EdTech in Sierra Leone: reimagining education for continuous learning and teaching

In Sierra Leone, EdTech Hub has partnered with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education to increase the use of evidence in decisions around EdTech. Over the past year, we have supported the ministry in a number of areas ranging from the development of the One Tablet Per School data management system and a data visualisation toolkit to the design of a technology-supported teacher professional development programme.  

Recently, we joined the ministry to reflect on the impact of past EdTech initiatives in Sierra Leone and to consider the future of education technology in the country. Following this conversation, Minister David Moinina Sengeh and the ministry’s Delivery Unit outlined their vision for using EdTech to reimagine education. 

Hyrid EdTech for contious Learning Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that we need to reimagine our education delivery frameworks and systems if we are to benefit everyone. In Sierra Leone, we continue to confront the profound ongoing  teaching and learning crisis. Reports suggest that a third of the education workforce has received no formal training and four out of five children leave primary school without the required foundational skills for further study. The situation is worse for the most vulnerable children — children with disabilities, children from low-income families, children in rural areas, and girls. 

We have turned to technology to help us accelerate progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 4 to deliver inclusive, quality education. We know that alone education technology cannot offer a ‘quick fix’ to these systemic inequities. For this reason, we are taking an evidence-based approach to align the use of technology with our long-term vision for transforming the education sector and delivering on the promise of radical inclusion.

In doing so, we have built on our experience of using radio to provide continuous learning and teaching during the Ebola crisis. Now, we have developed a hybrid offering — radio, television, mobile and web, and print media — to ensure children can learn wherever they are and with whatever resources they can access. Today, we are well underway with the delivery of teaching and learning using this framework. 

Challenges undoubtedly remain. Yet, we are learning, iterating and delivering to disrupt the status quo and make sure we leave no child or young person behind.

Our experience of using technology to deliver radical inclusion so far

The use of EdTech to promote radical inclusion demands an equally radical vision for technology-supported education service delivery in Sierra Leone. So far, we have started to mobilise technology to support stakeholders across the system — government officials, teachers and learners — and drive sectoral change.

Redefining education planning to equalise and empower

Our vision for EdTech revolves around delivery — and our plans for delivery revolve around data. In 2018, we digitised the Annual School Census exercise as we asked enumerators to use tablets to collect data from every school in the country. Now, all education stakeholders can access information on students, teachers, finances and infrastructure via the publicly available Education Data Hub web portal. This year, we have gone one step further to provide principals in senior secondary schools with a tablet and training to upload their own census data.

In the future, we will collect more real-time data to build on this annual snapshot on education in Sierra Leone. From the beginning of the next academic year, we will prepare some primary school leaders to use a tablet to collect, verify, and apply dynamic data to drive school improvement. In doing so, we will support school leaders to manage teacher registration, student enrolment, and daily attendance.

Currently, we are using this data to inform cutting-edge geospatial and machine learning analysis to find ways to remove structural barriers to education. Where should we construct schools to ensure underserved communities can physically access education? How can we improve the equity of teacher allocation? Where should we install radio transmitters to increase access to remote learning? The answers to these key policy questions are guiding our decisions on how to make the most cost-effective investments in radical inclusion.

Revitalising support to school leaders and teachers

Teachers will play a crucial role in actualising our unwavering commitment to providing free, quality education to every child in Sierra Leone. Yet, we realise teachers will need a structured and integrated package of training, ongoing support and resources to improve foundational learning outcomes.

Here, we are using technology to extend and enhance a teacher training model that we know works — school-based communities of learning where teachers meet regularly to share experiences, collectively reflect on practice, and jointly plan to apply new approaches in the classroom. Teachers listen to audio recordings to support interactive activities such as role play. Teachers will watch videos of effective instruction to stimulate discussion on how to improve teaching in their school. And, teachers receive digitised and printed open educational resources including curriculum-aligned lesson plans, workbooks and teaching aids. By using technology to promote dialogue and critical reflection, we aim to radically transform the culture of teaching and learning within schools.

The success and sustainability of this objective will require the support of school leaders and district officials. Across the country, we are preparing principals and school quality assurance officers to use a tablet-based lesson observation tool that generates personalised feedback for teachers. This process of assessment is critical for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of teachers, identifying steps to improve instruction, and monitoring the implementation of strategies from school-based sessions.

Redrawing the boundaries of access to quality education

The Covid-19 pandemic created an urgent need to develop a hybrid educational offering to enable children to learn anywhere, anytime. Yet, the sudden pivot to technology-supported service delivery risked exacerbating entrenched inequities and undermining our work to radically increase access to quality education. Given these risks, our response to the pandemic and our ongoing efforts to build a more resilient education system have built on the resources children have and use wherever they are.

During the pandemic, we worked with partners to relaunch the radio education programme from the Ebola crisis. Soon after schools closed, we constructed two new radio transmitters in Koinadugu and Falaba to expand the reach of remote learning opportunities. Now, we are in the process of conducting a more detailed mapping of national radio coverage informed by a recent transmission model as we look to use broadcasts to supplement classroom instruction and support remedial learning.

At the same time, we distributed home learning packages to enable all students to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, we are building on this foundation to provide curricular content and past exam questions on UNICEF’s online Learning Passport platform. Here, all students can find curriculum-aligned and quality-assured lessons and interactive tests. Soon, the platform will be available as a mobile application where students can access content on and offline.

In addition, we created a free mobile dictionary to support our mission of using different technologies to improve foundational learning. Any child with access to a basic feature phone can do a word search and subscribe to the word of the day via USSD or a free text message. Recently, we expanded our mobile offering as we developed a system for learners to check their National Primary School Exam results and placement through a free SMS.

Our vision for a technology-supported future in Sierra Leone

We are still at the beginning of our journey to end Sierra Leone’s teaching and learning crisis. In the future, our EdTech strategy will remain resolutely focused on advancing our mission to deliver inclusive, quality education for all learners and teachers.

Free Quality School Education Programme
Students at primary school after the introduction of the Free Quality School Education programme. Credit: World Bank Photo Collections

In doing so, we will continue to invest in data systems to reimagine education planning. We will digitise diagnostic tools to deliver targeted support to every child, teacher, and school. We will scale up cost-effective uses of technology to train the workforce. We will build an openly available education offering to remove barriers to learning.

Today, Sierra Leonean innovators and educationists have a wealth of ideas for transforming the sector. The challenge ahead will be harnessing innovation to equalise and empower. The crux of our strategy will focus on the use of adaptive, evidence-based approaches to ensure technology-supported interventions meet and respond to the needs of stakeholders across the nation. To this end, we will build capacity to design, test and iterate solutions to accelerate the process of inclusion and achieve equitable access for all children in Sierra Leone.

We would like to acknowledge the invaluable support of our partners including the FREE Project, UNICEF, EdTech Hub, Fab Inc, GRID3, Leh Wi Lan and the Education Commission.

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