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Sierra Leone series: the Pikin-to-Pikin Movement and its focus on child protection, education, nutrition and health.

Over the past few months, the EdTech Hub team has analysed and mapped the EdTech research landscape in Sierra Leone. In doing so, we have met a number of individuals and organisations that are exploring if and how technology can support the country’s education sector. 

 In week one, we connected with Abdulai Swaray and Bai Kamara from the Pikin-to-Pikin Movement. Abdulai is a development practitioner who founded the Pikin- to-Pikin Movement in Sierra Leone. Bai has worked with the organisation over the past 14 years in roles ranging from monitoring and evaluation officer to programme manager. In this interview, we looked to learn more about their research on the role of radio-based education in emergencies.

Can you tell us about your organisation’s background? 

In 1994, we established the Pikin-to-Pikin Movement to support the well-being of children across four areas: child protection, education, nutrition, and health. Since then, we have worked with children in their schools and communities across Sierra Leone. Recently, we have designed and evaluated several programmes that use educational technologies.

What research have you conducted on EdTech in Sierra Leone? 

In 2018, we assessed the impact of the Pikin-to-Pikin Tok radio education programme which we set up in response to the Ebola crisis. This programme aimed to support the foundational skills and well-being of children in Kailahun in the east of Sierra Leone. An important part of the radio programme involved telling traditional stories and inviting children to talk about the meaning of episodes with other young listeners. The stories normally contained important safeguarding messages on topics such as early pregnancy and the dangers of transactional sex. When designing the content, we worked with many organisations including international producers, local radio stations and community groups.

How did you approach this research?

We adopted a case study approach to evaluate the impact of the Pikin-to-Pikin Tok radio programme and our overall model. When preparing the case study, we used different methods to collect data. Before meeting with our collaborators, we reviewed important programme documents such as reports from the field. We held focus groups and key informant interviews with stakeholders in Freetown as well as meetings with technical experts in London. This information allowed us to build a picture of what parts of our programme worked and what parts of our programme could have been improved.

What are the key takeaways from your research?

We found that, after listening to our radio programme, children showed a strong understanding of risks to their well-being and improved their foundational literacy and numeracy skills.

The study highlighted the positive impact of storytelling and group discussion. Unlike recordings of lectures, this combination of activities encouraged children to actively listen, reflect and even change their behaviour. Group discussions provided children with an opportunity to work together to solve problems and identify ways to avoid dangers such as gender-based violence. After the broadcasts, we found that children adopted habits such as telling friends not to drop out of school and walking home in groups for safety. 

Another surprising finding was the importance of working with local religious leaders to promote engagement with radio broadcasts. Religious leaders significantly influenced how their communities adapted to new social norms and changing circumstances during the epidemic.

What advice do you want to share with decision-makers based on your research? 

When designing radio programmes, decision-makers should use participatory approaches to get listeners to think critically and relate episodes to their own lives. They will also need to make sure that children receive suitable support. When children formed discussion groups without a facilitator, they sometimes took the wrong message away from stories or missed lessons altogether.

If decision-makers want to form listening groups, they will need to take steps to create a safe environment for young children. Groups should only meet in areas near where children live and their activities should finish well before sunset.

Where do you see the greatest need for additional research on EdTech in Sierra Leone?

We need to find new ways of supporting our children’s education using technology that we already have. In Sierra Leone, some communities only have one device for all households and the cost of purchasing new technology is too high. This situation is normally worse for the most marginalised learners, especially girls.

If you want to learn more about Abdulai and Bai’s work, you can read the UN Girls’ Education Initiative’s report on Pikin-to-Pikin Tok or check out the BBC World Service’s podcast on the programme.

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