EU Day 2020

Support to the Education Sector in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s development is constrained by the quality of education. Extremely low education indicators, coupled with low levels of management and absorptive capacity have made this sector one of the key challenges for the future.

The EU’s support to the sector aims to improve access to high quality learning in Sierra Leone, in line with the Government’s education strategy and in partnership with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, the Teacher Service Commission (TSC), decentralised authorities and Teacher Training Colleges in selected Districts.

Objectives include:

  • strengthening education management systems. This will improve institutional capacity to implement reforms and manage education in an efficient and effective way at various levels.
  • improving primary school teaching and learning through regular in-service teacher training and an expanded distance teacher training programme.
  • improving the management and delivery of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Sierra Leone. This will involve the mapping of TVET institutions and provide a structure for better coordination within the sector.
  • boosting access to quality secondary education, particularly through the rehabilitation and upgrading of targeted junior secondary schools in rural areas. This will include wash facilities, extra classrooms, science labs, new furniture and learning materials.

Changing Perceptions – The Project on TVET Boosts Technical and Vocational Education in Sierra Leone

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Sierra Leone has, over the years, struggled with the common perception that it is a last resort option for the academically weak. Plagued with funding problems and inadequate financial support from Central Government, TVET institutions have found it difficult to take their place among their global counterparts as a vital part of the engine of social and sustainable development. 

Brother Joseph Sheku Tarawali, Principal of Murialdo Institute of Management and Technology

The European Union – funded “Support to the Education Sector in Sierra Leone” (SESSiL) started in 2017, with the specific aim of increasing the quality of teaching and learning in the country. While significant focus has been placed on promoting equal access to education and strengthening education system management in the country, a strategic pillar of the programme targets enhanced development of TVET. 

In 2019, Sorie Conteh, a welding workshop apprentice made the decision to enroll at the Murialdo Institute of Management and Technology, Kissy, Freetown, one of the foremost TVET institutions in the country. Here, he hoped to formalize his qualification as a metal work professional and become better positioned to gain employment in the world of work. Joining a class of fellow first year students in the Mechanical Engineering department, he soon began experiencing a problem common to TVET institutions across the country. Tools such as welding machines, hack saws and work benches were so few that students had to take turns to use them in the practical class sessions. 

According to the Principal of the Institute, Brother Joseph Sheku Tarawali, the lack of tools and machinery meant that seventy-five percent of instruction had to be theory-based. “The teaching situation was such that lecturers had to draw certain tools on a blackboard and then explain their functions to their classes,” he explained. This meant that students were graduating without hands on experience with the tools of their chosen practice, ultimately reinforcing the negative perception of this crucial branch of higher education.

The situation was to soon change when the Support to the Education Sector in Sierra Leone programe partnered with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to co-finance the ‘Project on TVET’. Delegated to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the project sought to fill that resource gap. In February 2020, computerized equipment and mechanical tools collectively worth €180,000 were donated to the Murialdo Institute of Management and Technology in Freetown, the Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema, the St. Josephs Technical Institute in Lunsar and the Government Technical Institute in Kissy.

The arrival of the new equipment had an immediate impact on the quality of instruction at the institutes. Just weeks prior, students would have had to access Youtube videos to see a universal milling machine or straight blade power saw in action. Salieu Fofanah, a lecturer and workshop technician at the Murialdo Institute was delighted to no longer have to rely on long descriptions on the use and functions of a lathe machine. Now he could demonstrate how to use one to turn bolts, shafts and other implements, and have his students practice for themselves. 

Sorie Conteh and his classmates now had individual welding machines at their disposal during their welding sessions and were able to use them all at once, under the instruction of their Mechanical Engineering lecturer Osman Mansaray. “Now I can instruct the students to weld door and window frames while I perform a supervisory role,” he said. “The more these students learn, the more empowered they become to show the outside world what they are made of. Hopefully more people will see what they have accomplished and be inspired to enrol at the institute.”

