Special Commentary

Between The Education Minister And USL

By Thomas Vandi Gbow

The Minister of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) has stated in an official letter addressed to the Registrar, University of Sierra Leone (USL) that he is “constrained to offer any support to the proposal of the University of Sierra Leone to conduct an entrance matriculation parallel exam.”

The USL has scheduled the exam to take place on 11th November, 2016 and every applicant – excluding those that have gone through the University – is a candidate for the entrance exam. But according to Dr. Minkailu Bah, who was a lecturer at Fourah Bah College (FBC – USL), the entrance exam has the tendency to discredit every other examination structure that exists with government support. He reminded the University that “the acts and policies that govern us clearly prescribe ways and means by which pupils can qualify for University matriculation.” The Minister therefore warned that any other arrangement short of or additional to that will require extensive consultations and changes to their legal instruments.

I believe the University authorities may have thought it expedient to introduce an entrance exam before successful applicants would be admitted into the University. The major reason for the University’s attempt to introduce an entrance examination could not be unconnected with the University turning out poor graduates over the years.

I agree with the Minister’s claims that the University themselves, and not just the schools, are partly to be blamed for the sorry state of affairs. But I totally disagree with Dr. Minkailu Bah when he stated that the proposed entrance exam has the tendency to discredit every other examination structure that exists and with the support of government. This is totally untrue in that the introduction of entrance exam or diagnostic test in the then Mass Communication Unit under the Department of Modern Languages during the 1993/94 year did not in any way, shape or form discredited the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) or any other examination structure that exists; rather, it gave the Unit the golden opportunity to select the best applicants. For example, the first batch of diploma students during the 1995/96 was fourteen and eight of them graduated with distinction, including the Director of Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), Augustus Kamara, Dorothy Awoonor Gordon, Tamba Sumana, Osman Saw,  myself and three others whose names I cannot recall.

The diagnostic test was introduced by the then Head of English Department, Dr. Julius Spenser, when it was discovered that some applicants for the study of Certificate in Journalism had applied with fake results. The decision affected even those that applied with sound University requirements. Though the diagnostic test was not a prescribed way or means by which pupils can qualify for University matriculation, yet Dr. Christiana Thorpe who was the Secretary of State – Education never objected to its introduction like what Dr. Minkailu Bah has done. And that diagnostic test has culminated in the Mass Communication Department turning out good and excellent graduates every academic year.

But since the proposal of the USL to conduct an entrance exam has been put on hold according to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the University, I would advise the University authorities to hearken to the advice of the Education Minister by having extensive consultations with the appropriate authorities so that entrance exam becomes a policy that would help the University thoroughly vet the academic ability of applicants before admitting them. It could be a very good way for a caricature of a University to regain its exuberant past.

Sincerely speaking, the Education Minister should accept the fact that even the so-called examination structures WAEC have lost their credibility since examination malpractices became a vogue among unscrupulous exams officials, invigilator who are mostly teachers, personnel that provide security to exams centres, and the exams candidates. Because of these rampant exams malpractices, many pupils are getting good or excellent WASSCE results which they don’t actually deserve academically. Therefore, for the University to enroll deserving applicants, I believe they must be academically tested so that only those who can prove their mettle in the entrance exam would be accepted.

It is no longer a matter of discrediting examination structures or the University because their standards have fallen to the lowest ebb. What matters now is how those institutions will regain their past glory and entrance exam is one of the surest ways of doing it. Please think about it Mr. Minister.