By Dr Lamin E Drammeh
The future of every society lies in the education and health of its children. Thus, the sustainable development of any nation and certainly The Gambia must be conceived in good leadership and fueled by the unparalleled commitment of the government to provide accessible, affordable, and quality education to all children no matter where they live, whether in Baddibu, Foni, Fulladu, Kiang, Kombo, Niani, Niumi, Sandu, Saloum, Sami, or Wuli. In order to prepare our citizens for tomorrow and shape our future leaders, we must not do business as usual.
Our schools should not pass students who are not measuring up to acceptable standards. Rather than meeting content competencies in reading, writing, speaking, critical thinking, communication, and collaborative work, our students pass through schools without an effective assessment of key learning outcomes. Processes that promote students when they deserve to repeat a class send a message that quality is not important. But quality is most important and must be the guiding principle of our leaders, educators, teachers, and parents for ensuring student success. We must revisit the failed policy that eradicated common entrance so that every student can be promoted to the next grade. Accessibility must never be the enemy of quality. It is bad policy for educational leaders to prioritise compulsory education or mere attendance over quality and best practices in education delivery.
We must confront the clear and present danger of an ineffective and neglected educational system. This is clear from the results of the Gambia Basic Education Certification Examination (GABECE) and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) performances. This should be a high national priority and a serious concern for every Gambian. It is a terrible tragedy when the dreams of innocent children are dashed against the rocks of systemic failure. Instead of becoming productive citizens, too many of our children grow up and become dependent on family, friends and a society ill-equipped to support them. Education is the indispensable resource that cannot be ignored and our leaders must treat it as the key to the growth and development of the country and our people. National development is a multifaceted process; vision, leadership, empowerment, capacity building, ownership, and accountability. As leaders and influencers, we must do all we can to provide our youth with hope, education, and opportunity for self-actualisation. In my 20 years in education, as an administrator and a strategist, I have never been more concerned about the future of The Gambia and the fate of our children and youth (sixty-five percent of whom are under the golden age of 24 years).
The examination results, WASSCE in particular, are a clarion call for everyone who cares about our country!
The 2017 Unesco’s Education Development Index (EDI) and UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) describe The Gambia education system as in dire straits and rank it among top ten worst in Africa. Sadly, the government’s response was a predictable plea for more money without sufficient action. This kind of response is unworthy of our leaders. Our kids deserve a national plan of action. This plan must include better pay and professional development for teachers and administrators. In addition, we must engage in every effort to recruit and train the best teachers committed to changing our children’s lives. The Gambia should hold no punches to have her best and brightest as teachers in our classrooms, shaping, molding, and preparing future teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, business leaders, politicians and the like. This is what Gambia deserves and should demand in the 21st century.
I remain more hopeful than ever about the future of education for The Gambia despite the challenges. Our children are The Gambia’s greatest asset and fundamental resource for national development. We must never be indifferent to their welfare and future. We shall not shy away from advocating for productive change and holding our leaders accountable. We hope our leaders are listening and ready to act accordingly and proactively!
Dr Lamin E Drammeh is the founder and CEO of Africa Education Action Network.