His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has officially kickstarted his high-level engagements at the 78th Session of UN General Assembly as the keynote speaker at the commemoration of the observance of the Fourth International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
The President joined the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, with whom he co-chaired the Transforming Education Summit in 2022 as well as the UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bin Nasser, Chairperson of Education Above All Foundation, victims of attacks on education and other key stakeholders.
“The urgency to protect education from attack is now. Over the past three years, reports reveal that more than 9,000 learners and teachers were harmed, injured or killed in attacks on educational facilities during armed conflicts. Between 2020 and 2021, more than 5,000 attacks were on educational facilities, students, and teachers. Such attacks continue to rise year after year in different places across the globe,” he said.
He pointed out that some of those attacks on education were policy-based, with equal devastating impact, particularly on girl learners, adding that Sierra Leone, girls suffered the double victimisation of dealing with teenage pregnancy, often due to sexual abuse and a ban on visibly pregnant schoolgirls from attending school.
“In March 2020, I announced that the Government of Sierra Leone had lifted the ban prohibiting pregnant schoolgirls from attending school and committed my Government to the Policy of Radical Inclusion to ensure that no child is left out of the education system.
“My Government's annual budgetary allocation to the education sector is 22% ─ one of the highest in the world. Our Free Quality School Education programme has created greater access, quality and equity for about 2 million children by removing financial barriers to school enrolment and improving teaching and learning outcomes,” the President outlined.
He emphasised that his government’s focus on Human Capital Development was to reverse the downward trend of the country’s education system caused by the 11 years of civil war in the nineties. He disclosed that even though he became President 16 years after the war was declared over, the education system was still in desperate straits from the destruction of infrastructure, the existing inequities, the depth of misconduct, and the scope of the disruptions to the system.
As a Champion for universal access to quality education and radical inclusion, President Bio highlighted his government’s policy actions and data-guided efforts toward addressing restrictive policies and actions, which had hitherto opened education to attack and hindered progress in the West African nation.
“Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand here today championing universal access to quality education because I can testify to the power of being given the right to be educated against all odds. Therefore, it is a lifelong commitment to champion causes that ensure every child can unlock their God-given potential through education”.
He concluded that the event, organised by the State of Qatar, Education Above All Foundation, with support from UNESCO and UNICEF, was an opportunity to share insights on the attack on education caused by the regrettable decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone and the positive strides they had made to protect education and get “Justice for Victims”.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of The Republic of Sierra Leone State House.