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Part 2: What makes a safe school and why our country needs more of them?

What safe schools look like

Most of the questions regarding what needs to be done to make schools safer places have mostly already been figured out by many organizations such as the United Nations through its many agencies especially UNICEF and UNESCO to support governments and communities prevent and respond to abuse.

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When a school is safe many good things fall into place:

  • Better learning outcomes are achieved
  • We have less cases of school drop-outs making the nation more literate in general
  • We have less teenage pregnancies
  • We raise productive and law abiding citizens 
  • We can spot abuse (including abuse happening outside of the school) early and take measures to deal with it promptly.

Over 10 years working in education, I have come to observe that schools that are safe places for children seem to have characteristics that distinguish them. While I have not seen any one single school with all these characteristics, often having even just a couple is enough to create a space where students are safe. As you might imagine, these schools also often achieve better learning outcomes notably in public examinations. Safety is an essential ingredient in creating an environment in which learning can thrive. 

The qualities characteristic of a safe school environment include: 

  • The head teacher or principal is a person of integrity and values the safety of all members of their school
  • The school has a fence and only authorized persons come into the school
  • Students are made aware of the staff code of conduct, their rights and knowledgeable about what appropriate relationships with adults should look like.
  • There are specific and known mechanisms for preventing and responding to abuse.
  • Students are actively involved in devising and implementing school safety policies.
  • Reporting channels are clear and students have trusted adults in the school (the school leadership, teachers or school support staff) they can report to or at least confide in when their rights are threatened or another student’s safety is at risk.
  • There is a strong interface between the school and the community usually through a dedicated School Management Committee(S.M.C), strong Parents Teachers Association (P.T.A) and in many cases exemplified by the chief or headman.
  • There is strong oversight above the school over the conduct of teachers and school leaders. Strong leadership from the local inspectorate of education or as is the case in most mission run schools (with dedicated leadership from the school’s mission. This is especially notable in Catholic schools where the reverends and other church leaders are actively present in the schools and play a great role in making sure the schools are safe and making sure abuse is discouraged and dealt with. 
  • The health and law enforcement authorities in the community have a strong relationship with the school.
  • Parents visit the school often and punctual in attending PTA and other meetings summoned by the school
  • Unsafe places (such as unfinished/broken buildings, dark places, pubs or bars close to or along school premises) that breed abuse are identified and dealt with/closely monitored
  • In investigating matters of suspected abuse, the safety and confidentiality of the potential victim (especially) as well as that of the perpetrator is paramount. This is important in order not to demonize the victim but also because by law every citizen is ‘innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt’.
  • Teachers and school leaders have loyalty to their learners and are not willing to protect a colleague at the expense of a child’s safety. 
  • Initiate extra-curricular activities and projects that capture the interest of students and give them an avenue to explore their talents and interests making it less likely for them to be involved in unsafe situations.
  • Excellence is promoted throughout the school; teachers come to school prepared to teach and held to account regarding their quality of teaching. Students come to school prepared to be engaged in learning throughout the school day. There is no time to waste

Try incorporating as many of these as possible to make your school a place where learners feel safe, so that learning may flourish.

Do you have any other characteristics/traits you have seen in ‘safe’ schools/learning institutions? We would like to hear from you, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

List of References post series:

  1. Spotting signs of child sexual abuse: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/spotting-signs-of-child-sexual-abuse/
  2. Three ways schools can help prevent sexual assault: https://www.americaspromise.org/news/three-ways-schools-can-help-prevent-sexual-assault
  3. UNICEF – WHO – UNESCO Handbook on School Based Violence: https://www.unicef.org/media/58081/file/UNICEF-WHO-UNESCO-handbook-school-based-violence.pdf
  4. CODE OF CONDUCT FOR TEACHERS AND OTHER EDUCATION PERSONNEL IN SIERRA LEONE: https://etico.iiep.unesco.org/sites/default/files/sierra_leone_2009_code_of_conduct_for_teachers_and_other_education_personnel.pdf
  5. New Code of Conduct for Teachers in Sierra Leone: https://www.politicosl.com/articles/new-code-conduct-teachers-sierra-leone
  6. Safe Schools and Learning Environment – How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools: https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/469200e82.pdf
Featured

