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Sunday, September 19, 2021

On the impending GTTI fiasco: Letter to the Minister of Higher Education

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By Momodou Sabally

I salute you with great reverence and with good reasons for that respect: You have always been a great source of inspiration for us throughout the nineties and beyond, as one of the brightest stars in our academic firmament.

Indeed I have never met a public official so eloquent and imbued with brilliance like you.

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That respect remains to this day. And it is because of the high esteem in which I have always held you that this epistle, which should have been penned much earlier, got delayed.

Indeed it is very difficult to criticise public officials on policy matters in our little town called Gambia.

This is due to the fact that our people prefer to hush down issues and make gossip mills out of important matters rather than coming out boldly to challenge the relevant authorities.

We used Yahya Jammeh’s heavy hand as an excuse for this but the same attitude remains, by and large, post-Jammeh. And that is why I developed a new descriptor hashtag #HushHushNation as I still ride on my foundational one #CantCageMe.

It is sad to note that whenever I publish open letters to serving public officials, some people assume that I have personal problems with those officials despite the obvious fact that the matters I raise are issues of genuine public concern.

Therefore I am very careful and I do not rush to issue critiques of public officials; I became extra cautious on this one because of the respect and admiration I have for you.

However, the matter at hand is so critical and so urgent that if I do not write this letter, I would not be able to sleep peacefully.

The subject is education, a matter I deeply care about in this country.

When I first heard that The Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) virtually our only vocational training institute worth its name was going to be transformed into a university alongside the Management Development Institute (MDI), I thought it was some kind of a joke or a case of newspapers misreporting a matter too complex.

Alas, I was wrong and I knew that to be the case when I read yet another news report announcing cabinet’s approval for what I have now labelled the worst decision in our educational history.

Honourable Minister, I believe that you may disagree outwardly but in the inner recess of your heart, you would firmly agree with me that our only public university, the UTG is not in good shape at all.

The students of this university do not have adequate classroom and sanitary facilities.

UTG still lacks the right numbers of professors and lecturers to be able to fully and effectively carry out its mandate.

Funding for the UTG is inadequate and the leadership at that university is certainly suboptimal, to be euphemistic about a very serious and critical situation.

Most times I have said that the energy, and brilliance, exhibited by the students of the UTG far outpaces the leadership at that university and something should be done about that to help us duly harness the brimming potential of our dynamic young minds.

After two decades of operation our only public university does not have a proper library, talk less of modern laboratories.

Recently one of the programmes in that university (UTG) in the area of science could not pass the test of accreditation from relevant authorities but desperate efforts had to be mounted to make sure that programme is given a pass.

Why then do you think that it is prudent to create a new university of science and technology and in the process rob us of the only vocational training institute we can boast of as a nation in dire need of skilled technicians in every field?
Honourable Minister, I am sure you have seen my comment on Facebook on this matter but it is important that I repeat it here for emphasis as I conclude part one of this epistle: A country that doesn’t have a single solid high school level physics lab has no business trying to set up a so called university of science and technology…stop misleading our President!
Jeurejeuff Kotor Badara, you have served us well from the previous government as a very effective permanent secretary at the Ministry of Basic Education. You continue you serve us well as Minister of Higher Education and we appreciate your service. But this move on GTTI is not a wise one.

Part 2
It has been more than two months since I first penned the first part of this epistle on the above subject.

I am well acquainted with the tremors that article created, shaking the very foundation of your ministry.

So I thought you would rethink this misadventure you are set to plunge our president and the entire country into.

But it seems you have dug in and decided to go ahead with no motivation but the pursuit of a perceived legacy and the very phrase you used 25 years ago in a meeting I shall never forget: political expediency. Et tu, Badara?
I thought you would rethink this move and hence I never wrote this sequel; but I was awoken from my reverie when I heard President Barrow mention your project in his recent State of the Nation Address.

As usual, I know that the segment he read on higher education are the exact words of your own ministry as submitted to the Office of the Secretary General.

I was shocked to learn that you are going ahead with this project but what was even more disappointing was the lack of detail in this segment of the president’s speech: “Under the African Centres of Excellence Impact Project, Government will shortly access twelve million US dollars for infrastructure and capacity development.

Another three million five hundred thousand dollars has been secured from Unesco-Koica to transform The Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) into a university.”

When I read the above portion of the President’s speech, I knew it is business as usual at your ministry?—?throwing money at a problem.

This is nothing but the fruits of a mindset beset with poverty. The problems confronting our educational system are deep-rooted.

The solutions must come from serious soul-searching and across the board consultation with a view to come up with fresh ideas and strategies to completely “overhaul” our system as promised by President Barrow during the early days of his administration.

But running around with handouts from our so-called development partners in the name of projects will surely not cut it.

It is sad to note that I have not heard about a single block being laid by your ministry from the public purse.

It is always one donor or the other (primed by their own interests) funding some classroom or toilet project; but nothing comes from our own initiative and resource base. I would excuse any minister for this but you, the most erudite Badara Joof, blessed with a wealth of practical experience in education.

Honourable Minister, you have a thousand questions to answer regarding this matter, but you remain mute in your pursuit of glitz and glamour rather than meaningful change for the benefit of posterity.

A recent news report I chanced upon has heightened by worries about this project of transforming GTTI into another ivory tower. Of all the universities in the UK, Europe and the United States, why did you choose De Montfort University “to help create The Gambia’s first university of technology”? What expertise does De Montfort University have? What is their ranking in the area of technology among the leading universities of the world?
These and many more questions keep ringing in my mind. But what is even more worrying is the demand for answers to these and many more questions from generations yet unborn.

And lest I forget, what plans do you have for our struggling, still fledgling University of The Gambia? It looks like the problems are getting worse.

Please take a step back, pause your GTTI misadventure and give some time and energy to our most important institution of higher learning, the UTG.

At the very least, I expect you to try and resolve the pending matter of unearned per diem before you finally nail the last straw into the administrative coffin of your most ardent adversary at that institution.

But is it not the case that the main man standing up to your bullying tactics at that institution has already been defenestrated?
May Allah preserve our nation and bring down His special favours upon our nation’s pride, the beleaguered University of The Gambia, our main alma-mater.

The author is a former secretary general and head of the civil service and a author.

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