Dysfunctional Education (part 2)
 




In part 1 (see Prince of Wales School, symbol of a dysfunctional system) we looked at education in Sierra Leone through the prism of the Prince of Wales school, the premier government-owned secondary school certainly in Freetown, and probably in the country. We looked at conditions there and attempted to compare them with conditions in similar institutions elsewhere on the continent. In this article we broaden the investigation out, to look at and compare national statistics from around the continent. We do not pretend that this work is complete or exhaustive. A lot more research could be done. Accurate national statistics are notoriously hard to come by in Sierra Leone, and other countries present an even more difficult challenge. But the figures do show us the trend of things. They give us an idea where we are heading. We looked at two main categories:



1) WAEC EXAMINATION RESULTS

 

Obtaining statistics on examination performance from the West African Examinations Council in Sierra Leone is not an easy feat. It appears that some of this information is a closely guarded secret. We had difficulty finding any published documents that give comparisons between the different countries in exam results. Even the Gbamanja Commission, the most recent, official investigation of education in this country, did not do this. Through perseverance we were able to get some of the data we were looking for, and, as we had suspected,  Sierra Leone’s performance is abysmal. The West African Examinations Council, WAEC, is the regional body responsible for the coordination of external school examinations. It is composed of the former West African colonial territories plus Liberia. WAEC has national offices in its member countries, but maintains its headquarters in Accra. When analyzing and comparing results across countries it’s important to understand that the NPSE and BECE are national exams, administered by the individual national offices, whilst the WASSCE is an international exam, administered by WAEC headquarters. When a candidate scores 1 in a particular subject in Sierra Leone at BECE, it means he or she is in the top tier in that subject IN SIERRA LEONE. The result tells you nothing about the level of that candidate relative to candidates in the other countries. This is a national exam, with questions set by the national office and marking and evaluation of results done on a national basis. The same is true for the NPSE.

 

For the WASCCE, on the other hand, candidates all over the West African region are facing the same questions. The papers are marked according to a uniform marking scheme, and results are evaluated according to the performance across the entire region. Thus, when a candidate scores A1 at WASSCE, he or she is in the top tier of performance relative to candidates across the entire West African region.

 

It follows from this that to compare Sierra Leone’s educational performance with our sister countries we must look at the WASSCE results, not the BECE or NPSE. Sierra Leonean students at BECE or NPSE might be poor relative to their Nigerian or Ghanaian counterparts, but we would not be able to tell this from the results.

 




In general, there are several ways by which an examining authority can ‘fix’ the results of an examination. This ‘fixing’ could be done by: 1) Manipulating the level of questions for the examination. The questions could be made harder or easier than they had been in previous years. 2) Altering the marking scheme used to mark the examination papers 3) Adjusting the bands used for awarding of grades in individual subjects. For instance it could be decided that whereas in previous years in the BECE in Sierra Leone a 1 in a particular subject, say Mathematics, corresponded to a mark above 80%, say, a 1 would now be awarded for a mark above 75%, say. 4) When all else fails, the entire set of scores for all candidates could be adjusted according to some set criterion. The NPSE marks announced to the public in Sierra Leone, for instance, are actually t-score adjusted and not the actual marks. The actual raw candidate scores are manipulated according to a formula based on educational theory. The details of the manipulation are kept well-hidden by WAEC, SL, but they make no secret of the fact that the results are t-scores. The general theory behind t-scores and other test adjustment procedures is widely known. There may be legitimate educational reasons for ‘fixing’ the results of examinations in this way – it has been going on for decades and is widely practiced outside West Africa in developed and developing countries. The suspicion in Sierra Leone, however, has been that in recent years this fixing of results has been going on at NPSE and BECE to mask a very serious deterioration in the educational system. The WASSCE is important and poses a problem for the Sierra Leone examining authorities because it is the one major public examination that cannot be manipulated to adjust to the Sierra Leonean condition. As we have said, the NPSE and BECE are national exams that can be ‘fixed’. At a higher level the examinations of the various universities in Sierra Leone can be readily manipulated by those universities. The WASSCE is under the direction of WAEC headquarters in Accra, and Sierra Leonean candidates have to compete squarely with those from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and Liberia.

 

A comparison of WASSCE results across the region reveals Sierra Leone in a disastrous position relative to Nigeria and Ghana. All the sweet talk from politicians and educational administrators about educational successes cannot hide the depths to which we have sunk. We are producing a generation of semi-literates, compared to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria and Ghana, whom we exposed to education not so long ago. The recklessness that characterizes this situation is hard to believe. Where is the concern, where are the frantic government efforts to make changes? Yes, the Gbamanja Commission was set up in 2008 to investigate poor performance at BECE and WAASCE and yes the Gbamanja report (Gbamanja Commission report) was scathing in its assessment of student results, but the report never goes beyond the boundaries of Sierra Leone to look at exam results in, particularly, Nigeria and Ghana.