Educating in the Time of COVID19 in Sierra Leone

Written by: Janice Williams (Founder/Executive Director Sudu & Co-founder, EduGo)

Contributions by: Alusine Barrie (EduGo Co-founder and Grow Salone Lead Trainer)

The question is: How Can Sierra Leone (& similar countries) handle education during this pandemic and other emergency situations?

Recently, I put up a Facebook status up asking how countries like Sierra Leone, who do not have the same technological capabilities as the U.S. will handle education if things are to go wrong? Many people commented that this is a serious concern and should be addressed. Under that same post, some questions from my former professor from MIT were posted:

  • What kind of tech is reasonable? For example, is radio most realistic, i.e. to broadcast basics on different channels or times per grade or subject?
  • Or is phone better channel? Or some combo? Or even book learning if materials available? Or older kids in family teaching younger?
  • Or is now the time to shift towards practical vocational crafts, like digging wells, improving fields, etc?

These were really good questions and as partners in a new Edtech company (some of the ideas actually born out of that MIT class), Alusine and I thought we should share some of our thoughts on how the country should handle things. We can’t cover everything and hence focused more so on the technology aspect, because we are working in that space and wanted to focus on how those mediums could be leveraged.

As an educator this is a question that has been on my mind since we heard about how the COVID19 is affecting many countries all over the world. Whereas with many countries, this is the first time in a very long time they are facing such a huge problem in their country, Sierra Leone is no stranger to this. I know we get exhausted hearing about this, but unfortunately the realities are that Sierra Leone has not had much time to take a breather with one devastating event after the other. The civil war led to more than 1,200 primary schools being wiped out and more than 65% of school-aged children out of school by the end of the war in 2001.

The outbreak of Ebola added to the devastation as children were kept out of school for a year. The only source of education most students received at that time were lessons read over the radio and a few programs on the main television station and provided by NGOs. Education organizations like Educaid did podcasts and Innovate Salone, did the Hack at Home challenge series. The Hack at Home initiative, which were a series of hands-on learning challenges that were sent out every two weeks in Whatsapp groups, Facebook and text messaging, engaged 100s of students in 12 districts all over Sierra Leone for one year. Winners of these challenges received mentorship from various leaders within the community, such as the Ebola Response coordinator, various directors of NGOs, and publicity via local media channels.

This will be a three-part blog post because I really wanted to share some hard data about Sierra Leone for people to really get the context.  I won’t dare to say we have the answers, but we are just sharing a brief snippet of what we are thinking. For more in-depth thoughts on what we think, we are available for consultations (haha).

In addition, we are sure the Government of Sierra Leone is hard at work to come up with a solution and we’ve seen some swift action by the government to try to prevent the virus from entering the country, especially since our neighbors, Liberia and Guinea now have the virus.

We know that when children are not in school, they lose the gains they made academically. In the U.S., this phenomena is referred to as the “summer slide.” This WILL happen with our children who will be having an indefinite break from school. We saw how far behind children were after the Ebola epidemic. We are still suffering the consequences to that till this day and the very same day I put up my status, the Sierra Leone government announced that by March 31st, all institutions will be closed until further notice due to the COVID-19.

So this is what we think…

  1. The Government

The government needs to arrange a series of regional meetings to come up with an emergency plan focused on education. The meetings should be at district level with educators/administrators. We know that there are ECGs (education coordination groups)  and depending on Sierra Leone’s gathering protocol (which currently states no more than 100 people), they need to set up a series of meetings by departments to create learning materials both physical (independent learning guides) and soft materials. For example, those who are comfortable putting together videos/audios can do so. Then depending on what is available in their regions, finding the best medium to distribute this content. We believe that the best approach is actually printing out physical materials, using mobile phone apps/sms, television, and radio (but we have some reservations about radio and we will talk about this later).

