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Advancing Education: Sierra Leone’s Progressive Act for Inclusive and Safe Learning

In a significant stride toward educational reform, Sierra Leone’s Parliament passed the Basic and Senior Secondary Education Act of 2023 in April. This groundbreaking legislation aims to revamp the education system, making it more accessible, inclusive, and rights-based, while also implementing measures to eliminate violence and enhance learning outcomes across the country.

The Act encompasses a wide array of regulations designed to bring about positive change. It ensures the inclusion of children with physical or learning disabilities, prohibits discrimination, legalizes youth advisory groups, and unequivocally bans corporal punishment, safeguarding students from violence and abuse.

Putting an End to School Violence

An alarming number of approximately 246 million children worldwide suffer from violence in and around schools annually. This can manifest as bullying, sexual exploitation, or physical aggression. Sierra Leone’s new Act explicitly emphasizes the creation of psychologically safe and violence-free learning environments in schools, fostering an atmosphere conducive to learning.

Taking a Stand Against Corporal Punishment

Shockingly, nearly half of all school-aged children, amounting to 793 million, reside in countries where corporal punishment in educational institutions remains legal. However, Sierra Leone’s Basic and Senior Secondary Education Act of 2023 takes a crucial step forward by explicitly prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on students.

According to the Act, any form of degrading punishment that inflicts physical pain or instills fear for the purpose of control is strictly prohibited. This ban extends not only to school staff and teachers but also encompasses all individuals present on school grounds, including relatives of the students. Sierra Leone thus joins the ranks of 135 other countries worldwide in safeguarding children from corporal punishment in schools, demonstrating their commitment to protecting students’ rights.

Combatting All Forms of Abuse and Exploitation, Online and Offline

The Act also goes beyond prohibiting corporal punishment by addressing other forms of exploitation experienced by students. It firmly denounces teacher-to-pupil and pupil-to-pupil violence, encompassing bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, and sexual misconduct. Notably, the Act explicitly forbids cyberbullying, both by peers and educators, recognizing the detrimental impact of online abuse on students’ well-being.

Inclusion and Protection for Young Mothers

Early pregnancy can significantly hinder the development of young girls, and denying them an education only exacerbates the situation, pushing them to the fringes of society. Sierra Leone’s new Act recognizes this challenge and builds upon the 2020 policy that lifted the longstanding ban on pregnant girls attending school. It ensures that pregnant girls are not denied access to education, emphasizing their right to pursue education, regardless of their circumstances.

The Act states unequivocally that pregnant girls, as well as parent learners and students from underprivileged homes, rural areas, and underserved communities, must be encouraged to attend and complete school, enjoying all the facilities provided. It emphasizes the need for equal treatment and non-discrimination among students, fostering an inclusive and supportive educational environment.

Leading the Way: Sierra Leone’s Commitment to Safe Learning

Sierra Leone’s government has long been dedicated to promoting safe learning environments. In 2019, the country endorsed the Safe to Learn Call to Action, a global initiative aimed at ending violence in schools. This endorsement serves as a powerful political statement of Sierra Leone’s commitment to combating violence in educational settings and highlights their determination to implement legislation, policies, and investments that prevent and respond to violence.

Furthermore, The Honourable David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer in the Government of Sierra Leone, has joined forces with the Safe to Learn global initiative as a Safe to Learn Champion. Through this collaboration, he becomes a prominent advocate for ending violence in schools, standing up for the hundreds of millions of children affected by such violence annually.

Sierra Leone’s Basic and Senior Secondary Education Act of 2023 signifies a significant milestone in the country’s journey toward an inclusive and safe education system. By enacting progressive legislation, Sierra Leone not only sets an example for other nations but also demonstrates its unwavering commitment to providing every child with the opportunity to learn and thrive in a violence-free environment.

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