At UNESCO Breakfast Meeting….

President Bio calls for Political Will & Scale-up Investments in Education.

By Betty Milton, Information Attaché, Brussels, Belgium

In his opening remarks at the SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee Meeting on the margins of the Transforming Education Pre- Summit in Paris, President Julius Maada Bio who doubles as Co-Chair of the SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee, has urged all governments that “there is the real risk of a generational catastrophe if we do not enkindle the necessary political will and scale up investments in education”.

He added: “We must generate the necessary political will and muster a committed global movement to make the desired change happen”.

President Bio maintained that the meeting provided a valuable opportunity to respond to the call for stronger leadership, greater political will, and bolder action in favour of education and lifelong learning. 

The Sierra Leone President and Co- Chair recognised that education is the most powerful investment for sustainable future. He also spoke about the urgency of the global learning crisis, and the need to transform education systems. He continued: “we therefore urge the need for a genuine shift in mindsets towards the HLSC’s Call for Action for the Transforming Education Summit.”

On the Draft Message by the SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee, President Bio described it as a message of warning and hope, adding: “a message of warning, because the cost of inaction is intolerable; a message of hope, because the opportunities for genuine transformation are considerable”. 

As a strong believer of quality education especially at an early stage the President emphased that education provided the essential pillars for building peaceful, democratic, and inclusive societies where there was respect for human rights, a healthy planet, and a sustainable future for humanity.

The President called on members of the SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee that they have a collective responsibility to seize the momentum created by the UN Secretary General’s Summit to make the case for transformation in education and as representatives of our respective regions and constituencies, they have a duty to mobilise their countries and all key stakeholders. 

“All actors must urgently pursue both inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all. This is the very essence of the HLSC’s Call for Action. We must therefore strategically use that as a wake-up call,” President Bio stated.

Co- Chair of the SDG4 HLSC, Madam Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, in her statement said looking beyond the crisis of the COVID, there were other challenges before the COVID-19 and were still prevailing which had affected the world and the educational sector especially the technological disruption and the climate change.

She added that, to guide their efforts they needed to look at the coordinated work done by UNESCO on the future of education which offered solid and shared foundation for global education. 

Audrey Azoulay further stated that the role of the Committee was essential as it mobilised leaders of the world to defend and define their nations’ priorities and to better align the financing of these priorities.

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Le 15.7bn For 5,058 Primary Schools.

The Ministry of Basic & Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) has disbursed school grants valued at Fifteen Billion Seven Hundred and Twenty-Nine Million and Two Thousand Leones (Le 15,729,002,000) directly to 5,058 public schools running a full cycle primary education from classes 1 through 6. These grants, based on data collected in March 2022, were disbursed on 15 June 2022 as Performance Based Financing for Term 2 of the 2021/22 academic year, and they seek to improve various components of quality education at the school level. 

The Government of Sierra Leone currently provides largescale support, including provision of teaching and learning materials, and financing (fee subsidies) to ‘government’ and ‘government-assisted’ schools at all levels. However, these resources are not always adequate to cover all the expenses and needs of beneficiary schools and ‘unapproved’ schools do not currently receive such mainstream government financial support. 

The Performance-Based Financing (PBF) school grants are innovative additional resource-support packages to schools that amplify specific learning and administrative outcomes. The size of the support is dependent strictly on performance metrics – the school gets more of the standard PBF grant if it improves student attendance, retention and progression and improves teaching and learning outcomes. Schools with special needs and circumstances (i.e., unapproved or small schools, schools in poor communities, or schools with students with disabilities) also receive extra funds. Guidelines for the use of PBF Grants are available in the PBF Manual on which all School Management Committees (SMCs) and Head Teachers have been trained. Parts of these resources could be used for payment of stipends to community and volunteer teachers, payment of staff bonuses based on performance, and supporting school operations. 

As part of this project implementation, MBSSE received technical assistance under the Free Education Project from the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovations (DSTI) to introduce the Open ‘Government to Person’ (G2P) framework to accelerate cash transfers to the schools. The platform integrates the data collection on the schools’ performances on the PBF indicators, calculation of the grants, and transfer of funds to the schools’ accounts in real time in a secure manner. As a pilot from this collaboration between MBSSE, DSTI and the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, One Hundred and Fifty-Seven Million Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Thousand Five Hundred and Ten Leones (Le 157,766,510) of the total amount was transferred to 58 out of the 5058 school accounts using the (G2P) payment mechanism. This automation and digitization will provide rigor, transparency and efficiency to the system when scaled in the future. 