The reason why we say that each region or district must have its own unique plan, is because although Sierra Leone is a small country relative to some others, the districts are not a monolith. They are all different and in terms of resources when it comes to technology, they vary. Even with radio penetration, a 2016 BBC Media Action research stated:

Radio listenership is fractured, however, with no single station able to reach a national audience. Around 50 radio stations are currently broadcasting, with many of these having limited, local broadcast reach.

It is therefore important that each region does a mapping of its resources and come up with a contextualized plan. Often when the government and even some large organizations come up with idea, they want a blanket situation. We get it. It is sometimes more cost effective and also requires less human resources, but seeing as most educators will not be working, we believe that this is a great way for the government to actively involve these key players in drafting plans. From our work experience in districts, we have often heard complaints about decisions being centralized and then passed down. Often, district Ministries, Departments, Agencies and Councils, feel that they do not have a say in how things are handled. According to the law, Sierra Leone is a decentralized government and it is therefore time that the central government look to each district for solutions and then support those solutions with funds and manpower if need be.

2. Educators on our own

Beyond government mobilization, what can we as Sierra Leonean educators do? Let’s learn from our colleagues around the world mobilizing to help students and parents. Can you hold small, private tutoring session? Due to a slowdown in economic activity that may result from the pandemic, we understand that people’s earnings will be low, so charging reasonable prices will be extremely helpful. Can you record or create pamphlets that you can distribute to communities for children? Can you collaborate with some young people or Tele-centers to design learning materials that will be on DVDs or to print physical learning materials that can be distributed?  

We have been impressed by how educators in the U.S. are coming up with innovative ways to reach their students. There are Zoom and Skype calls, webinars, phone and tablet applications and so forth. People have access to YouTube videos online and can pretty much browse so many educational websites, that have immediately made content available to parents who are on lockdown. Some have even made schedules for parents that are home schooling. Unfortunately, a lot of Sierra Leoneans don’t have access to the internet.

Go to Part 2

PART 3: Spotting signs of potential abuse, what to do about it and which children are at risk?

– Useful guidelines from UNICEF & U.N.H.C.R

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It is of great importance for teachers, school leaders, parents, health care professionals and social workers, all of us, to know and be aware of the behaviours and symptoms a child displays signs indicative of impending abuse or abuse that have. It is especially important for teachers to be aware of these signs and know what to do when they suspect/observe an instance of abuse as they are always interacting with children and observe as they interact with their peers and other adults in and around the school. 

Note: it is important to take caution and be aware of legal and official due processes and procedures when dealing with matters of abuse regarding children. 

Some of the symptoms of distress in children indicative of potential abuse may include:

  • Unexplainable changes in behaviour – a polite student suddenly becoming aggressive, a loud student becoming withdrawn.
  • Physical problems – including soreness in the genitals and anal areas
  • Avoiding the abuser – a child suddenly becoming afraid of or starting to avoid or dislike someone. The child may start being afraid of being alone with them
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviours – use of explicit language, touching others inappropriately etc.
  • Pregnancy – for students under 18 years of age, this is a key sign
  • Problems in school – poor concentration, falling grades and disengagement in activities
  • Giving hints – may drop hints and words showing something is wrong without actually saying it. 
  • Difficulties sleeping, nightmares, bed wetting have also been observed.

Doing something about it:

Teachers should:

• React immediately to the issue;

• Refer to school rules;

• Offer support to the victim;

• Offer guidance to bystanders;

• Lead by example with non-violent behaviour and model by-stander practices;

• Impose immediate sanctions in line with the school rules and regulations;

• Understand how traumatic experiences and neglectful or abusive home lives can negatively

affect children’s behaviour and support troubled children with their wider issues rather than

penalize them for bad behavior; and

• Understand the role that they as teachers have in building safe, trusting relationships with

children outside of the home.

