Educating in the time of COVID19 in Sierra Leone Pt. 3

Written by: Janice Williams with Contributions by Alusine Barrie

Part 2 | Part 1

The next best option is television. According to the BBC Media Action research again, there is a growing viewership of television.

Television stations can air educational content: this happened during Ebola, but it will be about getting the highest possible quality content to children across the country. When we speak about the quality of the content we ask some of these questions:

  • Is the content engaging? (not just emphasizing rote memorization)
  • Is the content comprehensive? (covering the subject matter thoroughly)
  • Is the person delivering useful knowledge?
  • Is the content well organized and structured? For example, we have seen pamphlets prepared by teachers even as high as college level and they are mostly copied and pasted content from the internet. Content needs to have clear outline from introduction of the content to how students can practice on their own, whether virtual or a physical independent, learning guide.
  • Is the medium clear and easily understandable? (i.e. if it is a video, is the video clear, shot with a good camera and quality audio etc? Radio: are there technical issues that make it hard)

So why the utilization of mobile phones? For Sierra Leone: radio and mobile phones are the technologies to utilize if you want to reach far and wide. According to BBC Media Action:

83% of people report having access to a mobile phone. More than half of mobile phone owners (52%) have a basic feature phone

Social messaging use is also limited to specific demographic groups – notably young people (those aged 15–24) and those in Western Area. In contrast, young people are the group least likely to listen to the radio (39% of those aged 15–24 listen each day, compared to 47% of the population as a whole). Usage of Facebook Messenger was mentioned by 2% of the population, and the same proportion report using WhatsApp.

This BBC Media Action graph shows that most people even those who have internet and messaging apps like Messenger and Whatsapp, primarily use their phones to make calls or send text messages.

UNICEF’s U-Report SMS reporting tool, although an application that focuses on reporting from the frontlines by everyday youth in different parts of countries, could also be utilized to send alerts to students or get feedback from them on the type of content they would like to get. U-Report can also check to see what type of experience students are having in their districts, towns, and villages. It can be a much quicker way the government can see high needs areas and mobilize efforts.

Many will ask, where does Social Media fit into this?

As stated before, only about 2% of the population is actively engaged on social media. When considering a wider reach, this platform will only provide limited reach.

In terms of other mediums, such as newspapers, this is also not an effective tool to use.

According to BBC Media Action, “Newspapers remain niche: mostly men, urban, wealthier

and more educated people access them.” Even though Newspaper is “niche,” is there an opportunity to be innovative using that medium? Most definitely, but again we are focused on the platforms that will produce the highest impact right now.  

We would be remiss to not mention infrastructural issues that will limit the ability to use certain technology, the biggest issue in this case being electricity. Although there might be more recent data (forgive us, we didn’t have time to do an in-depth study), a 2017 Economist report showed that more than 75% of Sierra Leoneans do not have electricity.

This can greatly affect the utilization of certain technology hence the emphasis in the beginning about developing quality physical learning materials.

We can’t mobilize in the same way as the rest of the world with heavy dependence on internet usage. Although more urban young people have access to the internet, “ Only 5% of teenage girls and 25% of teenage boys living in rural areas have access to the internet” (BBC Media Action).

We cannot over emphasize the wealth disparity.

Social media users are also wealthier; 47% of them say that they are wealthy enough to afford to buy a house or flat. This group comprises only 2% of the adult Sierra Leonean population.(BBC Media Action)

Our solution can NOT be primarily web focused. We know that the new Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI), which is also simultaneously led by the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), is very focused on digitizing at this moment, the majority of Sierra Leone children cannot access the internet at the moment. The infrastructure to reach them with quality educational content will require very significant investment. Sometimes though, it is in emergency situations like these where the country’s funds are being redirected where we can build sustainable systems. Therefore, we would be very excited to see that in addition to giving more to the Ministry of Health in the case COVID19 really hits Sierra Leone hard, that the government can also invest in building sustainable, digital infrastructure for education.  

This might seem like A LOT of information and (maybe) a bit all over the place, but we believe that there is no one size fits all. More details are needed with regards to how each medium can be used to educate children during this crisis, but we chose not to get too much into that, as we believe in the grassroots approach, but again are open to sitting with our fellow educators to assist in Freetown and across Sierra Leone. We can do this!

*Note: We are aware that there might be some newer data in terms of technology use in Sierra Leone, such as mobile phone and internet penetration. This is as recent as we could come up with on short notice.

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