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September 2019

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Apply Here: Project Mountain Lion Hackathon for experienced developers, hackers

Project Mountain Lion Hackathon wants you!

Two African engineers at Facebook have partnered with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to host the Project Mountain Lion Hackathon for experienced developers this November, in Sierra Leone. 

However, the application and selection process starts now

Abdoul-Kader Keita and Patrick Taylor work as engineers at Facebook where they develop infrastructure that is scalable, reliable, and efficient and they want to bring these skills to the continent. Project Mountain Lion is a hackathon that will bring developers together with a goal to solve tangible problems in society. This particular hackathon will seek to make school registration faster and easier for students in Sierra Leone. 

On a recent trip to Freetown, Taylor learned that thousands of students in Sierra Leone queue for several hours to register for classes. He estimated that a student could spend up to 4 hours on average in line waiting to register, in a school of 500. If you’re a developer and you want to fix this problem then click here to join the Project Mountain Lion. 

You will complete a short test, and if you pass that test, you will be invited to participate at the next level. In the end, 30 hackers in Sierra Leone will be invited to the Project Mountain Lion Hackathon on November 9, 2019, at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). There they will work with Engineers Keita, Taylor, and others from DSTI to improve student registration in Sierra Leone. 

Challenge accepted? Click Here for Admission!


Notice for Expressions of Interest for Drone Corridor Project; Engineering and Construction Works

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) sits in the Office of the President and executes its functions through the Office of the Chief Minister. The Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) serves as an Adviser to the President and Chief Minister of Sierra Leone.

Our Vision

To use science, technology and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently; and to help transform Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub.

Background of the project

Drone technology is an area that DSTI is taking a lead to develop in Sierra Leone. With support from partners DSTI is currently developing a drone take-off and landing field for testing of drones and drone use cases. Drones have already been used to solve problems in Sierra Leone in applications such as disaster risk reduction. Further applications that the drone facilities will develop include mapping/imagery for analytics (education), cargo delivery – small & large payload and connectivity solutions.

For the purposes of designing and constructing the drone take-off and landing strip, DSTI is currently seeking qualified and capable companies to offer design and build services for the said facilities. 

  1. Site description

The site is located at the Njala University Mokunde Campus, situated adjacent to the University Secretariat Building. The site parcel size is 21.7 acres. The soil from visual observation is loamy soil. The topography of the site is that of a relatively uniform level throughout. The land has recently been cleared of elephant grass and some shrub growth.

The site is located at the end of a 390m graded, dirt road leading off from the main Njala University Junction; Njala University Junction is at the end of a smooth bitumen road that is approximately 2.5Km from the main Bo-Tiama highway.     

  1. Work Lots

DSTI and partners have embarked on preliminary works at site including topographical surveys, development of site plan, and site clearance.

The following services are needed of qualified and capable companies to offer design and build services;

Request for Proposals.
Lot 1Design, Construction & Commissioning of Container Office Area of Container Office Area
Lot 2Design, Construction & Commissioning of Solar Energy System for Container Office
Lot 3Design, Construction & Commissioning of Power Transmission and Distribution on Drone Corridor Site.
Lot 4Design, Construction & Commissioning of Water, drainage, waste and recycling facilities
Lot 5Design, Construction & Commissioning of Landscaping and security fence
Competitive Tender.
Lot 6Design, Construction & Commissioning of Drone Runway and Saddle

Lots 1 – 5 will be awarded via competitive RFP process between the top 5 shortlisted companies.

Lot 6 will be awarded via competitive tender process between the top 5 shortlisted companies. 

  1. Criteria

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation is currently accepting Expressions of Interest from qualified and capable companies to offer design and build services. Interested companies must submit the following documents via email only to 

  1. Expression of Interest Letter
  2. Detailed Company Profile
  3. Valid Sierra Leone Business Registration Certificate
  4. Certificate of GST Registration (if applicable)
  5. Certificate of National Revenue Authority Tax Clearance Certificate
  6. CVs of Project Manager and Lead Engineers
  7. Practicing Certificate for 2019 from the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers

All submissions to  should be made by Friday the 4th of October, 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be contacted by Monday the 7th of October.


