Congratulating the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology!!
We are living in a time when one can easily fall into the temptation of believing all is gloom. The year 2020 has been so dominated by COVID-19 and its effects that we have hardly had time to show to ourselves due appreciation for the dividends of our collective efforts. Permit me to happily deviate from this today.
Last week we received the very excellent news that the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (MMCET) has attained University status. Tertiary education is a bed rock of national development. It has been argued that the proportion of a country's population that attain tertiary education matches its extent of development. The attainment of university status by any institution of higher learning is a significant milestone and that is why your most authoritative Sierra News today associates with this good news and congratulates the leadership, faculty, staff and students of MMCET for a job well done.
The Milton Margai College of Education and Technology was established in 1963 and it was aptly named after one of the country's most illustrious citizens, Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai. Initially established as a Teachers Training College, the school has expanded its scope and now has five faculties. It has a staff and student strength of 425 and 4201, respectively. As we reflect on its attainment of University status, we are morally obliged to reflect on the life and works of that illustrious son of Sierra Leone after whom MMCET is named. This is necessary if we are to bring home forcefully to the current generation of faculty, staff and students the huge task thrust on them in being standard-bearers of the image and stature of this great nationalist.
Sir Margai was born in December 1895. He came from a relative affluent family and he was educated at Fouray Bay College. He proceeded to the United Kingdom and read medicine at the prestigious Kings' College. He qualified as a general practice physician in 1926 and undertook specialist training at the famous Liverpool school of Tropical Medicine. Most significantly, young Milton Margai returned to Sierra Leone, then still under colonial rule to practice medicine in what could only be imagined as the most difficult and impossible circumstances. As the archives of the New York Times report "in 1927 he opened a village dispensary in Sierra Leone. In those days, hospitals in the British colonial territory were few and far between, and the roads were poor."
Dr Milton Margai practiced medicine in 11 out of the then 12 districts of the country, rising to the level of senior medical officer. Dr. Margai turned his attention towards the political liberation of his country and along with others, founded the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). He was knighted by the Queen of England in 1950. Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from British rule in 1961 and was Prime Minister from 1961 to 1964.
The footprints of Sir Milton Margai's life provides very useful lessons regarding the value of education in nation-building. Sir Margai lived through a time when attaining tertiary education was perhaps akin to pushing a camel through the eye of a needle (motivation-wise). Even more profound is the fact that he returned to his "village" country to apply his knowledge in medicine, to the benefit of his countrymen and women.
How many of our nationals, having been educated free in Sierra Leone (at taxpayers' expense) and having been sent abroad on scholarship, (still at taxpayers' expense) haven't found all the excuses fathomable to continue to stay abroad and deny the country of the benefit of their training? Can we imagine the colossal loss in human capital that this country has suffered as a result of this since independence? One cannot help but also mention the seemingly intractable challenge of getting our health and other skilled workers to take up postings in deprived communities where their services are most needed. I will return to these issues in future editorials. Suffice to say now, that it is within these contexts that we appreciate the uniqueness of the footprints of Sir Milton Margai. It is said that a nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for. So when our leaders of old decided to name a teacher training college after Sir Milton Margai, they did right, and desired that his life and works be example to us.
Quality education is our most powerful tool for accelerated national development. The soon to be Sir Milton Margai University of Education and Technology (MMUET) could not have come at a better time. There is enormous desire amongst our youth to pursue higher education and we have a duty to continue expanding access to fulfil this aspiration. The Sir Milton Margai University of Education and Technology should live up to the high expectations of the Sierra Leonean people. The University should rapidly expand its portfolio of programs and strive to be a centre of excellence. As a University, it is no longer an institution primarily for teaching. It is now more an institution for research and service. The Sir Milton Margai University of Education and Technology provides an opportunity for Sierra Leonian academics in the diaspora to explore opportunities for giving back to the motherland. The authorities of the new university should tap into this vast resource.
The attainment of University status by MMCET should inspire other institutions that are working towards higher accreditation. The veritable Honourable Minister for Technical and Higher Education, his Ministry and the Tertiary Education Commission deserve commendation for successfully guiding MMCET to attain university status and in the process expanding access to higher tertiary education in the country. Like Oliver Twist, we ask for more!
Lonta ka da Bai! For love of Sierra Leone.
Yeama Sarah Thompson