Prince of Wales School – Symbol of a Dysfunctional System






Paul Conton



















I am proud to be a Princewalean. I yearned to be one in my primary school days – the heroes of my young life then, in athletics, in cricket, were all Princewaleans. I was finally admitted to the school in 1964 and attended for eight straight years until 1972. I started there as a small boy and left as a young man. The school had a lasting impact during the most impressionable years of my life. I can still remember the intense sadness that came over me in April 1972 with the realization that I was taking part in the school sports for the very last time.


The Prince of Wales School (POW) is a young school compared to its natural competitors, the Sierra Leone Gram mar School and the Methodist Boys High School. It was founded in 1925 after a visit to Sierra Leone by the British royal whose name it takes. It was, from the very beginning, a government-owned school, unlike the church-owned SLGS and MBHS. This was an important difference that greatly influenced the direction of the school and its progress relative to its competitors. Despite being by some margin the leader in establishing secondary schooling in Sierra Leone, and indeed in West Africa, (the SLGS was started in 1845), the church found itself at some point unable to fully fund its institutions and the Sierra Leone government had to step in – these schools became government assisted  (read this excellent article on government assisted schools from veteran educationist Lulu Wright here), with grants to fund teacher salaries and some capital projects. Meanwhile, at this point the Government of Sierra Leone was able to fund its own schools relatively generously. With this funding the POW was beautifully laid out by our colonial masters on a scenic expanse of flat land at Kingtom. The first building, gracefully arched, directly facing the main entrance, housed the school hall and classrooms, and commanded a sweeping view of Kroo Bay, the Rokel estuary and central Freetown. A playing field large enough to accommodate an Olympic stadium stretched to one side. Later, a huge science block was added, with laboratories for biology, physics and chemistry.


POW the premier science institution


POW was intended to be primarily a science institution and has over the decades been the springboard for generations of engineers, scientists, doctors, architects and other professionals. Notwithstanding its bias towards science it has also produced many, many lawyers, historians and other graduates of the arts.


POW welcomed Moslems and women


Over the years POW provided a unique unifying and nurturing influence within Sierra Leonean secondary education. As it was a non-secular, government institution, Moslems were drawn to it in comparison to the church schools. Members of the Fourah Bay and Foulah Town communities in particular have been well represented at the school over the decades. POW also contributed greatly to female science education in Sierra Leone. For a considerable period it was one of only two schools offering sixth form science education in the country (the other being the Grammar School), and it was the main destination for girls who wished to study science. They were able to enroll there for their sixth form (sometimes fifth form) and provided a welcoming femininity to the stereotypically male institution until this practice was abolished sometime in the 1990s.


POW provided a home for provincial students


The school also provided a strong unifying link with the provinces. Although in my days the majority of pupils were Krios from the Western Area (a situation that has long been reversed), the school was never a Krio school in the sense that the SLGS and the MBHS were. It maintained links with other government schools around the country; joint events such as cricket matches were organized, and teaching staff were regularly transferred between government schools around the country, housed in the staff quarters of these institutions. My father, the late W.F. Conton, for instance, was principal first of the Bo Government School, then of the Prince of Wales.


This unifying influence was not limited to the teaching staff. Generations of boys from the provinces came down to POW to pursue their sixth form education, particularly in science where, as I have said, there were only two choices in the entire country. In practice for provincial students POW was much the favoured destination, for its non-secular nature.


POW’s reach extended abroad


The unifying influence of the school extended even beyond Sierra Leone’s borders. In earlier times, a  significant number of well-to-do Nigerians chose to send their children to Freetown to be educated, and POW was a favoured destination. Valuable friendships were formed with these Nigerian students that often lasted a lifetime.


Prince of Wales Old Boys Association launch rehabilitation project

Before: school chapel. Now: open defecation zone!

Prince of Wales School hall – long abandoned













made of it they would surely shake their heads in disbelief. One could imagine that they imagined they were laying the foundations for what would be a prized, prestigious center of learning, perhaps the Eton of Sierra Leone. Or perhaps, not to be so exclusive, they were creating an institution to rival the best in West Africa, similar institutions that they were nurturing all over the region, Achimota in Accra, Mfantsepim in Cape Coast, or Kings College in Lagos. This must have been their hope then. Successive governments since
Independence have managed to destroy most of what they created in Sierra Leone. It is instructive to take a look at what our brothers in West Africa and indeed the rest of Africa have done with the counterpart institutions they were bequeathed by the British and compare it to what we have done to the






      School field - Sahara in Sierra Leone!