Bystanding students: 

Give bystanders (students who may be present when a violent act/abuse takes place) the skills to take action against violence/abuse can help to prevent violence and make sure that victims get help and support. 

Effective actions for bystanders include: 

• Giving the perpetrator less attention; 

• Showing support to the victim, even in a safe situation after the incident has taken place; 

• Redirecting the perpetrator to a different activity; 

• Helping the victim to get away; 

• Getting support from a trusted adult; 

• Reporting the incident to a trusted person; and 

• Setting a good example

Useful UN agency Guidelines for creating safe schools (UNICEF and UNHCR

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One such great resource is the UNHCR’s Safe Schools and Learning Environment guide on ‘How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools’ gives us a strong framework to start the work of making schools safer: The UNHCR guidelines are organized in four main “steps”. These steps are the following:

(1) Situational Analysis, to identify the causes of violence in your school and assessing existing support services, resources and capacities within your community, district or at national level.

(2) Utilizing Preventive Measures, to create a safe and supportive learning environment. 

(3) Response Mechanisms, to provide victims/survivors with the appropriate services. 

(4) Monitoring and Evaluation, to ensure that measures to provide a safe education are effective. 

A useful UNICEF-WHO-UNCHR  school-based violence handbook suggests the following: (excerpted from the handbook):

  1. Develop leadership, school policies and coordination methods: 

• Set up a school-based coordinating team to address violence. 

• Strengthen knowledge and skills of the coordinating team. 

• Develop a school policy that condemns violence and is enforced fairly for everyone. 

• Develop an action plan. 

• Make violence prevention an essential part of the day-to-day work of the school, and work towards building a school culture that does not tolerate violence.

  1. Work with teachers on values and beliefs and train them in positive discipline and classroom management. This includes training teachers in positive discipline and classroom management and addressing teachers’ harmful belief and social cultural and gender norms. UNICEF also suggests integrating these elements in pre-service training for teachers.
  1. Prevent violence through curriculum-based activities: schools are encouraged to test evidence-based violence prevention strategies on a small scale e.g. in one grade or class. Strategies that have proven to be effective include: developing children’s life skills, teaching children about safe behaviour and protecting themselves from abuse, challenging and transforming social, cultural and gender norms that justify violence and promote equal relationships, addressing key risk factors for violence (alcohol, drugs, low academic achievement). 

If the evaluation finds that the tested violence prevention strategies were effective in reducing violence, take steps to scale it up:

– Scale-up the effective strategies to other classes/grades within the school

– Share your model with other schools

– Showcase your model and propose with the Ministry of Education integrating it as part of the curriculum.

  1. Collect data on violence and monitor changes over time:

Use data from existing surveys to increase understanding about where, when, how and by whom violence happens.

• Establish a record-keeping system of incidents of violence and the school’s responses to these

• Make sure that data is kept confidential within the school. 

• Include questions that measure violence in existing school surveys and an Education Management Information System (EMIS). 

• Carry out surveys to assess the extent of violence, where and when it takes place, the characteristics of those involved and perceptions of violence.

  1. Respond to violence when it happens:

Train teachers and school staff in recognizing violence and asking children in a responsible way about violence.

• Train teachers in managing situations where children tell them they have experienced violence. 

• Deal with violent incidents immediately, using methods learned in teachers’ training, for example positive discipline and classroom management. 

• If referral mechanisms do not exist at school level, make sure to be informed of service providers available 

• Train parents in recognizing and asking appropriately about violence and supporting children exposed to violence. 

• Strengthen safe and child-friendly reporting methods. 

• Develop and strengthen appropriate referral methods for victims of violence who need additional support. 

• Monitor the effectiveness of reporting and referral methods.

