On a recent mission to Sierra Leone, we were invited to represent the GPE Secretariat at a mid-term review workshop on the implementation of the country’s 2014-2018 Education Sector Plan. The workshop was organized by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). Its purpose was to review progress in the sector, which had been severely hampered by the Ebola crisis, and to plan for the sector’s future direction as the country continues to recover.
A workshop to review progress after the devastating impact of Ebola
The workshop was intended to help identify challenges, priorities and strategies to update the country’s sector plan. Sierra Leone plans to apply for an implementation grant from GPE in November 2017, so this review was timely.
We were impressed by the quality of the workshop, both its organization and content. It was evident that an incredible amount of preparation and work had gone into planning it by MEST staff with the strong commitment of the MEST leadership.
Despite the devastating impact that the Ebola crisis had on Sierra Leone’s economy, human development, infrastructure and institutional capacity from 2014 to 2016, the country’s commitment and resilience could not have been made clearer.
The two-day workshop gathered more than 200 participants ranging from MEST’s two Deputy Ministers, Permanent Secretary, directors and staff, to traditional local leaders known as paramount chiefs, local council representatives, development partners and civil society organizations.
The ministry of education shows a strong commitment to dialogue
The workshop was opened by Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, followed by a series of presentations delivered by MEST directors who summarized respective areas of focus such as access, equity and completion; quality and relevance, system strengthening; financing; institutional arrangements and emerging issues.
Panel and group discussions on these respective themes were held, as well as question and answer sessions after plenary sessions. The discussions raised a number of difficult issues in particular the low level of learning outcomes, issues around teacher effectiveness and the need for better trained teachers, problems with access to schools, approved and unapproved schools, the need for more and better data, school fees still being levied, and the continuing challenges of recovery from the Ebola crisis.
However, what was unique and inspiring was that, despite the difficulties, tensions, and tough issues raised, the workshop demonstrated a resilience and a determination of citizens and government officials alike for an open policy dialogue.
Partners don’t shy away from difficult issues
At some points there were heated discussions with civil society organizations, particularly representatives from the Education For All coalition, demanding more accountability and transparency for improving teacher effectiveness.
At other points participants from the organizations representing those with disabilities demanded that the government do more to support the deaf, blind, hearing-impaired and others with physical disabilities.
The issue of approved and unapproved schools was particularly contentious, but, despite this and the fact that many of these issues may not be resolved easily or quickly, the government, stakeholders and citizens listened to each other and did not shy away from engaging in the policy dialogue to try and find solutions.
A commitment to making progress at all levels
The degree of government leadership and ownership from districts to the national level, and their willingness to step up efforts to contribute to solutions was noteworthy. At the local and district levels, paramount chiefs called on the government to rely on them to improve access, equity, and learning outcomes, and to use them to monitor educational progress at the most decentralized levels.
At the national level, one of the Deputy Ministers demonstrated his determination to enhance teacher integrity and fight against corruption in education by speaking up about this at the end of the workshop. This was particularly inspiring, given the country’ history, fragility and political economy issues.
Many aspects of the workshop can be considered good practice: inclusiveness, participation, dissemination of the mid-term report to all participants beforehand, monitorability and desire to use the workshop for policy making. They seemed to have facilitated and encouraged the open dialogue.
This isn’t to say that everything was perfect; for example, more interactive working sessions could have been useful, as would have been improving the evidence base, particularly the data available to underpin reporting and findings.
But it is important to highlight the many things that did go right. Because by continuing on this path, Sierra Leone will ensure that its education sector continues to improve, for the benefit of all its children.