Op-ed: Thoughts on The Government of Sierra Leone’s Free Quality Education Initiative from the Head of UK Aid

On the 17th September, children went back to school to start the new school year. I was pleased to visit a school in Freetown on the first day to see first-hand how the government’s flagship free quality education initiative is being received by children and their parents.

This is an ambitious reform effort. The education system in Sierra Leone faces multiple challenges. Learning outcomes are low, especially at the end of secondary schooling.  And, although much progress has been made on girls’ access to education, levels of drop out remain high and teenage pregnancy is common. One of the barriers, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable, is the cost of schooling.  It will take sustained leadership and partnership to enable all children, including those with a disability, to have all the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential and help set Sierra Leone on the path to prosperity.

I am delighted that DFID is able to support the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MBSEE) in their work to implement this policy. This year, with UK aid support, MBSEE will provide every student in secondary school with maths and English books that will take them step by step through the curriculum. They will also train all secondary maths and English teachers in how to teach their subject more effectively with UK support.

We know that the most vulnerable need extra help to stay in school and learn. That is why the UK is working alongside the government to introduce a programme to support disabled students with assistive devices. We are also working with schools to make them safer for girls by getting better information from schools on incidents of sexual misconduct. MBSEE will use this information to hold schools to account. This, alongside our investments in health, will help government to implement the commitment it made at the London Family Planning Summit to do more to rapidly reduce teenage pregnancies.

I congratulate the Government on its strong commitments on quality education for all, and on what has been achieved so far to tackle the problems holding education back.  We know there is much more still to be done.   I look forward to continuing our partnership with the Government to support them in this and help all children in Sierra Leone achieve their potential and change their lives for the better.

Mary Hunt

Head of UK Aid in Sierra Leone