Education in Sierra Leone Failing at-Risk Youths

Joseph Mohmoh Conteh, a high school drop out, washes the bike he uses in his work as a motorcycle taxi man. “I can collect about $10 a day for my boss,” he said. “I have to buy fuel and other things. It is just for survival that I am doing this.”

Conteh says he would rather be in school, but does not have the money to continue. He also became frustrated when he did not pass his college entrance exam on the first try.

For now he takes passengers to their destinations. He must pay the owner of the bike a percentage of what he earns. He says he sees little future for himself in this work.

Across Sierra Leone young men and women like Conteh are studying to pass college entrance exams. If they pass they have a better chance to go on to university and compete for the few good paying jobs. Otherwise many end up in jobs like driving motorcycle taxis, or with no work at all.

Momodu Sesay is the principal of St. Francis Secondary School in Makeni. “If you look at the results,” he says, “especially this year, the whole country, for me I can describe them as a horror. It means we have to go back to the board and find a solution.”

And for those who drop out because they don’t have money for school fees, Sesay says they shouldn’t have expected education to be free. “You cannot be educated without money, that is the most unfortunate part,” he added.

Conteh will carry about 25 passengers on this day.

He drops this woman off at a school where he says he would have liked to have been a student. “I don’t feel comfortable in life, but what can I do? I’m stressed by lack of money first of all and also the dust when I drive affects my eyes,” he said. “But if I didn’t do this job what would I do?”

Many motorcycle taxi men were rebel fighters in the civil war. Whether they fought or not, they are often looked down on and called thugs by the community. Some act accordingly.

Conteh says he does not want this to be his future.