Increasing Teachers’ Capacity with the National Professional Standards for Teachers and School Leaders

From the 2nd to the 24th March, 2020, the Support to the Education Sector in Sierra Leone programme (SESSiL) hosted two external evaluators appointed by the European Union. SESSiL was launched in 2016 as part of a Financing Agreement between the European Union and the Sierra Leone government, to improve the quality of teaching and learning of children in the country. After three years of implementation, the evaluation team visited the country to conduct an independent assessment and evaluation of the intermediary results of the programme. 

Several key meetings with evaluators, Dr. Rogier Van’T Rood and Mr. Peter Merckx allowed for a deep understanding of the successes and challenges being encountered by technical partners and beneficiaries alike.

The first series of meetings held in Freetown allowed for extensive discussions with personnel of the two Ministries of Education, the Teaching Service Commission and experts in the Technical Assistance Team, PROMAN. The evaluators assessed, among other things, the quality and results of the varied activities undertaken by the programme. This was done within the context of fostering an evolving cooperation policy that emphasizes result-oriented approaches aimed at attaining Sustainable Development Goals 4, 5, and 8.

The evaluators also had an opportunity to visit Port Loko, Makeni, Magburaka and Bo, in the Northern and Southern Regions, where they met school leaders and teachers who had undergone intensive training courses on the National Professional Standards for School Leaders and Teachers in 2018 and 2019.

In Sendugu, Port Loko District, Fatmata L Kamara, School Leader of the R.C. Primary School, demonstrated to the team how she had used training materials acquired through the courses to conduct a series of follow-up courses for teachers in her school. She spoke enthusiastically of how each of her teachers had accepted the idea of developing their professional portfolios, to track their progress in increasing and improving their professional competences. 

In Makeni, Head Master Suliman Tholley of the Al Harken Primary School, spoke proudly of the various items his teachers had acquired in their portfolios. One portfolio contained a letter from a parent and another contained a Teacher’s Lesson Plan and a selfie with his/her students. The evaluators could clearly see that the investments made in the EU funded professional standards training programmes of August 2018, had been cascaded to the various districts, through a series of locally developed training workshops in various schools. Some head teachers said they had offered Saturday classes to nearby schools in an effort to train their teachers. 

At the R.C. Primary School, Masongbo, a rural community school, 5 miles from Makeni, Headmaster Sorie Thomas Sesay said he had trained 6 teachers in his school and over 20 teachers from 10 nearby schools. In all these schools, teachers were becoming more aware of the various competences required of a professional teacher; developing their portfolios and identifying where they had professional gaps in their training.

In Makeni, Mr. Joseph I. Kargbo, the Teaching Service Commission District Director provided a picture of how these training programmes were beginning to make a difference. “Over the past few months, the TSC has continued to provide follow-up training programmes on the National Professional Standards. These training workshops have increased the level of interest of school leaders and teachers in many other districts.” 

One of the continuing challenges being faced in many of the rural schools visited was the limited number of trained and qualified teachers. In one school, four of the seven teachers were untrained and unqualified. They had however been serving the community for more than 12 years. For many such teachers, understanding the competences of the professional standards is the first step into a new world of professional training.

Mr. Kargbo further observed that a major part of his tasks in the district was to alert teachers to the deadline of 31st December, 2023, when all teachers in Sierra Leone will be expected to have gained the minimum level of New Teacher status. This is the first stage of professional growth on the teacher’s career path, as identified in the National Professional Standards. Failure to attain this level will result in a teacher being taken off the national payroll. “This information acts as an incentive for many teachers to take the professional standards seriously and opt for further training, in many cases, through Distance Teaching programmes offered by the various teacher training institutions”, Mr. Kargbo concluded.

One of the continuing challenges being faced in many of the rural schools visited was the limited number of trained and qualified teachers. In one school, four of the seven teachers were untrained and unqualified. They had however been serving the community for more than 12 years. For many such teachers, understanding the competences of the professional standards is the first step into a new world of professional training.