The government of Sierra Leone has deployed an innovative mobile-based application that places a dictionary in the hands of every Sierra Leonean. Any citizen, with the push of a button on any kind of mobile phone, can receive a text message with the meaning of any word they search for. They can also sign up for a ‘word of the day’ service, which sends a daily text message to their phone with a new random word in the dictionary and its definition. This solution seeks to support literacy improvements in learners and citizens across the country at no cost to the users.
When COVID-19 forced schools to close in 2020, 1.6 billion children around the world were directly impacted. Out of these, 2.6 million children who stayed at home and had their learning affected were in Sierra Leone. Global education research institutions have urged countries to innovate or risk reversing the gains made towards the achievement of SDG 4 on universal education and learning.
Jumping into action at the start of the pandemic
At the same time that the government of Sierra Leone locked classroom doors in March 2020, the Ministry of Basic Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) received a Global Partnership of Education (GPE) Emergency Response Planning Grant of US$70,000 through the UNICEF country office in Sierra Leone. The grant was committed to support the ministry with its planning and response to the emerging pandemic.
The MBSSE quickly established an Emergency Education Taskforce consisting of four pillars: Communications; Continuous Distance Learning; School Reopening Readiness; and Operations, Policy and Planning, all geared towards reducing the country’s education poverty.
In January 2021, the MBSSE launched the SMS 8447 / USSD *8447# mobile application in partnership with UNICEF Sierra Leone, all the major telecommunication companies and a local start-up called Digitallé. Digitallé worked closely with the ministry on the continuous learning outputs to develop the concept of value-added services that allow mobile phone users to search for the meaning of words at any time and anywhere using ubiquitous SMS and USSD technologies.