Traditional Educational Institutions in Child Education

Sierra Leone is bounded on the northwest, north, and northeast by the Republic of Guinea, southeast by the Republic of Liberia, and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. It has an area of 27,925 square miles. The colony of Sierra Leone originated in the sale and cession in 1787 by native chiefs to English settlers of a piece of land intended as a home for African immigrants who were waifs in London. Later, it was used as a settlement for formerly enslaved Africans. The hinterland was declared a British Protectorate on August 21st, 1896. Sierra Leone attained independence on 27 April 1961 and became a republic in 1971. Both private and state-sponsored schools provide education. The current education system is 6-3-4-4 (six years of Primary school, three years of Junior Secondary School, four years of Senior Secondary School, and four years of tertiary/higher education). This system is now complemented by formal education.


Education is frequently used in the sense of instruction in the classroom, laboratory, workshop, or domestic science room and consists principally of the imparting by the teacher and the acquisition of information and mental as well as manual skills by pupils. A wider meaning than instruction is that of schooling. That is to say, all that goes on within the school is part of the pupil’s life there. It includes, among other things, the relationship between pupils and teachers, pupils and pupils both in and outside the school. J. S. Mill (1931) opined that whatever helps shape the human being, making the individual what he is or hinders him from being what he is not, is part of his education. Implicitly, education is lifelong and ubiquitous; it is the total of all influences that make a person what he is, from birth to death. It includes the home, our neighbors, and the street.


Education is, to some extent, a deliberate, planned process devised and conducted by the educator to imbue the learner with certain information, skills, mind and body, and modes of behavior considered desirable. In part, it is the learner’s response to the environment in which he lives. Education has three focal points: the individual/person upon whom the educator’s influences are brought to bear, the Society or community to which he belongs, and the whole context of reality within which the individual and Society play their part. Man is a social creature; he grows as a person through the impact of personality on personality. Even for his basic physical needs, he depends on the help and cooperation of his fellow men and women. Without Society and the mutual support and enrichment of experiences it provides, civilization is impossible, and the life of man, in Hobbes’ words, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

One of the fundamental facts of human existence is the tension between the pull of the past and the forward urge into the future, between stability and change, tradition and innovation. For effective living, man needs a circle of security, an area of established habits and relationships that form dependable relationships. This is also true of Society. For its effective functioning, there must be an underlying continuity of traditions and outlook that preserves its identity as a society and safeguards it against the disruptive effects of change. Change must be for life and not static, but this change, in turn, must be controlled by the basic traditions of Society. It is a tradition that gives a nation its character and distinctiveness as a society. The conservation of practice, therefore, is crucial.

It has been recognized from time immemorial that the conservation of traditional education is vital to the child’s development. Today’s children are the adults of tomorrow; they must be trained to inherit and perpetuate the beliefs and modes of life peculiar to the particular Society to which they belong. Every Society desires to preserve itself physically and as a community, consciously sharing certain aims, ideals, and behavior patterns. This type of education is not necessarily formal in schools through classroom instruction. Still, it is affected indirectly through the family and the impact of social influences and customs on the individual that the child cannot evade.

In Sierra Leone, this social education included elaborate ceremonies of initiation involving feats of endurance in which young men and women must prove themselves worthy of the community. The ultimate goal was to produce an honest, respectful, skilled, cooperative individual who could conform to the social order of the day. As Aristotle once stated, “the constitution of a state will suffer if education is neglected. The citizens of a state should always be educated to suit the constitution of the state. The type of character appropriate to a constitution is the power which continues to sustain it as it is also the state force which created it” (p. I).


Traditional education has both a creative and conservation function in society; it is a powerful means of preserving a society’s customs, if not its culture. In the past, the nature and needs of Society played a vital part in determining the nature of education. Professor M.V.C. Jeffreys (1950) once wrote in his book Glaucon that “in a tranquil society the educational system will tend to reflect the social pattern, while social uneasiness and instability create opportunity for using education as an instrument of social change”(p.7). A similar view was shared by John Dewey (1897), who opined that through education, society could formulate its purposes, organize its means and resources, and thus save itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wished to move.

Education looks both to the past and the future; inevitably, it reflects the traditions and character of Society. Traditional education can prepare for changes in Society and anticipate and prevent changes or the effects of changes in Society. Formal education conserves and hands the customs and ways of life constituting a society’s character and maintaining unity. It also helps Society interpret its functions in new ways to meet the challenges of change, seeking ways or lines of development consistent with the traditions and customs and will simultaneously raise Society to complete fulfillment of itself.


History reveals no formal schools where children were educated in Pre-colonial Sierra Leone. The Poro and Bondo/Sande Secret Societies were considered institutions to train children. They were bush schools. And the education these bush schools provided was informal. Children who went through these secret societies were deemed capable of carrying out their civic responsibilities. They became adults and could marry and start life. They thought of themselves as one family. In other words, both Secret Societies created a sense of comradeship and unity among members irrespective of family, clan, or ethnic affiliation. Therefore, children who had not gone through these secret societies were not fully matured.

