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Sierra Leone

Educational System—overview


The standard of education in Sierra Leone before and immediately after independence was one of the best around the world. With the University of Sierra Leone established in 1827, Sierra Leone was dubbed, "Athens of West Africa." But that educational system fell on hard times. Over a long period of neglect, the country witnessed an erosion of standards in its educational system. From 1970 to 1985, the average growth rate for primary school enrollment was slightly more than 6.0 percent, while that for secondary school enrollment was just over 6.5 percent. From 1985 to 1990, the average annual growth rate for primary school enrollment fell to 2.0 percent, while that for secondary school enrollment fell to 1.6 percent. Besides these enrollment concerns, the outputs of institutions at the technical/vocational and teacher education levels had also been found wanting.

In the pre-1993 educational system, preschool (ages 1 to 5) was optional and was run by private institutions. Primary school children (ages 5 to 12) started class 1 at age 5 and finished class 7 at age 12. It was a seven-year program at the end of which the pupil was to take an external examination called the Common Entrance, later renamed the Selective Entrance Examination. The exam was used to determine who would enter secondary school and who would not. Ages for secondary school were 12 to 17 or 19 years. At the end of the first five years of secondary school, the student was to take the General Certificate of Education Examination (GCE Ordinary Level) to determine who would enter Sixth Form, college or university, and who would not. Those who failed, depending on the grades they made, would repeat the exams, enter primary teacher colleges or technical/vocational institutions, or join the workforce. Those who passed the exam would either enter the Sixth Form, where they would spend two years preparing for university, or enter university at the preliminary level. At the end of the Sixth Form, students were to take the Advanced Level Examination. Those who passed this exam would enter university at the intermediate (first year) level, skipping the preliminary level. Those who failed would enter university at the preliminary level.

Technical/vocational institutes (one, two, or three years) were designed to give opportunities to those who did not make it at the purely academic arena to learn trades. However, these institutes were seriously neglected and so collapsed. Teacher colleges (three years) trained teachers for primary and secondary schools. They offered a three-year program after secondary school, especially for those who did not meet the requirements for universities. The Milton Margai Teachers College trained teachers for secondary schools; it was a three-year program for those who passed a minimum of four subjects at the GCE Ordinary Level examination. Successful candidates were offered the Higher Teachers Certificate (HTC) upon graduation. The university level (three or four years) was represented by The University of Sierra Leone. By 1993 it had three constituent colleges: Fourah Bay College; Njala University College; and College of Medicine, Allied Health Sciences. The university also had the Institute of Public Administration (IPAM) and the Institute of Education.

The new system of education articulates seven major objectives for education in Sierra Leone: The system is to provide broad-based education for children from class 1 to junior secondary school through the creation of relevant curricula and teaching/learning resources. Through a well-reasoned development of incentives, cost-recovery measures, scholarships, and work study programs, access to basic education (especially for girls) will be increased. Another major objective is to improve the quality and relevance of education. Technical and vocational education is to be expanded within the formal and nonformal sectors of education. An important objective is seeking to increase opportunities for the acquisition of literacy, numeracy, and technical and vocational skills within the formal and nonformal sectors of education. The new system also aims to provide equity in education by enforcing the policy of nondiscrimination in all schools, as well as ensuring the similarity of standards and quality of education for all children regardless of where they attend school. The final major objective is to develop in children relevant skills, attitudes, and values that will enable them to be effective and responsible citizens.


The New System of Education: In the new 6-3-3-4 system of education, the first six years consist of primary education followed by three years of junior secondary education for all primary school graduates. This 6-3 block (a total of 9 years) makes up the formal part of basic education. At the end of junior secondary school, students take the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) which, together with their continuous assessment profiles, determines whether they will continue their education at general or specialist senior secondary schools or proceed to technical and vocational schools of varying course content and duration.

Students in senior secondary school, at the end of their program, take the international Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) in competition with other students in English-speaking West Africa. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is responsible for conducting this examination. Students who pass this exam and meet the requirements of the University of Sierra Leone may continue their formal education for four years for a first degree. Students in junior secondary school who are in technical and vocational tracks may, upon graduation, enter the workforce or continue their formal education in a technical/vocational institute. In the effort to properly monitor the standard and quality of education, and improve retention, the new system has introduced continuous assessment. This system of continuous assessment also facilitates effective guidance and counseling of students, besides being part of their terminal examination grades in the various examinations at different levels.

The concept of basic education in the new educational structure includes the provision of facilities for all citizens to be literate and numerate, as well as to cultivate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to earn a good living, improve their social and health circumstances, be patriotic citizens of Sierra Leone, and understand the complexities and opportunities of the modern world. The basic education programs include nonformal education for dropouts from school and children and adults who did not have the opportunity to go to school. Also to compensate for the chronic neglect of women's education, the new system will encourage positive discrimination in favor of women in basic education.

The new structure of education also encompasses a new role for national languages. Unlike the old system, the new system allows four national languages—Krio, Mende, Temne, and Limba—to be taught throughout the school system, teacher colleges, and universities. English remains the medium of instruction throughout the system starting from class three. French is compulsory at the primary and junior secondary school levels, but it is optional at the senior secondary level. Arabic is optional at both junior and senior secondary levels. Also, there is provision for the establishment of a National Institute of Sierra Leonean Languages whose function will be to promote the development and use of Sierra Leonean languages as a whole both within the educational system and in the community at large.

The new system also makes room for the training of education sector personnel so as to effectively implement the 6-3-3-4 reform plan. It is important that the new system expresses the need to include educational planners, curriculum researchers and developers, teacher trainers, inspectors, adult educators, school broadcasters, subject specialists, and computer specialists in a comprehensive policy for professional development. Training of these personnel can be internal or external; in some cases distance learning will be utilized. The coordination of educational services will also be improved. The Department of Education shall be restructured and decentralized to allow for efficiency; in such an arrangement, the headquarters can concentrate on policy development and monitoring policy implementation.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSierra Leone - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education