Freetown International Conference Centre, Monday 6 February 2023 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has formally opened a two-day conference on Foundational Learning Exchange 2023 on the theme “Political Commitment, International Partnership, and Country Spotlights”.
He said he was excited to welcome them all to the 2023 Foundational Learning Exchange in Freetown, dubbed #FLEX23, the first ever such conference to be attended by ministers of education from across Africa and education and children partners, including development partners like the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF.
“We are also one of the first signatories of the commitment to action created by the World Bank and UNICEF and launched at the Transforming Education Summit. I hosted the spotlight session on Foundational Learning alongside the President of the World Bank and the Executive Director of UNICEF. As a global champion for transforming education and meeting our SDG 4 goals by 2030, I have also selected foundational learning as a focus.
“Here, over the next two days, we will interact with development partners, education foundation stakeholders, policy and lawmakers, administrators, teachers, and students to discuss the all-too-important matter of foundational learning.
“Together with our partners in UNICEF and World Bank and with the support of the Hempel Foundation, we are happy to host you here in Freetown. I am indeed honoured that Sierra Leone is the very first African country to host the inaugural foundational learning exchange (FLEX) among African countries.
“As a country, we identify closely with the vision statement from the UN Secretary-General on transforming education, in which he called for students to be able to learn. Through the Freetown Manifesto, we are building regional support for transforming education. I co-chair the UNESCO High-level Steering Committee on SDG4.
President Julius Maada Bio also used the occasion to share Sierra Leone’s remarkable work in education, which he noted was underlined by four simple principles like believing that education was a fundamental right; that access to education must be universal; that they could train highly resourceful and talented teachers and school administrators at the highest levels and finally that education was not a cost but an investment.
World Bank Global Director for Education Global Practice, Jaime Saavedra, said he could not imagine how urgent and timely foundational learning was, stressing that the COVID-19 pandemic was the worst shock to have happened to education in low-and middle-income countries.
“The long closure of schools combined with the long recession in the past decade has implied a gigantic shock to the education system. We are assuming today that 7 out of 10 children in lower and middle-income countries are learning in poverty. They cannot simply read and understand a simple text at the end of their primary. That is a gigantic catastrophe!
“Reading and writing about numeracy and social and emotional skills are the building blocks for all other educational outcomes we care about. So, if children cannot read, it will be impossible for them to acquire all those other competencies that are critical for life. We need a few things: the right technical design, financial resources, political commitments, and implementation capacity to achieve the set goals,” he emphasised.
Mr Saavedra ended by praising Sierra Leone’s efforts with the Radical Inclusion Policy, which ensured that all children were in school and stayed in school, adding that that was the first thing countries needed to do to move forward with education.
“The fact that we are gathered here today and that the President of Sierra Leone is one of the speakers in this debate and the promoter of this exchange is proof of those commitments,” he assured.
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