Transforming education service delivery in Sierra Leone: from evidence to action

Sierra Leone’s education system has been plagued by events that have challenged the effective delivery of high-quality education for every child for nearly three decades. But thanks to a program launched in 2018, the government is achieving greater access, quality, and equity for children by removing financial barriers to school enrollment and improving teaching and learning outcomes.

October 19, 2020 by David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Sierra Leone, and Hannah-May Wilson, Education Partnership Group
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4 minutes read
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Students in class at the KDEC Pre-Primary School Masorie. Sierra Leone, January 2019. Credit: GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli
Students in class at the KDEC Pre-Primary School Masorie. Sierra Leone, January 2019.
Credit: GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli

For nearly three decades, Sierra Leone’s education system has been plagued by events that have challenged the effective delivery of high-quality education for every child.

Throughout the 1990s, schools were inaccessible to a majority of the population during an 11-year civil war. Twelve years later, the 2014 Ebola outbreak forced schools to close for nine months. This month, schools have reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures that have lasted nearly half a year.

Despite these major setbacks, there has never been a more exciting time for education in Sierra Leone. In 2018, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio launched the government’s flagship Free Quality School Education (FQSE) program.

FQSE aims to achieve greater access, quality, and equity for over 1.5 million children by removing financial barriers to school enrollment and improving teaching and learning outcomes.

To meet this commitment, the government significantly increased education spending to 22% of the national budget. However, the government’s commitment to delivering FQSE is not just financial.

Government-commissioned research to inform policy reform

The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) have been working tirelessly to ensure that this ambitious and transformational vision becomes a reality, and fast. Sierra Leone cannot afford to lose another generation of children to the global learning crisis.

The MBSSE is committed to ensuring that all policy decisions are informed by timely, actionable, and locally relevant data and research.

Of course, the government cannot do this alone. Over the last two years, the MBSSE have focused on building strong and collaborative partnerships with mission-aligned partners both within and outside Sierra Leone, and across ministries, departments and agencies.

In 2019, the MBSSE commissioned the Education Partnerships Group (EPG) to undertake a systems-level analysis of education service delivery, with an emphasis on identifying the disconnects between policy design and implementation.

The MBSSE’s Senior Management Team worked closely with EPG to co-design the objectives, scope, and methodology of the study. As education service delivery is devolved, involving key representatives from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) and the Ministry of Finance was critical in ensuring cross-ministry collaboration.

Undertaking a system-level analysis of education service delivery

The study firstly conducted an organizational mapping exercise, which included an analysis of the legislative mandate and policy environment, organizational structure and functions, as well as individual roles and responsibilities for service delivery within the MBSSE.

Secondly, the study conducted a process mapping of three key areas of education service delivery identified by the MBSSE as critical to the success of FQSE:

  1. School subsidies
  2. School monitoring
  3. Education budgeting, disbursement and expenditure

Data and recommendations were collected from representatives at three levels of the system (central, district and schools) in order to support the streamlining of decision-making processes, strengthen accountability, and facilitate the complete decentralization of education service delivery.

In early 2020, the report was discussed by the MBSSE Senior Management Team with an emphasis on actionable next steps and assigning roles and responsibilities. Today, the report is available on the MBSSE website as a reference for all stakeholders.

Using evidence to inform policy and practice

To date, the findings and recommendations from the systems-mapping study have informed a number of critical new initiatives within the MBSSE to strengthen policy and build effective delivery capacity in three key areas: operations, policy and planning. Specifically, the study has informed:

  1. Operations 
    • A restructure of the MBSSE, including a revised organogram for the central MBSSE, the recruitment of additional staff to fill vacant positions, and the revival of the previously non-operational Directorate for Research and Curriculum Development.
    • The establishment of a new Delivery Unit, tasked with monitoring progress towards government priorities, strengthening MBSSE’s capability to assess implementation performance, and taking pre-emptive action to resolve problems.
    • A full review of the legislation guiding education service delivery (The Education Act 2004 and the Local Government Act 2004) as a join initiative between the MBSSE and the MLGRD, with a focus on clarifying the roles and responsibilities of implementing devolved functions of education service delivery at the District level.
  2. Policy
  3. Planning
    • The development of the new Education Sector Analysis, preceding the development of the new Education Sector Plan (2021-2025).

This report is one example of the type of partnership the MBSSE is building to ensure the latest evidence on the quality and efficiency of education service delivery informs policy design and implementation.

Strengthening evidence-based policy is an essential part of the MBSSE’s mission to create an environment for all children to have an equal opportunity to access quality education.

We hope the same sector-wide collaboration continues to improve the quality of education for all children, for many years to come.

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With thanks to the UBS Optimus Foundation for funding the systems-mapping study, and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for their technical input and UKAID funding to strengthen education service delivery in Sierra Leone, through support to the Operations, Planning and Policy (OPP) Pillar, the ‘Leh We Learn’ program, and work with the Teachers Service Commission on teacher workforce planning.

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Sector planning
Sub-Saharan Africa: Sierra Leone

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