Senior Secondary School Results 2016: An Indictment of the State
Let me say at the outset that the appalling results for this year’s senior secondary schools in the Gambia is a direct indictment of the government particularly the Executive including the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and the National Assembly. The results clearly show that there is none but cosmetic accountability in our education system which is disgracefully weak in both content and delivery. In the broader scheme of things, the results therefore highlight the overall weak governance environment hence the inefficiency of state institutions and officials to perform effectively in order to produce results that will ensure sustainable development for the Gambia.
How could an entire nation explain the fact that out of 11659 candidates only 444 boys and girls were able to obtain credit passes? How come 11, 215 candidates were unable to obtain credit in mathematics and English language particularly for a country which has been English-speaking for decades? Understanding the full import of English language and mathematics as subjects of learning and teaching vis-à-vis national development will expose to us that it is not an exaggeration to state that these results pose a present and clear danger to national security. The sooner we rise up to turn the tide, then the ability of this nation to survive on its own will remain acute.
Understanding the Results
The Gambia is an English speaking country, meaning it is the English language that we utilize as a means of instruction in our education system in order to impart information, ideas, morals as knowledge and skills to our children in school. It is these children as students who eventually become the policy makers, lawmakers, and technicians in all fields to operate the various institutions of governance, business and development of the society and further produce the ideas necessary for our continued advancement. In mathematics, students are provided the methods, skills and tools for research and understanding phenomena in order to develop their critical consciousness and their capability to analyze. Mathematics is therefore that science without which a human being and society cannot fully understand oneself and one’s environment in order to dominate nature and transform it into one’s own use. Hence the failure of our children in the mastery of language, in this case English, and science, i.e. mathematics raises the question as to whether the Gambia has the ability to carve and sustain a viable level of individual and national development today and tomorrow. A country’s development is inconceivable without a robust, sound and relevant education. Education is the foundation upon which advancement in all human endeavours is situated, squarely.
In fact the national development blueprint, Vision 2020 has captured unequivocally that the transformation of the country into a middle income country is primarily contingent on a well educated population. The mission statement of Vision 2020 is,
“To transform The Gambia into a financial centre, a tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented, agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free market policies and a vibrant private sector, sustained by a well educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self-reliant and enterprising population, and guaranteeing a well-balanced eco-system and a decent standard of living for one and all, under a system of government based on the consent of the citizenry.”
In light of the foregoing, these results therefore demand an urgent national dialogue to evaluate the capacity of the state (the relevant institutions, officials and systems) in terms of its ability to understand what is education and what kind of education the Gambian requires and how that education must be delivered. This national dialogue must also interrogate the values and standards that inform the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in its management. i.e. planning, delivery and monitoring and evaluation of education services in the country. What is clear however is that the Gambia faces huge institutional challenges in ensuring quality education for the country. First of all it is important to highlight that no nation can afford to allow its education be determined by foreign ideas and institutions. In the outgoing education policy 2004 – 2015, it states that the aims and objectives of education in the Gambia are,
“synchronized with the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Education for All (EFA) goals, the New Partnerships for African Development (NEPAD) education-related goals and the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). Policy priorities are identified to allow for the growth of educational opportunity and improve the effectiveness of education at all levels, from early childhood development (ECD) to tertiary and higher education.
Much as it is a fact that no nation can stand as an island and indeed as a member of the comity of nations, the Gambia must contribute and benefit from international associations and conventions on education. However the country has to realize that its education is a unique responsible that must be designed regardless of all else except the supreme interest, survival and development of the country and her people. Thus the Gambia government must not therefore leave the making and delivery of education to the dictates of international institutions even if they provide funding.
Government Must Take Education More Seriously
If education is the lifeblood of a nation, it is therefore critical that there is a responsible government and people who, in the first place are aware of their national mission and objective in order to tailor an education service that will empower them to meet their national objectives. The crafting of an education system, i.e. content, syllabus, tools, human, financial and other resources and structures cannot be done in isolation of other national objectives and institutions because everything else in a country depends on education. You are what you know.
