Written by: Janice Williams
Contributions by: Alusine Barrie
Looking at internet usage, we are seeing a significant growth for Sierra Leone, but we are still a long way behind the rest of the world according to these statistics from Internet World Statistics. According to GeoPoll:
more than 90% of the population in [Sub-saharan Africa] was covered by 2G networks at the end of 2017 and six new 4G networks launched in the first half of 2018. GSMA predicts that the global penetration rate of mobile Internet will be 61% of the population in 2025, versus the 43% that it was in 2017. This means a jump from 3.3 billion users in 2017, to 5.5 billion in 2025.”
Again, we are not there yet.
It is also very costly for Sierra Leoneans to get access to internet, most people who do have access are subscribing to mobile data. Although the mobile phone use is very high, there are varying levels of users. From BBC Medica Action research:
When asked about their expenditure, respondents struggled to determine how much money they spent on each top-up and how often they buy credit. While some stated lower figures, BBC Media Action assumed a minimum amount of SLL1,000 (about US$0.2427), which is the smallest amount network providers allow users to spend on top-ups. On average, users spent between SLL3,000 (about US$0.74) and SLL4,000 (about US$0.96).”
Although these amounts may seem low, given that the poorest families still only live on about $1 a day, this can be quite a significant amount taken out of an income that can go towards food. In fact, from personal experience, internet and phone usage is much more expensive for me than when I was in the US or even when I visited other parts of the world i.e. Nigeria or Guinea. The Sierratel Mobile Wifi device is about $55 a month and claims to be “unlimited.” Although better than my experience back in 2014 when I was in Sierra Leone for the first time, the internet is still very slow compared to other countries. Sometimes I just give up and subscribe to my mobile data and use my phone as a hotspot. On average about 1GB is 25,000Le with Orange and that’s about $3. Say I had to do that daily for a month, that will be around $84. The minimum wage per month for Sierra Leoneans was recently increased to 600,000Leones (about $60).
Most Sierra Leonean parents lack the knowledge/literacy to be involved in student learning in a manner significant enough to balance the loss due from loss of school time. If they had useful resources at home, children can learn at home, even if the parent is not literate. Lack of resources exacerbates the problem. Just some context for U.S., according to the last census:
among all households, 78 percent had a desktop or laptop, 75 percent had a handheld computer such as a smartphone or other handheld wireless computer, and 77 percent had a broadband Internet subscription.” (US Census)
That is vastly different from a country like Sierra Leone where this data is not even available, but without data to support this, we know from personal interactions that most homes don’t have laptops/internet. EduGo recently did a survey that confirmed this.
Therefore, for those who have the technology/internet at home, there are several places that have online learning resources. If you go to my Facebook Page you can find some or do a search. For those who don’t have access, it is up to us to share those resources with them. Young people reading this, print out materials and share it in your neighborhoods and for parents who have access, make copies of what you have and also share what you know. What we are learning right now is distancing physically but moving closer in terms of showing love.
No one should hoard everything, especially education. Now to go into more detail why we suggested DVDs, television, radio and the likes. Due to low technological advancements or even income disparities, CDs/DVDS are the most common channels to distribute content because even some of the poorest households in countries like ours, have a DVD player or some type of audio/visual technology in their homes. We know a lot of people watch, Nigerian, Indian, Filipino and other popular films. If they don’t have these things in their homes, there are Tele-centers or “cinemas” that have these where a lot of young people do spend their time. We can definitely take advantage of this medium.
This might seem ancient to people from outside Sierra Leone but distributing DVDs of videos teaching different lessons will be an effective pathway for reaching and supporting learners across the country even those in rural areas and poor neighborhoods. However, this should be followed with radio shows & jingles encouraging parents to ensure their children use them for learning instead of binge watching on Nigerian and Filipino films. Our new Edtech company we are developing in SL, EduGo, currently has video content available for distribution. Support from NGOs and government could aide in the distribution of these DVDs. This is something that can be done both if there is a lockdown or limitations on gatherings.
Although radio is the most “widely accessed broadcast platform in Sierra Leone” according to BBC Media Action and it would only make sense to use the radio to distribute content, we do want to emphasize to think about the quality of the content.
During Ebola, it was recognized that this was a medium that could have wide reach, but the criticism by many educators, students, and parents was that the content was not engaging. The lessons were either hard to follow or very boring. For all these mediums we are suggesting again, it will not be effective if the QUALITY of the content is not great. It is difficult to be engaging just through audio and therefore radio has its limitations. This is why we emphasize the utilization of as many platforms as possible, perhaps even using each technology based on what its greatest advantage is i.e. television is perfect for lessons that require drawing of images.