The Poro Secret Society is for boys. The spiritual head of the Poro Society is Pa Gbonu, who is seen only by the older graduates or members. The physical charges are the Pa Sama Yorgbors and Pa Romanos. They direct the activities of the institution. The senior instructors are the Pa Kashis, who generally teach and give instructions to other initiators. The Pa Manchiyas serve as teachers to the initiates, while the Kachemas are the scaring spirits. They scare the women and children alike together with the new initiates. The Rakas are the errand boys carrying messages around. The Yambas are the head boys.

The Bomos are the senior prefects, the Sayboms are the prefects, and the monitors are the Gbanaboms. Informal classes are held in the Secret Poro Bush. The subjects taught include Creative Practical Arts, Performing Arts, Practical Agriculture, Medicine, i.e., use of local herbs for the treatment of different ailments), warfare and other skills. In Creative Practical Arts, initiates are taught how to make fishing nets, baskets, and mats and carve wood and soap stones into different objects such as animals and humans; in Performing Arts, initiates are taught singing, dancing, and the use of Poro musical instruments. Practical Agriculture initiates the practice of farming. Boys are taught to bear hardship without complaint and grow accustomed to it.

Thus, they are taken to the farms of their teachers and elders to work pro bono. However, during harvest, initiates could pass through these farms, taking whatever they need and eating without being questioned by farm owners. Initiates are taught to respect elders and use guns to kill animals. In a similar vein, initiates are taught how to use guns in fighting in defense of their communities. Other skills initiates are taught are making fish traps, fishing and hunting nets, and basketry.

In using herbs, initiates pay money (some freely given) for healing various sicknesses and protection against enemies, evil spirits, and snake bites. Initiates who want to cause harm to others using herbs could ‘redeem’ the herb/medicine concerned. Overall, initiates are taught a new language, Ke Sonor, spoken only by members. For example, Wonka trika means I am talking to you; and Wonka Bonomi means Talk to me. The use of this new language makes graduates very proud and different from non-initiates. Graduates come out with new names such as Lamp, Langba, and Kohler. A graduation ceremony climaxes the event.

Parents make massive preparations, including sewing dresses for the graduates. There is feasting, drinking, dancing, and singing praise songs for the graduates and their parents to mark the graduation ceremony. Those qualified for initiation must have been circumcised and grown to the age of puberty. They have to live independently during training, which ranges from one to seven years. Graduates are fully admitted to the general Poro society through another ceremony called Enkorie, which lasts four days.

The Bondo/Sande Society is where girls are trained for womanhood. Its spiritual head is Na Bondigba. The Na Gboyamas and Na Wulus are the physical heads. These have spiritual powers used to foretell the future and catch witches. They are the senior teachers. The Na Sokos are the service teachers. They can initiate girls even up to the advanced stage of Society. Douglas is the general teacher and stays close to the initiates. The Sampas are skillful dancers and errand girls/women. They announce the progress and activities or programs during the graduation ceremony.

As the name implies, the Na Fets do not know all the institution’s secrecy. They carry the institutional implements and regalia. The Karr Ayeamus are the ‘waiters’ to be initiated into the higher status of the institution. Girls admitted to the Bondo/Sande Society are trained informally. Classes are held at Kantha or sacred homes. The teachers are largely concerned with transmitting the skills and knowledge that adult women are expected to possess to function properly and intelligently in their community to these adolescent girls. The subjects girls are taught include Cooking, Performing Arts, Fishing, Husband and Child Care, and Home Management. In Cooking, girls are taught how to prepare food through observation and participation in preparing various dishes and are later allowed to have a go with little or no supervision.

Those who could not cook properly are allowed to repeat. In Performing Arts, girls are taught to compose and sing songs and beat the Bondo/Sande drums (sambories). Alongside singing, girls are taught how to dance, and those who dance well may join the hierarchy of the Sampas. Girls are also taught fishing, making fishing nets, fishing baskets, and sleeping mats from bamboo and palm leaves. Further, girls are taught how to help their prospective husbands and care for children, especially senior members. Like the Poro Society, graduation ceremonies are marked by massive preparations. Both parents and future husbands would buy new dresses, slippers, perfumes, powder, and beads to make necklaces. On the graduation ceremony day, the new initiates are arrayed in white with coronets. They come out with new names such as Burah, Year, Rukor, and Yainkain. This demonstrates a sign of maturity. Initiating girls into Bondo/Sande society lasts a few months and three years.


If education has the vital function of perpetuating the traditions and values of Society, of adapting them to a changing environment, and of raising them to richer and more fruitful expression, then both the Poro and Bondo/Sande Secret Societies, as traditional agents of this process should enjoy a position of the highest esteem. Through these secret societies, the nation’s culture flows from generation to generation, and the community’s aspirations are focused on intimate and telling persuasion upon the ofg. They stand at a point where the energies of children are released into new and creative possibilities. Through these secret societies, children remember the past activities of their predecessors.

They help in society’s behavioral training patterns. These societies are institutions of inspiration, and both politicians and chiefs use them to their advantage. That is to either gain or maintain power. Major and binding decisions are taken in the Poro Bush, of which only members can attend and participate. The Poro Secret Society acts as a check against the abuse of power. In crisis-ridden situations, major decisions are taken in the Poro Bush. The Poro society even acted as arbitrators in chiefdom disputes and could promulgate general laws and regulate trading practices. It is also involved in the burial of chiefs and other important local officials (Alie, 1990).


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.