The indication one notices is that the government of the Gambia does not take the education of Gambians seriously as it should. Going by the 2016 budget, one will find out that the allocation to education is only 9.98%, i.e. out of a national budget of 13.34 billion dalasi only 1.3 billion is put into education. This figure represents the combined recurrent and development expenditures. Thus out of this 1.3 billion allocation, 15.6% go to development spending such as buildings or infrastructure amounting to 184, 500 million dalasi, while the recurrent budget covering salaries, utility bills, fuel, rent and general operations amount to 1.08 billion or 17.9%. To put this into perspective, one will realize that the recurrent budget of the Office of the President alone amounts to 750 million dalasi, i.e. about half of that of education. Each of these ministries: Finance, Health, Interior, Defense and Foreign Affairs enjoy at least a whopping 525 million dalasi as their recurrent budget alone (compared to Education’s D1.08B). Why are these budgets not reduced in order to invest more in education? Why would we spend so much money in some of them such as Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs when the Gambia is ranked a least developed country where more than 60% of the population lives on less than US$2 a day? Office of the President alone enjoys 6.38% of the entire national budget. Even where you have the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure got 12%, and Agriculture 24% (which are the 1st and 2nd highest allocations), yet even there national infrastructure and food security continue to be appalling. Once more, just as in education, it clearly tells you how transparent, accountable and responsive is the state to the needs and rights of Gambians? Where are all these monies going?
Compliance is Not Necessarily Efficiency
Away from the budget and coming to actual delivery of education, amazingly the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education is quite aware of the challenges of education delivery in this country, yet it appears it lacked the capacity to address these shortcomings. Why that is so, is one more reason an urgent national dialogue is required. In May/June 2008 the ministry commissioned the Gambia Bureau of Statistics to conduct a baseline survey on the state of lower basic education in the country covering regions 2, 3, 4, and 6. The summary of findings indicate,
“The Gambian education sector faces many challenges in assuring high quality basic education. In many cases, classrooms are overcrowded and infrastructure is dilapidated. Teachers do not adequately prepare to deliver lessons and teaching records are not prepared or kept. Many unqualified teachers teach at the basic level (although MoBSE currently has programs to ameliorate this problem) and higher teacher’s certificate and graduate teachers teach at the secondary and tertiary level. It is felt that poor housing conditions and inadequate incentives for teachers are factors responsible for the poor retention of qualified teachers especially in rural areas). Teaching of English is inadequate because of an insufficient supply of textbooks and supplementary readers. Gambian students currently perform poorly on national exams. On recent national exams, a maximum of 10% of students in Grades 3 and 5 reached a mastery level in English, science, or mathematics (MoBSE, Education Sector Medium Term Plan: 2008-2011). Hence, there is growing demand for the need to improve the learning achievements of children. Furthermore, improving students’ learning outcomes is pivotal for attaining Vision 2020, Gambia’s national development strategy. Vision 2020 recognizes the role a “well-educated, trained, *and+ skilled” population has in transforming The Gambia into a middle-income country.’
Eight years after this report, the country still produces such appalling results in 2016. Why? Where is the National Assembly as the chief overseer for all and of all in this country that they could allow a state institution that is providing such vital and indispensable national service fail so woefully? These results demand that the National Assembly must convene an emergency session to discuss the ramifications of these results on national development and survival. The Minister of Basic and Secondary Education must be summoned to testify as to how this national catastrophe could unfold. In fact the WAEC release says the 2016 results is only slightly better than last year’s results, meaning the performance and delivery of education in this country is in shambles. Meantime the ministry is notorious for never failing to convene its periodic monitoring and evaluation meetings called CCM where it is said discussions are frank and open and progress is being registered. The ministry is further praised everywhere for its consistency in reporting to donors and meeting targets according to budget and work plans. But the fact is compliance in meeting donor requirements for reporting and executing activities as per work plans does not necessarily mean one is efficient and effective. To be seen busy, is not a mark of efficiency, necessarily.