References:

  1. Spotting signs of child sexual abuse: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/spotting-signs-of-child-sexual-abuse/
  2. Three ways schools can help prevent sexual assault: https://www.americaspromise.org/news/three-ways-schools-can-help-prevent-sexual-assault
  3. UNICEF – WHO – UNESCO Handbook on School Based Violence: https://www.unicef.org/media/58081/file/UNICEF-WHO-UNESCO-handbook-school-based-violence.pdf
  4. CODE OF CONDUCT FOR TEACHERS AND OTHER EDUCATION PERSONNEL IN SIERRA LEONE: https://etico.iiep.unesco.org/sites/default/files/sierra_leone_2009_code_of_conduct_for_teachers_and_other_education_personnel.pdf
  5. New Code of Conduct for Teachers in Sierra Leone: https://www.politicosl.com/articles/new-code-conduct-teachers-sierra-leone
  6. Safe Schools and Learning Environment – How to Prevent and Respond to Violence in Refugee Schools: https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/469200e82.pdf

How can Schools become safer and contribute to the fight against sexual abuse?

(for School Leaders, Teachers and other education stakeholders)

Part 1: The School is likely the most influential organization in any society

Quincy High School - Russell

Abuse, in many shapes and forms, and has always been around. A few months ago, an elderly man (the man whose name and face rarely showed up on the images being spread over the internet), raped a young girl who ended up losing her life. But as is the case with these things attention on this serious matter has died down, at least from public attention. It is time we moved attention to other things. However, simply dropping the conversation will not help. Abusers are still out and present in our communities, homes, workplaces and schools. We rarely take the time to think about this, but the after effects of abuse (in general) while most intense for the primary victim, have far reaching effects on the collective health and state of a society. 

We have delegated to schools and their teachers a huge responsibility and authority for them to mould our children into the collective ideals of our society; to make them self sufficient and forthright citizens contributing to the betterment of the nation as a whole. Schools have great potential in helping us fight abuse. Apart from sleep, school is easily the place our children spend the most of their waking time. While in school our children get to interact with their peers and with adults in the school in ways that give us an opportunity to prevent and spot potential as well as occurring abuse and deal with abusers appropriately.

However, schools themselves have become places where abuse happens. Stories of school teachers getting involved with students and teachers impregnating students are not uncommon in our communities. But we have seen this elsewhere too, in our workplaces. Wherever you have a situation of authority and subordination or vulnerability there is potential for abuse. Issues of abuse are becoming increasingly heard of in the public sphere, but it is not because there wasn’t as much abuse in earlier times. It is just that nowadays, with the increasing penetration of social media, we are getting to hear about it more; it has always been there.

Since abuse does not go away on its own, we have to make conscious as well as consistent efforts at communal and national levels to ensure that wherever we have a power/authority disparity, we install abuse prevention and response mechanisms and institute stringent punishment wherever abuse is discovered. As you can agree with us, a concerted effort is needed if we are to tackle the problem of abuse, especially sexual abuse. Areas that will be of the strongest help will be schools and hospitals/clinics as staff in schools and hospitals interface with children all the time and hence have the greatest opportunity to diagnose and prevent abuse. Consider for instance the situation where the community, the school, the local health clinic (PHU)and local police units work together in harmony. In such situations, abuse can be spotted early and mitigating measures executed promptly.

The focus of this thought piece is focused on how schools can work to become safe environments for our children and how they can help us prevent and respond to issues of abuse. Lack of time, resources and know-how are key roadblocks in efforts to make schools safer, however there are many effective solutions that can be implemented with little to no cost or time. Enlisting the support of the PTA and SMC members, involving community leaders and building good relationships with local policing and health officers can help build a strong network of abuse prevention and response. 

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.

Educating in the time of COVID19-Sierra Leone Pt. 2

Written by: Janice Williams

Contributions by: Alusine Barrie

Part 1

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).

3. Parents

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.