Is the free education really free?
Hello Mr President,
A year or two ago, the Government of the Gambia introduced what they call the School Improvement Grant (SIG). Under this new system, students or their parents no longer have to pay a dime for their schooling. No school fees, no book bills; indeed no levy at all in schools. It is said that the government wants every child to have access to education, at least up to grade twelve. Commendable! Lofty ideals. One may say, but are they practical?
The state of the SIG currently begs many questions.
1. Does the government really have the ability to provide free education to all kids in the country?
2. If the answer to the above is yes, is it really good for the quality of education in the country?
3. Will this SIG negatively impact on the performance of our students? 4. What is the long term plan of improving our education system vis-à-vis the SIG?
As I write to you, Mr President, students in the senior secondary schools have still not received any textbooks for this academic year [at least the schools that I know about] because government has not paid the book suppliers. At present, teachers have to make do without textbooks. The textbooks are almost always late to be supplied to the kids and as a result this may have a negative impact on their performance at the end of their twelfth grade.
The books coming late, the absence of supplementary readers because the amount the SIG pays is not enough to cater for extra books will certainly impact negatively on the overall performance. Besides, human nature is such that whatever comes to one free is not valued as it should. As a result, parents and even kids will not take their education seriously. This means the SIG is likely to result in a serious drop in performance in the country.
It is clear that at present, the education system leaves a lot to be desired. The system does not cater for the needs of the country. Unemployment is on the rise because the education system does not produce job creators; rather, it only creates job seekers. The education system needs to be fixed so that it produces job creators rather than job seekers. Doing that with the SIG will be a tough nut to crack.
What’s the solution? In my humble opinion, free education is a good thing but not necessarily practical for us at the moment. When people don’t put their money into something, they don’t value it the way they should. Equally, the level of poverty in the majority of the Gambians prevents parents from expending the necessary resources in the education of their children. So, it would have been better if the SIG pledged half the cost of books and fees and parents to pay for the other half. This will enable parents to send their children to school and still maintain the required interest to take it seriously.
Furthermore, this will make the necessary restructuring of our education system which will enable us to fix the gap between the students graduating from school and our labour market will be bridged. This is the only way forward.
Have a good day Mr President.
Keeps getting murkier
The drama intensifies…. Getting murkier, more opaque, more muddied and interesting. Former Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty is insisting on his innocence and daring anyone, including the Presidency and his accusers, to prove his guilty. That is a daring-do and considering the magnitude of the allegation and the political damage that it could do to his career if proven true, and to protest his innocence loudly and proudly, he seems to be rock solid.
The Presidency, the Office of the President, has no choice but to come clear and clean on this matter. The silence will not only intensify and aggravate the speculation but would also raise unanswered doubts in our minds. The silence would mean that Mai is right that he is a victim of malicious, insidious trumped up charges. It may also have two contradictory adverse effects: damaging the political career of a politician or increasing the approval rating and popularity of a politician who the voters see as a hapless victim, or a hero, of a smear campaign by other politicians.
If the charges are true, then Semlex, the alleged accuser, must, produce a copy of the cheque which was issued in the name of Mai or the bank transfer or the transaction details. Or an audio of the meeting in which Mai demanded the payment for the favours. Only Jammeh, the King of Croesus, used to pack millions of Dalasis in suitcases and sacks and hand them over to people in full public glare. We may need to see pictures of these, know the carriers and the counters, who witnessed the offloading and all what not. These may be petty but the onus is also on the accuser to prove its accusation.
This case and others demand that the Government or the Presidency is transparent to the public, communicates timely and unambiguously, and knows it is accountable to the people for its acts of commission and omission. The Government must not be afraid of the light.
But more importantly, it show the urgency of instituting “whistle blowing” as an “ethical recourse” for employees, setting up the anti- corruption commission, enacting a Right to Information law and insisting on exemplary leadership from all. When the political leaders set an example by being transparent and accountable, who would dare act otherwise?