A Faulty System
A critical review of the current system of education delivery will show that such a poor result is not difficult to obtain after all. The evidence lies in the fact that since the introduction of multiple shift classes, quality and performance are directly compromised. The incidence of extra classes, where children as young as 5 are required to stay in school daily after normal day’s lessons indicates that children are overburdened. Then you have the practice of holiday classes for which many schools call back children to school for a whole month of classes when they are supposed to be enjoying their holiday. Coupled with the incessant public and school holidays go to show that the syllabus will have to be rushed in most cases or lessons left out among other anomalies all of which mean the quality of teaching and learning is low.
The 2008 survey makes some rather incisive findings that only scares one about the future of this country if much resources and effective accountability are not invested in the sector:
“Student-teacher ratios are similar across regions at about 40 students per teacher. Region 2 is has the highest number of students per sanitary facility with an average of 150 students per latrines compared an average of about 50 students per latrine in the other regions.”
“Within the surveyed schools, teacher absenteeism ranged from about 12% of teachers absent on the day of the survey in regions 2 and 6 to about 30% in region 4. In addition, during the classroom visits, 32% of the teachers reported having missed at least one day of class during the previous week.”
“Head teachers were asked to report the most important challenge that the school faces in its effort to provide proper education to the student. The most recurrent responses were the lack of resources (34%) and the lack of proper teacher training (14%).”
These findings clearly show that capacity challenges are prevalent in both schools and teachers that begs the question as to why more funds are not invested in education in order to ensure quality and better performance? Should it not be about time that the national budget is directed towards national priorities in which education must top the list? What about the millions of dollars the ministry acquires through various projects yet we have schools in this tiny country in which one teacher faces up to 40 children daily? In fact when we further diagnose this year’s results it is certain that most of the children who obtained credits are from private and faith-based operated schools, and not from public schools. This is a tragedy.
Follow The Money
As a parent and a citizen, my observation is that increasingly, secondary education in the Gambia is examination oriented even though in general students do not still do better in exams as these results have shown. One can notice how schools, teachers and students are more focused on exams rather than providing the necessary education that should build the entire faculties of a human being to be able to do for self and become a useful instrument of society. Secondly do we even consider that the secondary school student population in the Gambia is only 11, 659? How do you harmonize this figure with the total amount of funds received for education. According the National Aid Bulletin 2015, education alone received D563 billion representing 7% of the total ODA the country received between 2007 and 2011. The World Bank funded Education for All Fast-Track Initiative project alone amounted to US$28 million spent between 2009 and 2013. One wonders, where did all that money go yet we could only produce such state of education services? The National Assembly and the Opposition must step up to raise the necessary questions in order to check the government.
As a nation that calls itself civilized and seeks to ensure good governance in order to meet its national development objectives, the starting point is education. All nations that made the giant lead did so only with the right education. The Gambia is unimaginably endowed with abundant natural resources that are there to tap optimally only if we have the right kind of education that is delivered in the right way to build national capacity. If the Gambia is to become an active and an equal player in the world stage then the country needs a kind of education that will produce citizens that acquire and manifest highest universal values and standards of honesty, humility, truthfulness and hard work. No individual can be a person of conscience and uphold higher values of patriotism and leadership in whatever station of life one is if one lacks the right education for that purpose. Thus the quality of the Gambian society – its governance, economy and general development, today and tomorrow, squarely depends on what we teach our children in schools and homes. Poor education will only produce a poor society, not only in terms of resources and capacity, but more severely poor education produces poor minds. Poor minds only produce poverty in the midst of abundance and nurtures a culture of mediocrity and immorality. Since independence in 1970, it is clear that the Gambia has never had quality and relevant education hence our inability to better govern ourselves and to exploit the immense human and natural resources of the country to transform our society into one of the most advanced in the world.
Forward to a national dialogue on education.