I am Mohamed Alie Kanu. I participated as an adolescent researcher in the research study identifying the concerns facing young people in Sierra Leone and solutions to these concerns.
The topic I would like to talk on is education. Education is the top concern of young people. For young people, education is at the center of peace and recovery. Without education, we feel hopeless and at times turn to destructive activities.
The young people we interviewed said most of them cannot obtain education because of high costs; because facilities are too far away; because there is gender discrimination; and because we lack of learning materials.
Many schools are barely functioning, particularly in the countryside, and have few scholastic materials. We do not have enough classroom furniture, and there are few teachers. Teachers are also inadequately trained.
Even if primary school is free, young people say the cost of uniforms and school supplies makes going to school impossible. Getting into secondary school is even harder. There are fewer secondary schools, and the costs are even higher. Many young people have also missed years of education because of the war and need help catching up.
I lived in Makeni in the north, which was in rebel control. I was not able to go to school for five years. My parents were too poor to pay my school fees and accommodation in government-held areas. Today, I am also a child father and must care for myself and my child while I continue my schooling.
As for girls, getting an education is especially difficult. Families will pay for boys’ education before that of girls’ when they have few resources. A prostitute girl in Makeni said, “I wasn’t able to go to school because my parents prefer paying for my brother instead of me. So, I ended up being a prostitute.”
Teenagers are also concerned about livelihood education in the form of job training. Former combatants, for example, see education and job training as an important part of their reintegration into society. But for most, the training is incomplete and does not lead to jobs in the future.
Young people also highlighted many solutions to these problems: We are asking the Sierra Leone government and donors to respond to our call for education as critical to peace and recovery from the war. We ask that the reconstruction of formal and non-formal education systems be prioritized, especially in ways that promote young people’s livelihood.
We must have access to both primary and secondary education, as well as vocational and other job training. We also need more classes that help young people quickly catch up on the school they missed. Girls must have full access to all of these activities.
Training should be directly linked to reconstruction activities so that young people are immediately employed to do the jobs needed for rebuilding.
In these ways, young people will be on a steady path to peace and will not be forced into prostitution, war or other dangerous work. We can rebuild Sierra Leone, we need more education to do it. Thank you.