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Has the education system of The Gambia ever been good? 


Has the education system of The Gambia ever been good?

By Njundou Drammeh

A system comprises parts and each part must be good and suitable for the system to work properly and to desired result. A weakened or dysfunctional part can grind the whole to a halt. Each part is strong as the whole; the whole weak as the weakest link. Our education system, a misnomer in itself, has never been good, as far as I can remember. [ I think we should refer to it as our schooling system]

Even when we had Common Entrance, and no “mass transfer”, the system wasn’t any better. You remember how many students used to pass the Common Entrance? There used to be no “pass” in many schools even when the cut off mark was 230 or 240 or 245… Or less than 15 students would pass in a roll of 150 primary 6 students. Like in the present, schools in the Greater Banjul Area used to register greater number of “passes”

Yes, we had individual students who had excelled, whose performance awed every one. We had students who were very articulate in both written and spoken English. Performance in Mathematics wasn’t anything to write home about. We used to memorize the multiplication table at Primary 2 even though some struggled and some dropped out due to cruelty they got from the inability to memorize.

Even at O’Levels, the results used to be bad. One can count the number of students who used to get Division 1 in a high school. And Distinction? A dream. You wonder why we had only 2 schools with Sixth Forms then, Gambia High and St. Augustine’s High Schools (at least up to 1992), for all the high schools in the Gambia at that time ?

Students then may be good at comprehension, at written English. Education, rather being in school, may be very valued, a higher premium put on it. It was the only way out, the only way to middle class rank, to blue coloured job, to escape poverty. May be it is still the only way out. But “Babylon” is now another way. And other “ways” are also here now.

But students now are also very articulate, smarter, more empowered, more computer savvy, more aware of the world and intelligent. I have met and interacted with children in kindergarten who know way more in English language, French, computer science than i know when I was their age. I am sure you know a child, your own or a niece or nephew, who speaks and writes better English language than you could or were able to at that age.

Comparison is odious, they say. And yes, the “conditions” of the past shouldn’t be compared to the present, the realities different, the times world apart. Student numbers have increased; schools have increased many fold; teacher numbers have increased and budget for education have increased too (with all the support, loans and grants from World Bank, IMF, GPE, etc). The distractions in the environment, physical and virtual, are now more thunderous, myriad,.technological and uncontrollable.

Yet, one constant remain between the past and the present, the measure of intelligence, performance, excellence is “examination”, some written tests which determine “quality” or “intelligence”. The outcome of this measure, juxtaposed against the present and past, has never been impressive.

The problems inherent in our education system,.nay schooling, defy one solution, simplistic or complex. A hydra-headed problem would require multiple or multifarious solutions and approaches, involving all stakeholders, including children. I have seen and known “smart” friends and neighbours who dropped out of school because they could make the grades or have the passes or credit. They school system ruled them “unfit”; society and family called them “failures” Hidden skills and potentials untapped, unrecognised, unknown, the streets became their home and society paid dearly for neglecting them. Some got help, learned a trade and are better off than those who passed the grades. Some are in the villages, hardened by hardship and poverty, older than their ages and small scales farmers merely living on the edge. Potentials lost for not merely scoring the grades.

Look at our education system, past and present. Do our children receive guidance and career counselling? Do our children receive assessment of “capacity and capability” at an early age so they are guided towards what they can do? Do our schools have well equipped libraries [there used to be mobile van libraries from the National Libraby]? How many schools can boast of well equipped science laboratories? How many schooks have well equipped technical workshops, for subjects such as wood work, metal work, Technical Drawing? Are our teachers well motivated? Are communities and parents supporting education in the ways they should? Is the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education just ticking the boxes to satisfy donor requirement without consideration for quality?

I don’t know how a gargantuan problem like what we are facing in our schooling system can be tackled but I do know that:
– we have been and continue to judge the intelligence of squirrels by their ability to swim, and fishes by their ability to climb ( to borrow from Einstein)
– when schooling is “privatised” or dictated by World Bank or IMF, quality is lost or compromised
– bad schooling system affects “public schools” which is for children of poor families. This entrenches poverty and dependence.
– “improvements” outside the classroom are more “impressive” than inside the classroom. Education administrators have the “tools” to do their work; teachers and students lack the “tools” for effective teaching and learning”

Am worried about the future of my country. I refuse to blame our teachers or our children. I think teachers are doing their best under the circumstances. I think students are doing their best to learn, to succeed in their schooling… I think the State should heed this: “The progress of a nation cannot any swifter than its progress in education” JFK…. No country progresses which fails to invest in education.

Time to move from schooling to education. From rote learning and examination based competence assessment to career counselling, continuous assessment, life ling learning and directing potentials and talents to the right channels.

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