Approximately 80% of Sierra Leone’s population is illiterate. After a 10 year civil war, a peace treaty was signed in January 2003 between the government and the rebels, and the process of demobilisation and disarmament took place. Since then the country has become increasingly stable politically, elections have been held and displaced persons have returned to their homes.
The work of rebuilding this beautiful but ravaged country is now slowly taking place, with the help of the international community. One of the most important ways to help rebuild and to plan for the future is to improve basic education. Many schools were destroyed during the civil war and some children have missed out on years of primary education.
Education in Tonkolili District
Tonkolili district is situated in the north of Sierra Leone, about 180 miles from the capital, Free Town. Masanga Hospital has had a long established link European and American expatriates dating back to 1960s, under the management of the Seventh Day Adventists Church. This resulted in SLAA UK being set up as a charity, with the aim of improving the quality of health care in the district. The link still exists and the charity is currently raising funds to help equip the reconstructed hospital and to improve maternal and child healthcare.
Tonkolili has five primary schools and two secondary schools. Primary education begins at six years and finishes at 12. Children must pass an end of school exam in order to obtain a place at secondary school. Unfortunately, not all children benefit from secondary education even if they pass the exam, due to lack of funds.
Tonkolili District Education Committee (KDEC) Primary School provides an example of the kind of conditions which teachers are working under. Unlike some other schools in the district, the actual building was left untouched during the war although books, records and other resources were destroyed. In January 2004, there were 987 children on roll, with six classes and a recently established pre-school of 60 children. Classrooms are built round three sides of a rectangular playground and equipped with wooden desks, benches and a blackboard. The ratio of teacher per child can be as many as 1:75. Teaching is very much ‘talk and chalk’ and there is a dearth of text books, writing materials and paper. Lessons are conducted in English.
Establishing links with schools in the UK:
In November 2003 I visited Kambia with members of the Kambia Hospital Appeal. As a teacher, I was interested to see some schools and met up with Mrs Fatu Bangura, who works in the Tonkolili Inspectorate Office. As I understood it, her role is similar to an LEA adviser in this county. She took me round Tonkolili District Education Committee Primary School and I was able to meet the headmaster, Mr Swaray, and see conditions for myself. He told me about some of the terrible things that had happened to the occupants of the town during the war and how, as a result, there were many orphaned children, now living with relatives. He described how teachers are working for a very small wage with limited resources and how the school desperately needs basic materials such as English grammar books, dictionaries and maths primers. He and Mrs Bangura are very keen to set up a link with a primary school in the UK. Links of this kind have already been established in other areas and teachers involved have reported that this has had benefits for both parties. Whilst one cannot deny that Tonkolili schools are in need of resources and would benefit from anything that could be sent out, establishing a link would enable children in both schools to gain an insight into how others live and learn.