for as long as they live. Keep in mind that the kid who is made to believe that the best way to supplement their earning and live an unmerited luxurious lifestyle is through nefarious means, will end up being in charge of the national treasury. It will certainly be an opportunity to give effect to what they imbibed while growing up; they will not represent the interest of the masses when making decisions; they will have no respect for competence and meritorious deeds, which will further help to plunge this country into the abyss we already find ourselves. After you have trained them to be corrupt and lazy, with no integrity and love for humanity, you would then let loose the dogs of vandalism and death to further destroy the remaining pillars.

 Ivan Walton Fitzwater cautioned us all in his statement that “The future of the world is in our classroom today, a future with the potential for good or bad. Several future presidents are learning from us today; so are the great writers of the next decades, and so are all the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy. We must never forget these same young people could be the thieves and murderers of the future. Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day, lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow.”

 I strongly believe this nation will be great again if teachers of this generation stand up tall and lead as exemplary teachers. Lead as agents of change for the growth and development of this country. I strongly believe in the words of Henry B. Adams, who said a teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops. If a teacher decides to be good like Yusif Jalloh, who taught me English and Literature in school, Mr. Murray who taught me Economics, then we will have men and women of integrity who believe in excellence and meritorious deeds, who frown at corruption, bad governance, ineptitude. Then Salone will rise again. Yes! Salone will rise again!

 Let me take this golden opportunity to thank all Teachers who are doing their very best to teach our kids the best of culture, attitude and behavior despite their poor conditions of service and beggarly salaries. God will continue to bless and reward you abundantly.

Yes! Sierra Leone will rise again if we all decide to be part of the change we preach by facing our challenges together. Teach them today that hard work and not buying of grades is the secret to attaining their dreams. Let me conclude with the words of D. O. Olu, who says “Every Educational System at every level depends heavily on Teachers for the execution of its programs. Maintaining and improving educational standards is only possible through teachers. The teacher, therefore, is the most indispensable entity in the school. He is the greatest aid to learning. Thus as far as possible, he should be thoroughly trained and supported in his work.”

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