The income gap between educated people and those who cannot read nor write, has widened considerably in Sierra Leone since the country gained independence from Britain in 1961. The fast-increasing majority of people with no formal education have resulted in low productivity and poor standard of living in the country, especially for the poor working in sectors such as mining, agriculture, whole sale and retail that the economy heavily depends on. In the mining sector, a manager or accountant with a university degree earns far greater than a security personnel who is a primary school dropout. Unskilled workers working for mining companies in Sierra Leone have always occupied positions where they do all the hard and stressful work, but find it difficult to pay their bills in a country where minerals account for over 98 percent of export earnings. The agriculture sector dominated by subsistence farming which employs majority of people with no formal education, does not generate enough income that could allow family farmers to afford basic necessities – such as clean water, food, housing, education, healthcare, electricity, etc. A subsistence farmer who cannot read nor write, earns far less than a high school dropout working in a palm nursery field for an international bio-energy company. And, the wholesale and retail business that also absorb large number of unskilled workers, pays primary school dropouts working as clerks in warehouses far greater than those with no formal education, transporting goods on their heads to unload trucks – carrying hundreds of tons of merchandise. The informal economy accounts for over 70 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It depends heavily on unskilled workers, especially food markets. Most farmers and fishermen supplying staples such as rice, cassava and fish have no formal education. Moreover, mining companies in Sierra Leone thrive on the back of unskilled workers, enjoying huge profits and cheap labour. Decades of rampant corruption and bad governance have barred majority of the population from any formal education or training. According to the World Bank, over 60 percent of the population has no formal education. Education, for many in Sierra Leone, has become the diamond and rutile the country has abundantly, but few people benefit from. Sierra Leoneans used to say that their country has one of the best education in Africa. I do not think we could claim that distinction today with a straight face. The high cost and low standards have prevented many parents from sending their children to school. Majority of subsistence farmers struggling to feed their families, cannot afford even primary school education for their children. Many children whose parents work full time for mining companies hardly make it to their third year in primary school. Even the middle class are finding it difficult to meet the cost of college education for their children. Moreover, the overpriced college degrees have not translated into qualified and competent workforce. Many graduates cannot use what they learn in class rooms as critical thinking to solve complex problems in the real world. The education standard has become so poor that the few people who can afford to pay tens of thousands of US dollars to send their children to school, outsource their education needs to Europe and the United States. The education system being fraught with corruption, has produced worthless degrees or just papers. The system cannot even stop leakages of exam questions, especially during national exams that award degrees and diplomas. Politicians whose children attend schools in Britain and the United States have never taken education in the country seriously. Investment in education is all time low. The political system has deliberately made education unaffordable for many, so as to keep voters uniformed and irrational, an allegation politicians dismiss as conspiracy theory. Lack of skilled workers makes the country’s central bank loses millions of US dollars in foreign exchange reserve every month, as foreign workers repatriate their income earned in Sierra Leone to their home countries. Many Sierra Leoneans lacking the experience and expertise cannot perform the functions required for high paid jobs that guaranty a decent standard of living, in a country where over 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Sierra Leone must make education affordable, if it is to lift millions out of poverty. The less the country takes education seriously, the more it sinks into poverty and the more politicians become empowered and emboldened to loot and squander its resources. Education and Wealth A 2018 St. Louis Federal Reserve (FRED) study found there are three ways education creates wealth. 1. Families Headed by College Graduates Earn More That gives the children a head start in life. They can attend better schools and receive better education themselves. 2. The Upward-Mobility Effect This occurs when a child is born into a family without a college degree. Once the child earns a diploma, the entire family becomes wealthier. FRED's study found this effect boosted family wealth by 20 percentage points. In families where both the parents and child graduated from college, wealth improved but only by 11 percentage points. 3. The Downward-Mobility Effect Children whose parents didn't graduate from college fell 10 percentiles in wealth, while those with college-educated parents who didn't graduate from college themselves did worse, falling by 18 percentiles in wealth.1 0 Structural Inequality Inequity in education has also led to structural inequality. Students in low-income neighborhoods may receive an inferior education compared with students in wealthier areas. Research from Michigan State University (MSU) has found that this school inequality gap accounts for 37% of the reason for their lower math scores.1 1 Structural inequality exists where poor children must attend public schools while rich children can afford to attend higher-quality private schools. "Because of school differences in content exposure for low- and high-income students in this country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” said William Schmidt, an MSU professor of statistics and education, in the study. "The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth." How to Achieve Equity in Education The OECD recommends 10 steps to improve equity in education.2 Among these are: Improving the Educational System's Design The first four steps are laid out to improve the design of educational systems. School districts must make sure each school has the resources it needs for its students. This includes everything from special education to gifted students. The school system routinely assigns children from an early age to either collegebound or vocational tracks. This often discriminates by gender, race, and income. Instead, the OECD recommends that tracking should be delayed or even eliminated. Poor performers should be given extra training so they can "catch up." This includes GED programs. Vocational workers should also receive a college education so they can manage in more high-tech manufacturing. Providing Personalized Education The OECD's fifth through seventh steps targets the classroom level. Students should receive a personalized education based on their needs. Instead of failing students, give them intense intervention in specific skill areas. This will increase graduation rates. Work with parents more to get their support for their child's schoolwork. If this is impossible, then provide after-school programs for those children. Help immigrants and minority children attend mainstream schools. If needed, give them intense language training. A University of Michigan study found an 11th solution that was both inexpensive and effective. Researchers sent invitations to high-performing, low-income highschool students. It promised scholarships to pay for all costs. More than twothirds applied to the university, compared with 26% in a control group of students who also qualified for financial aid but did not receive targeted mailings.1 2 Targeting Resources to Those Most in Need The OECD's steps eight through ten suggest targeting scarce school funding to those most in need. The United States does the opposite. A U.S. Department of Education study found that 45% of high-poverty schools received less state and local funding than the average for other schools in their district.1 3 Similarly, the states that are wealthier have better education scores.1 4 Step eight is to focus on early childhood education. The ninth recommendation says to give grants to children in low-income families to keep them in school. The federal government offers Pell Grants to low-income students attending college.1 5 Step 10 is to set school targets for student skill levels and school dropout rates, and to focus resources on those schools with the worst scores. What is an equity gap in education? An equity gap can describe any inequality in education that falls along racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic lines. Equity gaps can also fall along lines related to college readiness and whether or not someone is the first in their family to attend college. The California State University system considers all of these variables as it seeks to define, find, and close equity gaps.1 6 What is the difference between equity and equality in education? "Equality" refers to the equal treatment of people, while "equity" recognizes the unique circumstances of each person and treats them according to their needs.1 7 In theory, equity and equality would share a definition in a perfectly equal society, but inequalities in the real world make it necessary to differentiate between the two.