Sierra Leone: The power of great teaching in times of crisis
- During the Ebola crisis, the best teachers presented educational programs on radio, with more than 80,000 portable radio sets distributed across the country, ensuring that thousands of children continued their learning despite school closures.
- GPE was the main funder to establish and operationalize Sierra Leone’s Teacher Service Commission (TSC), which implemented teacher standards, innovative training, and ambitious targets for teaching and institutional performance.
- During COVID-19, the TSC drew on experience from the Ebola crisis by launching an educational radio program within one week of school closures.
In August 2014, Mariama was at summer school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, when she heard that classes would cease due to a deadly Ebola epidemic. Over the next nine months, Mariama and students like her were able to continue learning thanks to innovative educational radio programs supported by the distribution of over 80,000 portable radios.
GPE responded quickly, reallocating US$1.5 million of its US$17.6 million grant to Sierra Leone for an emergency response to the epidemic, as well as to prepare schools to safely reopen at a later date. Organized through the ministry of education and its partners, the best teachers in the country broadcast lessons, revealing an unexpected benefit in this time of crisis: thousands of students across the country now had the chance to learn with highly skilled teachers.
Previous education policy had always emphasized the importance of quality teaching. This approach sought to reinforce the philosophy that high-quality education starts with excellence in teaching.
Boosting teacher training as schools reopened post Ebola
Previously a significant lack of teaching expertise in Sierra Leone had resulted in deteriorating standards in education both in rural and urban schools. In 2016, 41% of male and 28% of female teachers at lower secondary school level were either teaching without a qualification or with a qualification below the standard required. At upper senior secondary school level, these numbers were even higher.
This is changing. With GPE support, teacher training targets in Sierra Leone are back on track, with an anticipated 75% of teachers holding the requisite qualifications by the end of this year. GPE support also included a 10-day training on effective early grade reading instruction for 5,000 teachers and headteachers across 14 districts.
Training materials including textbooks and classroom support kits were used and integrated into the language curriculum at three teacher training colleges. More than 41,000 teachers’ guides were distributed to all primary schools and teachers received lesson plans during the Ebola recovery programs.
Sierra Leone has vowed to ensure a 10% increase in the primary and lower secondary school students who have a good grounding in English and math. The country is also aiming for a 7% increase in the pass rate in the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination.
A new commission to improve the quality of teaching
In 2016, Sierra Leone also launched the Teacher Service Commission (TSC) to strengthen institutional response and ensure quality teaching. As the main funder to establish and operationalize the commission, GPE supported the TSC to take on a broad and significant remit ensuring all aspects of teaching and training are robust and fit for purpose. GPE also assisted the commission to administer school feeding programs and scale up the successfully piloted early grade literacy and numeracy programs.
Among its responsibilities, the TSC implemented a package of teaching standards, which included:
- Promoting ICT usage for all teachers, lecturers and students
- Developing and implementing standards and competencies for teachers
- Programs for newly qualified teachers
- In-service teacher training through continuous professional development and mentoring
- Supporting English and math teachers at upper secondary level to develop and use essential tools such as lesson plans.
To ensure all students benefited from these important interventions, teachers were deployed in rural and underprivileged schools where they were most needed. The TSC also worked to reduce the education system’s reliance on non-payroll teachers, who are often voluntary and not qualified to teach.
Prepared to respond quickly to COVID-19
With a GPE grant of US$10 million approved by mid-June, the TSC and a national emergency education task force have been hard at work to plan and create the continuous, remote and virtual learning solutions critically needed.
These range from a major expansion of radio and TV curriculum-focused broadcasting, to the digitalization of learning materials or hands-on “tech literacy” training efforts for the 85,000 teachers in Sierra Leone.
Due to the legacy of Ebola, Sierra Leone was in a better position than many countries to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis, with the TSC playing a pivotal role. Within one week of school closures, the TSC had launched a nationwide radio teaching program. It continues to work with a variety of ministries to ensure that education efforts are realized and reach the poorest and most vulnerable children.