Sierra Leone takes action for more intentional and innovative civic education

Civic education is a major way that governments can foster the values and capabilities necessary for people to be informed and engaged global citizens. A new report highlights how students must be taught to apply core values in different contexts and not to simply recognize them.

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3 minutes read
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A student holding a globe showing Africa in her classroom in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
A student holding a globe showing Africa in her classroom in Sierra Leone.
Photo credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

As the converging crises of racial injustice, public health, climate, migration, and income inequity have all made evident, the world needs citizens who have an unrelenting commitment to civic engagement, empathy and justice. Civic education is a major way that governments can foster the values and capabilities necessary for people to be informed and engaged global citizens.

Over the months of January to June 2020, we supported Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, its National Council for Civic Education and Development (NaCCED), and other key education stakeholders in the country in their ongoing efforts to create an innovative and intentional civic education curriculum that meets the needs of the present moment.

The primary objective of our collaboration was to create an effective framework to guide the instruction and evaluation of the nation’s new civic education curriculum at the primary school level (Grades 1-3).

Moving from a traditional to an innovative approach to civic education

Traditional civic education pedagogy does not adequately equip students with the learnings that they need to actively engage in and address social issues. This shortcoming is due to several factors such as the emphasis on teaching facts through rote memorization, the restriction of civic mindedness to national borders, and a lack of emphasis on skill-building that would translate into lifelong civic participation.

In support of the ministry’s reform agenda to address the pedagogical challenges highlighted above, we researched and distilled key learnings from international civics reform experience – primarily from Botswana, Ghana and Zambia.

Based on our learnings from this research, we developed a civic education instruction and evaluation framework that is anchored on core civic values as opposed to factual knowledge. Because the internalization of civic values is key to the robust development of social empathy, justice and civic engagement, we stress that values should be placed at the center of any civic curriculum.

Some examples of core values that we distilled from discussions with Sierra Leonean partners include:

  • Radical acceptance of diversity,
  • Gender equity,
  • Peace & tolerance,
  • Resilience,
  • Responsibility,
  • Self efficacy,
  • Innovation and growth.

Our framework highlights how students must be taught to apply core values in different contexts, not simply recognize them. Beginning with the students themselves, the five different contexts in which students will apply core values are: (1) the self, (2) the family, (3) the community, (4) the country, and (5) the planet.

After defining core values and how they can be applied in different contexts, we outline four steps that are critical for effective implementation of the values-anchored framework:

  1. Identify key capabilities and knowledge
  2. Develop guiding and testing questions
  3. Design teaching activities
  4. Create assessment tools and methods

Civic values must be central to education efforts

After a values-anchored curriculum has been collectively designed, the next stage is implementation; there are some important considerations that education officials and policy implementors ought to keep in mind. Specifically, it will be critical for efficacious value adoption to promote self-efficacy in students and to emphasize genuine learning during curriculum instruction. Both of these goals will also require real investments in teacher empowerment. Finally, it will also be crucial to place gender equity, social justice, civil society engagement and global citizenship at the core of civic focus.

Once civic learning is implemented in the classroom, we highlight a few strategic, operational and analytical considerations to support monitoring and evaluation in aggregate, at the school, community and country levels. A comprehensive overview of this framework as well as discussion of key implementation considerations was delivered to the Ministry and NaCCED in July 2020. We refer readers of this blog to the Concept Summary document to gain a deeper understanding of our work.

Overall, we hope that our proposed values-anchored framework will prove useful for Sierra Leonean education partners and other educators looking to strengthen the efficacy of civic education in their societies.

In response to growing and worsening global challenges, there is an increasing need to revitalize civic education to equip students with values and skills to contribute towards the creation of a better, more just, and more empathetic society.

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Governance, Learning
Sub-Saharan Africa: Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zambia

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