Standing: Mayor Aki Sawyer, IMF Deputy Managing Director David Lipton, Dr David Moinina Sengeh and Municipal School teacher
I spent some time at a municipal school as part of an official function. We visited several classes from primary to secondary school. In each, I engaged with a couple of learners directly. I took their books and flipped through to see and understand their learning. Below are some takeaways on how parents, teachers and administrators have absolved themselves of the responsibility for the individual learner in the system.
A. A girl in class 6- taking a transition exam in a couple months, had open a mathematics book. I flipped through and was surprised she had a big red X on a basic addition problem. I did the calculations in my head and she had gotten it correct actually. So I wrote down the problem again and asked her to do it. She did. Same answer. I asked her why then it was marked wrong. She said she didn’t know. I called the teacher, showed him and he said he didn’t know-how. He said that maybe during group marking someone (another pupil) marked it incorrectly. I reminded him it was his responsibility.
Now, the issue here is the potential damage this has on that child. 1. Her continuous assessment that just counts a number of red x marks will be wrong; 2. Her self confidence is affected by staring at the red strikes in her book; and 3. She questions her own abilities… thereby not learning the fundamentals.
The teacher failed her by not reviewing her work. The parents failed her by not reviewing her work. The school management failed her by not reviewing the teacher. We are failing our children systematically.
B. In a secondary class, I flipped through a boy’s book who spelt the word “robbery” incorrectly. The teacher had marked it with a big red check/correct mark and written: “seen”. Yet, there were several fundamental typos in this work. I again called the teacher and she said oh, she had not “seen” that section yet. Here again, the learner does not get the fundamentals right, and I am assuming his parents may not have “seen” his books either.
C. I met a learner who had done several activities in maths. Yet, she didn’t have any indication of feedback. I asked her teacher who then said oh, it was a new homework from the previous day. Unlucky for him, I see the details. I noted the date and that he, in fact, wasn’t saying the truth. But did the parent check the book to see that their child had in fact done homework a week ago that wasn’t reviewed? Did the parent check the homework?
Note, the school principal was with me in each of these conversations. She said she’ll talk to the teachers. But everyone had a reason and explanation that never said it was their fault.
Fine, as Minister of Education, it’s my fault. I take the blame but you all have to help us reverse these trends.
There’s always joy in meeting young learners. They represent the future and they remain full of curiosity. But until we as a society accept that we had given up on education and take back the responsibility, this task will be hard.
So, if you are a parent, here’s a simple thing you can do today and this week.
1. Ask your child if they had homework today.
2. Give them 30 mins or however you can afford to do the homework.
3. Ask them to show you the completed homework.
4. Ask them in two days if the teacher had marked it and review.
If you are a teacher;
1. Review the work of your pupils (each) and give them feedback this week.
2. Compliment as many as possible including the ones who get 0. Promise yourself that they must get at least 10% next time.
If you are a school leader;
1. Visit a classroom and observe at least once this week and at least once every week.
2. Ask your teacher if they are ok and see if there’s anything you can do to help them. Maybe extra chalk
About the Author
Dr David Moinina Sengeh is the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in Sierra Leone. He is a TED Senior Fellow