The Government of Sierra Leone Free Education Project / Multi-Donor Trust Fund is implemented by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education through the Free Education Project Secretariat and it is supported by World Bank (IDA), European Union, Irish Aid, Foreign Commonwealth Development Office, and the Global Partnership for Education.

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On Sexual and Health Rights, UN Resident Coordinator calls for Collective Action.

UN Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi has called for collective action to reinvigorate efforts to ensure sexual health and rights of all, and, in particular, to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence. 

He was speaking at the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights conference in Freetown. 

“Our world is currently experiencing upheavals that if not addressed immediately, will have tremendous impact on our future. The underlying truth borne out by evidence is that every crisis we have, has a decidedly young, female face”, he said.

The UN Resident Coordinator added: “In Sierra Leone, this is the face of a frightened young woman grappling with gender-based violence. This is the face of a 16-years old pregnant school girl, who is among the 21 per cent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 that were found to have begun child bearing. This is the face of a young girl, kept out of school due to female genital mutilation rites coupled with pandemic disruptions, and further exacerbated by poverty, lack of social safety net, and digital divide.

“Unfortunately, these challenges are not just found in Sierra Leone, but are replicated to varying degrees across Africa. 

“The 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, therefore, provides a timely opportunity for all stakeholders to rethink and renew our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals – in particular Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls. The theme of the conference, “Accelerating the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence in Africa” is a call to action for stakeholders to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure sexual health and rights of all, and, in particular, to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence. 

“This requires collective action. People, including youth, civil society, the media, the private sector and other stakeholders, need to generate an unstoppable movement pushing for the required transformation. Across Africa, we need to build stronger partnerships, mobilize more resources, and provide innovative and sustainable solutions to address sexual and gender-based violence. In our respective countries, we have to embed the needed transitions in the policies, budgets, institutions, and regulatory frameworks of governments, while ensuring that the most vulnerable, including women and girls are protected and empowered. 

“The solution to so many of Africa’s biggest challenges is likely right in front of us: the realization of the full rights and potential of women and girls, and young people in general. 

“When individuals can exercise real informed choice over their health, bodies and futures, they can contribute to prosperous societies and a more sustainable, equitable and just world. 

“By prioritizing agency and the empowerment of all people — especially women, girls, young people, and the most vulnerable — so they can finally exercise real, informed choice over their health, bodies, and futures, we can unleash a powerful, reinforcing cycle of gains. 

“Therefore, let us collectively take advantage of the transformative opportunity this flagship regional Conference presents to us. Let us work diligently and together to reverse our current trajectories. Let us recommit ourselves towards sustainable and equitable development, where the most vulnerable, especially young people and women, free from sexual and gender-based violence, are at the centre of economic and social development. 

“This is how we will achieve the Africa that we want – an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa progressing towards the Sustainable Development Goals”, he ended.

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Statistics Sierra Leone to spend US$4m after World Bank Approval.

The World Bank has recently approved US$4m to be utilised for various statistical activities and building of district offices successfully presented and defended by Stats SL as part of the Institution’s Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa (HISWA) project.

The Statistician General and CEO of Stats SL Prof. Osman Sankoh (Mallam O.) was visibly excited about this clearance for his team to implement key activities before the end of the year. With the few words “God is great!”, he quickly changed into top gear to begin the engagement with his team on the deliverables.

The results-driven Deputy Statistician General Mr Andrew Bob Johnny thanked the World Bank for its positive consideration of Stats SL’s proposal for the year and he said this would enable pre-construction work for an ultramodern HQ complex at Tower Hill in Freetown in the coming two years and an impressive presence of Stats SL’s own office buildings across the district and regional headquarter towns in Sierra Leone.

Providing some specifics, Mr Albert Bangura-Will, the HISWA Project Coordinator said that the approved US$4m for 2022 would allow Stats SL to effectively prepare for several statistical activities. These include: an agricultural census; a census of business establishments: a new Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey; and generation of credible administrative data.

Appreciating the World Bank for its favourable decision on behalf of the Statistics Council, the Chairman of Council Mr Moses LJ Williams said that Stats SL couldn’t have been on a better footing to implement its planned activities for the year. He urged Management to continue to be effective and efficient in their work.

The HISWA grant funds are ably managed by the Project Fiduciary Management Unit (PFMU) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) led by the Team Lead, Mr Alpha Sesay.

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