Besides the sheer scale of the MBSSE’s remit, we were confronting a set of other thorny, urgent problems, which were exacerbated by decades of neglect of the education sector and deeply entrenched corrupt practices.
First, more than 4,000 teachers had not had their salary level revised to reflect their successful completion of professional development programs. Second, we had no updated syllabi or curriculum frameworks for the schools. Third, key positions in the MBSSE including the curriculum and research units were left vacant.
In addition, critical policies covering topics such early childhood development and school feeding were either stuck in draft stage or absent. Finally, new school infrastructure development was stalling even though our population continues to grow rapidly.
We needed to address all of these critical issues quickly to fulfill the potential of FQSE, and at the same time initiate a transformation of the MBSSE.
I felt the urge to act on all agendas immediately, but I knew that to enact a sustainable transformation, it was necessary to take an approach rooted in a highly consultative process with my staff, partners, and, most importantly, local stakeholders across the country.
So, we packed our bags and set out to meet children, parents, teachers, chiefs, civil society organizations, local council leaders, journalists, and really anyone who wanted to tell us about the challenges and ways of solving these perennial education sector problems.
Although COVID-19 impacted our itinerary, I am proud to say that my team has engaged with stakeholders in all 16 districts of Sierra Leone over the last 12 months. We prayed, laughed, cried, disagreed and danced together; we had road accidents on the way; but rain or shine, we remained committed to jointly diagnosing and addressing our challenges through dialogue. The rules of engagement were simple – honest discussions, respect and empathy for all.