By Foday Moriba Conteh
On Friday 4th October, 2019, as part of the Albert Academy 115 year’s anniversary celebrations, the renowned legal luminary, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, succinctly delivered a very motivational speech on the Theme: “Moving from the Brink to the Brim of Academic Excellence” at the School compound on Berry Street in Freetown.
JFK, as he is popularly called, maintained that the theme: “Moving from the Brink to the Brim of Academic Excellence” is timely and interesting saying it is self-evident that the ‘brink’ is present and the ‘brim’ is just an aspiration, adding that the brim of academic excellence is the state of being exceptional.
“We live in a society obsessed with being exceptional. Whether it is as workers, parents, students, lovers, cooks, we are expected to be outstanding. We must strive to be the best employees, craft out an outstanding body, have amazing relationships, all while being exceptionally happy. Even the most ordinary institutions also are expected to be nothing less than excellent. Companies want to be “world class”; schools have become “academies of excellence”. Being good enough is seen as simply not good enough,” he philosophized.
He said that at a moment like this when education faces attacks from multiple fronts, it can be helpful to step back and address a central question: where did we go wrong? He stated that back in the days, when Sierra Leone was known as the ‘Athens of West Africa’, education was fit for purpose.
“The structure of the curricular then could get you a job even with a secondary school leaving certificate,” he said adding that his father who happened to be a student of the class of 1948 at the Albert Academy was able to secure a job as Station Manager in Moyamba District, with just a leaving certificate, “The quality and value of the certificate then, is my reference point and not the availability of a job,” he underscored.
He disclosed that in today’s education, a university degree cannot even guarantee a secured job, again, not necessarily because of availability, but rather, the inability to perform at an expected level.
“Our educational system could be likened to a chariot on two wheels, academic excellence and social purpose. It seems to me, we have lost one of the wheels, the social purpose level. Education should have a social purpose in addition to striving for academic excellence. The current obsession with academic excellence, one can argue, has altered our idea of higher education, and the current focus on status has perpetual inequality and limited social mobility,” he underscored.
He stressed that for far too long, successive Governments have invested in education, under the unquestioned assumption that improved test scores were clear evidence that their investments have paid off.
JFK argued that mastery of the basic primary or secondary school curriculum is not the best means for improving life chances and alleviating poverty in the country. He furthered that the model is broken, investing interventions that produce the highest test scores is no longer a valid approach for allocating scarce educational Leones or the scarce time available for the development of young minds.
Convincingly, he suggested that it time to seek out the interventions that lead to the greatest social and economic impact for the poor.
He ended by saying that to attain the brim of excellence; our approach ought to include three elements essential to high-quality education:
- Entrepreneurship should include financial and marketplace literacy and it should focus on helping children learn to manage money and market transactions that will enable them to identify and pursue market opportunities, teaching them workplace skills to improve productivity and effectiveness.
- Health Education should also include essential health behaviors, the importance and consequences of healthy behaviors, and the strategies for employing them for children can share with their families and incorporate into everyday life.
- Empowerment: to be a student-driven approach that provides practical learning in a supportive environment and includes helping children develop critical thinking skills and the self-efficacy necessary to put them into action.
He said that content and activities such as those that enable students to learn and practice workplace skills and attitudes like delegation, negotiation, collaboration, and planning- opportunities that are rarely available to them outside of their families must be stressed. He added that perhaps more importantly, those activities will enable them to see themselves in idea-generation, problem-solving, decision-making and leadership roles.