Education was historically valued in Sierra Leone as a possession that conveyed and expressed elite status, with the revered, authoritative teacher being the gatekeeper. The erosion of teachers’ authority through government policies designed to universalize access to education has called into question the once-certain high status of the educated. With the future now ambiguous, students and teachers undertake “practices of uncertainty,” engaging in symbolic boundary work to distinguish themselves from the uneducated but at the same time undertaking the same manual labor as the unschooled. They socially level the elite and concurrently seek entrée to their networks, and react to an uncertain future with contradictory practices. The work undertaken by students and teachers lies within and reinforces extant social values that emphasize the importance of both distinction and belonging, revealing education’s enduring value in the social imaginary. This explains the tenacity of the idea of education even in a persistently desultory employment climate.
NOTE: This is a preprint version of Bolten, Catherine. “A Great Scholar is an Overeducated Person: Education and Practices of Uncertainty in Sierra Leone.” Journal of Anthropological Research 71, no.1 (2015): 23-47. https://doi.org/10.3998/jar.0521004.0071.102