Wood and metal workshop - circa 1925!














 The Old Boys Association have engaged reputable engineers and architects to look at the repairs that are necessary and they estimate that the sum of Le13.5billion (approx 3 million USD) is required to rehabilitate the school. The school hall needs a new roof and ceiling. The sea and squatters continue to ravage the school’s coastline. The science hall and woodwork building are in dire need of repairs, and the school field is an arid wasteland.



POW science block - If this were your property would you keep it like this?















Achimota School

Achimota School in Accra was founded in 1927, two years after the POW. Interestingly, Achimota was also initially called the Prince of Wales, after the same British royal whose name was given to the school in Freetown. This is what Wikipedia has to say about the Accra school: “Achimota School occupies over two square miles (525 hectares) of prime real estate in the middle of the Achimota forest reserve in the Accra Metropolitan Area. The school's colonial architecture and planned landscape make it visually pleasing to tour the campus and its wooded countryside-like surroundings. The campus facilities comprise a library, a cadet square, two chapels, one of which is the Aggrey Memorial Chapel; three dining halls, two gymnasia, the Achimota School Post Office, extensive sports playing fields, a swimming pool, a cricket oval, basketball court, tennis and squash courts, and an arboretum. There are several bungalows on campus for teaching staff members.”


Now the Old Boys Association of the POW is making a valiant, worthwhile effort to salvage a dire situation, and I urge support for them. But the question must be asked: what is the government doing? What has the government been doing? This school is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Government of Sierra Leone. If the government is not prepared to maintain its own premier institutions, how long will any renovation last? It’s important to emphasize that this is not just a question of insufficiency of funds. It’s really a question of a culture and a mindset. One of the loudest complaints of the Old Boys Association and the school for some years has been of landgrabbing by squatters, who deliberately destroy the natural coastline and then build on reclaimed land close to sea level.

This land used to be part of the POW school field

Numerous representations to the police, the ministry of Lands, the City Council and other relevant authorities have gone unheeded. (read this 2009 Old Princewaleans letter to the President here) One has to ask why? In any serious state, this would not be tolerated. It would cost government virtually nothing to evict these squatters sitting on what by any calculation is government land. A few policemen for eviction and an occasional patrol should be all that is necessary. What possible reason could the government have for failing to enforce its own laws and regulations, at a trifling cost, in support of what should be a cherished institution of government? An institution which, as I have outlined, has done so much for public secondary education in Sierra Leone. The sheer callousness of it boggles the mind. It’s against all logic. It lends credence to the theory that one of the underlying problems in Sierra
On Saturday September 21, 2013 the POW Old Boys Association launched a rehabilitation project for the school, and we were all invited (read invitation letter here) to witness the event and make a tour of our old campus. It was a depressing afternoon. If the white foreigners who so lovingly laid out a campus to provide premium education for Sierra Leoneans could see what we have
Leone is a deep, pathological, national self-hatred (Read this thought-provoking article on this subject by Osmond Hanciles). One can only assume that government has little real interest in this institution and, ultimately, little real interest in education.


If this is the situation at the government’s premier secondary school in Freetown, what’s it like in Koinadugu and Kailahun? Many of Sierra Leone’s fundamental problems begin with its educational system. Yesterday’s school dropouts form the bulk of the petty traders today eking out a living on the streets of Freetown and other big cities, with no hope of social or economic advance. These people have no alternative because they have little education and few marketable skills. Today’s educational environment, which is certainly worse than it was thirty or forty years ago portends an even grimmer picture in the years to come.


Kenya High School, Nairobi

Everywhere else in the world, from Achimota to Kenya High, from the Asian tigers to the Japanese giant, from America to Europe and Australia, everywhere else in the world governments understand that without solid educational institutions and a highly educated populace you simply are not going to be able to compete in a  global economy. Everywhere else in the world, governments view education with the utmost seriousness, as the path to future individual and national advancement. Why, for goodness sake, not in Sierra Leone?



NEXT: Part 2 POW and Sierra Leone in West Africa. How do we compare?