of WalesSchool – Symbol of a Dysfunctional
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 Grammar School and the MethodistBoysHigh
School. It was founded in 1925 after a visit to
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 KrooBay, the Rokel estuary and
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 FourahBay and FoulahTown
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, asignificant
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
Prince of Wales Old Boys Association launch rehabilitation project
school chapel. Now: open defecation zone!
Prince of WalesSchool
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
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?
AchimotaSchool 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: “AchimotaSchool 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
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.
KenyaHigh 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 aglobal 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?
Part 2 POW and Sierra Leone in
West Africa. How do we compare?