Educating in the Time of COVID19 in Sierra Leone

Written by: Janice Williams (Founder/Executive Director Sudu & Co-founder, EduGo)

Contributions by: Alusine Barrie (EduGo Co-founder and Grow Salone Lead Trainer)

The question is: How Can Sierra Leone (& similar countries) handle education during this pandemic and other emergency situations?

Recently, I put up a Facebook status up asking how countries like Sierra Leone, who do not have the same technological capabilities as the U.S. will handle education if things are to go wrong? Many people commented that this is a serious concern and should be addressed. Under that same post, some questions from my former professor from MIT were posted:

  • What kind of tech is reasonable? For example, is radio most realistic, i.e. to broadcast basics on different channels or times per grade or subject?
  • Or is phone better channel? Or some combo? Or even book learning if materials available? Or older kids in family teaching younger?
  • Or is now the time to shift towards practical vocational crafts, like digging wells, improving fields, etc?

These were really good questions and as partners in a new Edtech company (some of the ideas actually born out of that MIT class), Alusine and I thought we should share some of our thoughts on how the country should handle things. We can’t cover everything and hence focused more so on the technology aspect, because we are working in that space and wanted to focus on how those mediums could be leveraged.

As an educator this is a question that has been on my mind since we heard about how the COVID19 is affecting many countries all over the world. Whereas with many countries, this is the first time in a very long time they are facing such a huge problem in their country, Sierra Leone is no stranger to this. I know we get exhausted hearing about this, but unfortunately the realities are that Sierra Leone has not had much time to take a breather with one devastating event after the other. The civil war led to more than 1,200 primary schools being wiped out and more than 65% of school-aged children out of school by the end of the war in 2001.

The outbreak of Ebola added to the devastation as children were kept out of school for a year. The only source of education most students received at that time were lessons read over the radio and a few programs on the main television station and provided by NGOs. Education organizations like Educaid did podcasts and Innovate Salone, did the Hack at Home challenge series. The Hack at Home initiative, which were a series of hands-on learning challenges that were sent out every two weeks in Whatsapp groups, Facebook and text messaging, engaged 100s of students in 12 districts all over Sierra Leone for one year. Winners of these challenges received mentorship from various leaders within the community, such as the Ebola Response coordinator, various directors of NGOs, and publicity via local media channels.

This will be a three-part blog post because I really wanted to share some hard data about Sierra Leone for people to really get the context. I won’t dare to say we have the answers, but we are just sharing a brief snippet of what we are thinking. For more in-depth thoughts on what we think, we are available for consultations (haha).

In addition, we are sure the Government of Sierra Leone is hard at work to come up with a solution and we’ve seen some swift action by the government to try to prevent the virus from entering the country, especially since our neighbors, Liberia and Guinea now have the virus.

We know that when children are not in school, they lose the gains they made academically. In the U.S., this phenomena is referred to as the “summer slide.” This WILL happen with our children who will be having an indefinite break from school. We saw how far behind children were after the Ebola epidemic. We are still suffering the consequences to that till this day and the very same day I put up my status, the Sierra Leone government announced that by March 31st, all institutions will be closed until further notice due to the COVID-19.

So this is what we think…

For the full post, please visit the EduGo Blogpost