 

 The true magnitude of the Sierra Leonean dysfunction has been carefully kept hidden from the general public. Indeed to lay hands on these statistics was a formidable challenge. It is as if we were competing in a football match and Nigeria and Ghana are thrashing us 10-0 every year, year after year. Where is the soulsearching, where is the anguish, where is the urgency for remedial action? We proudly recall we were known as the Athens of West Africa, without taking the trouble to genuinely analyze where we are today. The Minister of Education or head of WAEC national office will proudly announce year after year, “We did well in the BECE or the NPSE this year. So many candidates scored such and such…” and go on to proudly announce a series of statistics without ever revealing that these numbers are essentially comparisons of candidates within our system only and reveal nothing about how our system is performing relative to an international yardstick.

 

The table below gives a three year comparison of performance at WASSCE for WAEC member countries in the major



subjects. The complete table, including all subjects can be downloaded here.  The comparison with Nigeria is staggering. Nigeria, with a population, for argument’s sake of 150 million, has a population 25 times greater than Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million. Nigeria produces over 400 times as many biology passes as we do. The Nigerian pass rate in 2010 in biology was 49.7% compared to Sierra Leone’s 5.94%. Nigeria produced over 548,000 passes in mathematics compared to Sierra Leone’s 1811. Nigeria produced almost 1000 times as many chemistry passes as we did in 2010, more than 1000 times as many physics passes. The list goes on and on. Results for Ghana are not available for these years, but other data presented below shows Ghana is competitive with Nigeria. What on earth must Nigerian and Ghanaian educators think of us? How can our WAEC officials sit down at the same table with them? In private the Nigerians and Ghanaians must shake their heads in wonder: a mere two generations ago we were sending educators to teach them.


TABLE 1.  THREE-YEAR (2008-2010) MAY/JUNE COMPARATIVE TREND ON PERFORMANCE

IN MEMBER COUNTRIES IN WASSCE

 

Number and Percentage of Students Obtaining Grades A1 to C6 in Member Countries




 

SUBJECT

NIGERIA

SIERRA LEONE

THE GAMBIA

2008

2009

2010

2008

2009

2010

2008

2009

2010

Agricultural Science

436,751

44.31%

491,972

46.41%

483,888

47.25%

1951

9.11%

3548

13.73%

5600

18.19%

829

13.73%

1,332

23.10%

1,037

17.63%

Biology

427,644

33.94%

383,112

28.59%

645,633

49.65%

466

2.46%

599

2.74%

1481

5.94%

150

7.35%

212

10.62%

433

20.32%

Chemistry

185,949

44.44%

204,725

43.69%

236,059

50.70%

184

3.54%

190

3.15%

247

3.86%

115

16.50%

125

19.32%

173

24.20%

Economics

592,939

49.23%

577,345

45.44

690,949

56.25%

672

3.84%

673

3.21%

2482

9.70%

317

7.33%

544

12.45%

441

9.82%

English Lang (Core)

446,285

35.03%

563,294

41.55%

459,404

35.13%

1775

7.41%

5431

18.57%

4849

13.72%

248

3.07%

1,056

13.18%

682

8.69%

Financial Accounting

76,663

35.55%

82,887

38.45%

110,819

52.21%

10.48%

17.16%

4682

32.49%

137

6.87%

312

13.81%

488

20.81%

French

1,735

54.46%

1,765

45.55%

2,994

74.50%

81

42.70%

54

28.42%

99

46.70%

80

24.77%

68

19.88%

58

21.89%

 

Further Maths

13,293

37.81%

11,952

31.26%

13,829

36.88%

191

7.77%

469

17.43%

188

7.06%

81

51.59%

66

43.14%

110

56.12%

Geography

237,158

34.42%

307,539

41.12%

368,833

50.01%

230

3.02%

8.08%

800

7.78%

478

16.25%

860

24.88%

923

28.19%

Government

465,317

58.98%

501,503

60.48%

517,618

66.92%

3285

34.84%

43.49%

4751

33.67%

701

19.84%

682

19.73%

292

8.69%

Health Science

7,403

42.33%

10,683

52.43%

12,345

63.13%

252

5.00%

8.82%

1044

10.01%

57

27.27%

162

57.45%

97

29.57%

History

15,626

27.97%

15,692

28.47%

16,403

14.52%

3979

37.21%

39.66%

5785

36.59%

1,581

29.79%

1,628

32.16%

1,867

37.81%

Lit-in-English

160,664

41.83%

160,788

40.01%

138,948

36.94%

1571

9.45%

1141

5.56%

1539

5.96%

348

16.63%

342

16.38%

327

17.60%

Mathematics

726,398

57.28%

634,382

47.04%

548,065

41.95%

828

3.46%

942

3.22%

1811

5.15%

210

2.64%

250

3.19%

281

3.65%

Physics

200,345

48.26%

222,722

47.83%

237,756

51.27%

425

9.86%

322

6.54%

211

4.05%

113

19.93%

142

19.16%

190

33.75%



The table below gives more recent, composite results, from 2010 to 2012, but only for Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone WASSCE results





