Musa Bah

Nusrat Senior Secondary School

The ongoing push and pull between a group of teachers and the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has highlighted once again, the serious flaws in our education system. A press release from the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has some grammatical errors which make it unworthy of coming from a ministry. A response from the group of teacher protestors who refer to themselves as Taskforce is even worse. One wonders how on earth our children will have a good education if the teachers and the ministry cannot even write an error-free letter!

The education system is so prescribed that it does not leave any room for origination. Students are expected to memorize theories and formulas to be reproduced in examinations. Thus when they reproduce what they learnt, they pass exams with good grades and are deemed to be educated. However, most of the times when these people go the real world, they can’t do anything beneficial. An education system that is so prescribed produces ministry officials who cannot write letters or press releases.

In the past few years, tens of thousands of students have completed senior school without the required number of credits to have admission in our university or any other for that matter. These people are then considered failures in society because they have spent twelve years of their lives in an education system and cannot qualify to go to university. Additionally, they have no skills or techniques so they can’t be employed.  This is why majority of skilled workers in the Gambia are foreigners. In a study I conducted with some of my students, we discovered that 59% of fishermen in the country are foreigners. Where are the Gambians? Something tells me that other areas of skilled labour have similar figures.

The unemployment rate among the youth is currently a staggering 70%. No wonder there is a huge problem of young people trying to reach the shores of Europe and dying in the Mediterranean seas. A large number of youth have taken to a life of crime because it is the easiest route to go. The second largest contributor our national income – tourism – is facing serious problems because the youth hassle the tourists to an extent that it is threatening to reduce the number of tourists who visit the Gambia.

There is child prostitution and the sex tourism is booming. The number of girls who complete grade 12 and cannot go to university is so high that some are forced to go into the sex trade. It is these people who – because they can speak English – who find it easier to befriend the Europeans in order to get something from them. This contributes to the rising crime rates and thus the violence against women and the murders keep happening.

Our education system needs to be relevant to our developmental aspirations. We must reorient our youth to enable them create jobs instead of seeking jobs. The system must recognize that not everyone is – can – be an academician. But equally, it must recognize that no one is stupid. Everyone is good at something or the other. We must seek to identify what the children are good at and push them in that direction. With this, they will learn a craft in which they are interested. By the time they complete senior school they will be able to do something on their own. Thus they will not depend on any employer; rather, they will be self-employed. This will have a positive impact on the unemployment rate, decrease the crime rate and generate enough income to revitalize our economy.

These are observations which can be used to begin to solve our problems. We need to rethink our education so as to impact on our development process. We need thinkers, researchers and a political will to pull us out of this quagmire. The leadership since independence has not been able to give us the life we need and deserve. Every section of Gambian society is affected one way or the other. We cannot blame the officials of the ministry or the teachers who wrote those embarrassing press releases, they simply wrote what they have been taught.

A complete change of direction is needed but it requires courage and political commitment. As we have the university, we have a bank from which we can withdraw, so to speak. Let the university be used to conduct research on all areas of development so that our policymakers can base decisions on scientific facts.

With these actions, we – as a nation – will solve many of our problems. We could produce enough food right here so that we don’t depend ever again on food importation. We will solve the problem of unemployment which has a direct link with the crime rate. This will also improve the health of our people and improve the standard of living.

Another benefit we will derive from overhauling the education system is having peace and stability in the long term. This is of extreme importance as security does not only have to do with soldiers and police and guns and whatnot, it has to do with economics as well. An employed youth who is receiving a good remuneration is less likely to join a gang of criminals or a rebel group. He would want to protect his way of life and that is the incentive for peace.

Peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of justice (economic justice inclusive).