|A village school outside Banjul|
The 96% failure rate is both disastrous and unacceptable. It is further proof that the Jammeh regime has failed an entire generation of Gambians who have been denied decent education so essential to compete in a world economy that is increasingly becoming integrated and interdependent between national, regional and local economies.
The regime, on the other hand, remained silent. There are no public statements from neither the Ministry of Basic Education nor from the Office of the the President which is consistent with the characteristic silence that normally greets news that puts the regime in bad light.
Like many of the sectors of the economy, the education sector fell victim of a regime that when its leaders seized power illegally in 1994, they prescribed solutions to problems that did not exist. In short, Jammeh and his crew came with a set of solutions looking for a problem to justify their unconstitutional acts.
The sector was guided by the 1988 - 2003 Education Policy that placed emphasis on the improvement of the quality of the education that was on offer to Gambia's children. Internal efficiency measures were introduced to held supplement the the regular budget in addition to placing heavy emphasis on the software such as textbooks, teaching/instructional materials, teacher training that included upgrading and retention of qualified and highly trained teachers.
To reduce the foreign exchange component of managing the education sector, the Book Production and Material Resources Unit (BPMRU) was provided with a new facility in Kanifing.
When the 15-year policy expired in 2003, Jammeh's forces took charge and changed the educational structure to the current 6 years of lower basic, 3 years of lower basic and 3 years of senior secondary, eliminating the Sixth Form in the process. Jammeh saw access to basic education as a portent political weapon against his political enemies and a justification for his military coup against the Jawara administration which marked the beginning of the politicization of the education sector by substituting quality for quantity.
Building schools anywhere and everywhere regardless of the population profiles in the affected catchment areas became the norm which took money away from teacher training and incentive programs designed to retain teaching staff. The school building program allowed Jammeh to award contracts to his political backers and business cronies while lining his own pockets as well. While impressive educational access numbers were registered in the lower basic grades under Jammeh's education policy, they drop precipitously in the first few years of lower basic. The cost of being in school and remaining there, especially in the rural farming) area is unsustainable and has resulted in children being withdrawn.
The claim by the regime that primary school education is free is not quite true. Parents are still required to pay for books, fees and other school expenses that has caused friction between parents who cite Jammeh's claim that education is free and headmasters who must collect these fees as required by current policy.
The results of this year's WASSCE is testimony to a broken educational system that substituted quality (good teachers and quality instructions) for quantity (more school buildings and less contact hours). A reversal of the trend can only occur when there is a total overhaul of the current system which can only take place when Jammeh is removed because the extensive nature of the damage done to Gambia's education system. The education data, just like the census figures, are known to be cooked up to depict a narrative that supports the regime's policy position for donor support or other purposes rendering an rational and effective planning impossible as long as Jammeh is in charge.
Because the issues facing the education sector are important and complex, we will be devoting a few blog posts to look as specific topics in the coming weeks. Ongoing series.