WASSCE results: A need for sober conversation, reflection, and action

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By Lamin Drammeh

The greatest asset of any nation is its children, and so their education must be held in the utmost of public trust and accountability. Our leaders must treat education as an indispensable resource, the primary instrument ensuring the growth and development of our people and country. The West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) results combined with the Gambia Basic Education Certification Examination (GABECE) performances reveal a nation in a profound education crisis, which needs a dramatic and immediate course- correction, without which The Gambia will suffer irreparable loss. Shall we stand aside and witness the dreams of thousands of innocent children crash upon the rocks of systemic failure? Gambian education is at an inflection point and our leaders must act before it is too late. 

It is my hope that our leaders, when discussing the WASSCE results and the need for a system reform, will ask themselves the very questions I present here today. Is quality education a strategic national security priority? How will The Gambia develop its human capital in the wake of such massive WASSCE failure rates? How might The Gambia re-imagine its basic education system? How effective have our education boards and school leaders been in delivering quality education/instruction to our children? How do we move our country beyond a global pandemic that has created an international deficit in the knowledge base of our children?

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Four months ago, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE), Louis Moses Mendy, outlined a reform agenda of the mid- policy review, competence-based curriculum, hiring more teachers, building more schools and classrooms, ending the double-shift system, and strategic budgeting enterprise. Though this is a welcome move seemingly in the right direction, these measures are woefully insufficient for a nation in education crisis. 

Current data show that more than 50 percent of our youth are roaming the streets without pathways to post-secondary education and gainful employability skills. Our secondary schools pass less than thirty percent of their students and fail fifty percent of each year’s graduating class. It is the collective responsibility of all Gambians to fix this crisis and I call upon PS Mendy and other leaders to steer the education ship towards quality, relevance, and excellence. 

Four years ago, I outlined in my 14 September 2018, Op-Ed entitled “National Education Must Be Given Higher Priority” a comprehensive roadmap for systemic basic education reform and the establishment of quality and sustained academic excellence. 

We must listen to the cries of our distressed parents who are grappling with the bleak reality of their children failing WASSCE and without workforce skills for gainful employment. We must listen to the complaints of our dedicated teachers and administrators who are doing everything possible to ensure their pupils succeed. We must listen to the needs and demands of the students, too many of whom are disadvantaged by lack of resources, infrastructure, and language. We must certainly listen to our visionary educationists who are committed to designing programmes, courses, and career pathways that will provide students with a holistic education and workforce preparation for the 21st century knowledge economy. 

We must change the trajectory of thousands of students who would otherwise be branded school dropouts and national failures and inspire them to become university students and skilled mechanics, welders, plumbers, culinary chefs, electricians, and other specialized trade workers.

Fixing our education crisis will require a focused and determined resolve. Simply blaming COVID-19 for poor examination results only trivializes the significant challenge our leaders must address. 

The Gambia needs a realistic strategy to create lasting solutions to a worsening crisis and we must demand a sober, objective national discourse involving all stakeholders. Our process must be deliberate, strategic, and effective; and grounded in good policy, actionable data, efficient implementation, and continuous evaluation. We must recruit, cultivate, select, and hire qualified and competent leaders to replenish the reins of educational leadership and power. Teaching is a profession and not just any temporary pathway for any job seeker. 

In 2021, former National Assembly member, Halifa Sallah, said, “Gambia needs a system change.” He is correct; the country needs an immediate education reform. The current disappointing performances are not an indictment of the Barrow government or any one person. But the Gambian people deserve quality education for all and not an ecosystem infested with unending excuses and finger pointing.

It is the duty of leaders to fix problems. And the acumen of the community of stakeholders – MoBSE, school administrators, teachers, inspectors and monitors, students, parents, development partners, donors, and the central government – should each be tasked with assessing their individual and collective contributions to educational development and agree on a coordinated corrective plan. It must be an apolitical process, allowing every Gambian to appreciate the looming threat of economic stratification and significant social degradation, and that neglected educational goals and outcomes could impact development and progress.

The Gambia needs a new education maxim codified in purposeful leadership, strategic budgeting, relevance, innovation, technology, data analytics, and a healthy dose of attitudinal change. Can we end our national embarrassment of mass failures at GABECE and WASSCE and create a reservoir of hope in a sea of desperate students? 

Let us consider innovation instead of stagnation. Can we incentivize the teaching profession to bring about teacher efficacy and ensure fairness in hiring, posting, retention, and promotion? Can we create relevant, responsive curricula to address our students’ poor performance on the 2022 WASSCE? Can we develop assessment and evaluation tools, effectively planned, and conducted, and findings used for continuous improvement? Can student learning outcomes (SLOs) be aligned with the needs of the 21st century knowledge economy? Can teacher training and support services be better utilized to produce higher-than- expected outcomes? Can relevant and adequate textbooks and supplementary materials be deployed in every classroom to enhance student learning? Can we introduce E-learning and technology integration across the education system and available to our students? Can schoolhouse leadership simply be better? Can Career Technical Education (CTE): electrical, mechanical, mechatronics, plumbing, welding, building construction, culinary arts, cosmetology, barbering, and entrepreneurship become a coordinated strategic nation-building initiative? Yes, we can…but it will require action and courage. 

In my two decades as an education executive and a strategist, I have never been more concerned about the future of The Gambia and the fate of our children and youth trapped in those failed systems. Reforming education must be an apolitical process. Qualified and competent leaders must be given the reins of educational leadership and power, and they must be provided with adequate resources and then held accountable for outputs and outcomes.

For the sake of developing The Gambia and its million youth, we must get this right. And together, we can make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow. We shall not shy away from advocating for productive change and holding our leaders accountable. I hope we are all listening and ready to act in the best interest of the country.