In 2012, out of 58,161 candidates who sat the WASSCE in Sierra Leone, only 2,384, barely 4%, passed with credits in 5 subjects, the minimum necessary to get into a tertiary institution. With pass rates like this, we are destroying a whole generation. The future is bleak. How on earth do we expect to compete with our West African brothers, let alone the rest of the world, with this kind of educational background? By comparison, in the WASSCE 2013 a full 64% of the 1,543,683 Nigerian candidates whose results were released passed with 5 credits and above ( http://www.thenationonlineng.net/new/waec-releases-releases-mayjune-2013-results ). The disparities are so great we found them hard to believe, and we double-checked and triple-checked. Each time the result was the same. When we looked at the textbooks available to WASSCE students in Sierra Leone we saw well-written, well-produced, comprehensive books written by Nigerian and Ghanaian educators. There must be serious learning going on there for them to produce such books. There was nothing comparable by Sierra Leonean authors. We came across a report written by WAEC officials analyzing examination performance across WAEC countries (see comparative examination performance among WAEC member countries). It reveals the same pattern. The authors, Mulikat A. Bello (Alhaja, Mrs.) Registrar/CEO WAEC HQ, Accra and Dr. (Mrs). M. G. OKE Deputy Registrar WAEC HQ, Lagos, make the very important point that, “EDUCATION IS AN INSTRUMENT FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT. THIS IS BECAUSE IT IS THE INSTRUMENT USED IN DEVELOPING THE CITIZENS WHO IN TURN CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NATION. ACCORDING TO AFOLABI (2010), THE QUALITY OF A NATION’S EDUCATION DETERMINES THE QUALITY OF THE PRODUCTS OF ITS EDUCATION SYSTEM AND BY EXTENSION THE QUALITY AND QUANTITY, PACE AND LEVEL OF ITS DEVELOPMENT.

 

 2) FUNDING

 

The second area we looked at was government funding of education. Our figures come from the Unesco Institute for Statistics ( www.uis.unesco.org ). We show the figures for educational expenditure for major non-Arab African countries, but excluding countries affected by conflict, natural disaster etc.

African education funding

African education funding

The figures show that in terms of public expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure, Sierra Leone was close to the bottom in all years since 2008. . The percentages show a sharp decline from the 2007 figure. In other words, at a time of critical need we are reducing expenditure on education (as a percentage of total expenditure) rather than increasing it. Whereas Ghana has been consistently spending around 25% of its budget on education, we are spending 14% of ours. The absolute differences (dollars and cents) are even greater than this when one takes into account Sierra Leone’s relatively lower per capita income and expenditure.

 

 

Gbamanja Commission Report

 

The Gbamanja Commission was set up in response to the poor performance of Sierra Leonean candidates in the 2008 BECE and WASCCE examinations. The Commission’s report (see Gbamanja Report) was released in March 2010. The government issued its White Paper on the Gbamanja Report (see Government White Paper on Gbamanja Report) in August, 2010. The report contained short and medium term recommendations, most of which Government accepted in its White Paper. Almost four years on from Gbamanja and a system which the Commission itself described as ‘dysfunctional’, it is but appropriate to inquire into what progress has been made, as we have attempted to do here. What progress in results and funding, as outlined above. What progress in implementation of Gbamanja recommendations? The major one that has been implemented is the changeover from 6-3-3-4 to 6-3-4-4. Sierra Leonean school candidates (as opposed to private candidates) did not take the WASSCE in 2013, and the first batch of products of the four-year SSS are scheduled to take the WASSCE this year. One waits with bated breath to see what effect the change will have on the exam performance. However, our adoption of 6-3-4-4 where the other WAEC countries operate a 6-3-3-4 system is really an admission of the dysfunctionality and inefficiency of the system. It should be no more than a temporary measure. Why on earth should the Nigerian system be able to produce results that so far outstrip Sierra Leone’s when both are operating equivalent systems? A sobering caveat for our change is that Ghana too introduced 6-3-4-4 in 2010, but has now reverted to 6-3-3-4.

 

What of the other Gbamanja recommendations? What has been done to remedy the crisis situation



that Gbamanja was shown in 2008evidenced by low quality of teaching and learning resulting in poor pupils’ performance in examinations, high incidence of teacher attrition, and a high school dropout rate”. We have seen very little change, very little indication that the authorities indeed understand that they have a crisis on their hands that has implications for Sierra Leone for the next thirty, forty years and beyond. The Teaching Service Commission is yet to see the light of day. We have heard nothing of one major recommendation of Gbamanja that perhaps had the potential to radically alter our trend: the introduction of compulsory, nation-wide nursery education for 3 to 6 year olds, who it was argued, would be reached at the most critical time of brain development. Although this would certainly have been costly and challenging to organize, it does have the potential to make a dramatic difference to educational outcomes.

 

Overall, not much appears to have been done. The priority has been to build roads









Related...