Sierra Leone will use DNA tests to help save crops, and investigate crimes- here is how

Sierra Leone’s researchers used the world’s first hand-held nanopore DNA sequencer, the MiniION to do DNA tests at a 3-day hands-on learning workshop at Njala University. 

Before now, the only way local scientists could test DNA was to take their samples to foreign countries. It was costly and inefficient. 

The team of scientists who facilitated the workshop was led by Dr. Laura Boykin, an expert in plant biology and computational science. Dr. Boykin’s journey to Sierra Leone began at the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver where she and other TED Fellows met with President Julius Maada Bio. Dr. Moinina Sengeh, also a TED Fellow and Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer was part of that meeting in Vancouver. Both Dr. Sengeh and Dr. Boykin said they were inspired by President’s Bio call for the use of science for development. They continued conversations, and that led to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) organizing the technical workshop in Sierra Leone.

A group of scientists, researchers, and academics learning DNA sequencing techniques

Scientists, academics, and researchers from DSTI, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Njala University, Crime Scene Investigators of the Family Support Unit (FSU) at the Sierra Leone Police, and the Sierra Leone Agriculture Research Institute (SLARi) participated in scientific training. The training focused on applied and practical scientific methods, including basic pipette training, DNA extraction, DNA sequencing. A subset of the participants analyzed the data using standard methods and machine learning. 

DNA sequencing is the process used to determine the precise order of the four nucleotide bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine that make up a strand of DNA. MiniION Nanopore Sequencer is a mobile DNA/RNA testing device that performs biological analysis. According to the inventors of the nanopore sequencer – Oxford Nanopore Technology – the device is currently used for research into human genomics, cancer, microbiology, plants, and the environment in almost 100 countries. 

Dr. Laura Boykin – Senior TED Fellow & Plant Biologist at Njala University in Sierra Leone on September 17 2019 where she led a workshop on DNA sequencing

“Portable sequencing can help democratize science,” said Dr. Boykin

“The typical model is people fly from the UK or the US; they take the samples from here and use technology in their lab. That’s not empowering local people. We’re trying to get rid of this colonization of science.”

Beyond research, Nanopore sequencing provides rapid, meaningful information in the fields of healthcare, agriculture, food, and water surveillance and education. In Sierra Leone, the test cases will be plant pathology and the investigation of sex crimes.

Scientists at the workshop at Njala University also compared the results of the MiniION Nanopore DNA sequencing device to other Artificial Intelligence mobile apps and human experts for predicting cassava disease.

Out of a sample of 12 cassava plants, an evaluated Cassava AI App which works with mobile phones showed that 60% of the cassava plant samples had the Cassava Mosaic Disease. The App further revealed that 20% of the samples were infected with the Cassava Green Mite Disease, while 20% had no disease. However, the results and outcomes varied depending on the operating system of the mobile phones used to run the tests. When the same 12 samples were tested using Nanopore DNA Sequencing, the results showed that the AI App missed infections. Some samples that had reported negative by the App came back positive, and some samples that the app reported as having only Cassava Mosaic Disease had another infection.

“We are quite aware that 50% of the yield loss from our crops emanate from pests, weeds, and diseases,” said Dr. Alusaine Edward Samura, Plant Pathologist, Njala University. 

“You cannot effectively control those biotic stresses If you cannot identify the causative agent. Proper diagnostics leads to proper decision making in terms of providing solutions to mitigate the current problem.” 

In addition to helping plant biologists increase yield, DNA sequencing will also make it easier to investigate crimes, specifically sex crimes. Where a rape kit is collected, from a victim, DNA can later be used to match suspects with DNA left behind. 

The Family Support Unit deals with cases of sexual violence, domestic violence, child cruelty, and issues related to gender-based violence.

In 2016, Superintendent Mira Koroma, Head of the Family Support Unit, asked that the government finance a forensics lab to aid in the investigation of sex crimes. Three years later and the FSU still doesn’t have one. But with the Nanopore mobile DNA sequencing, they don’t need a lab, and for just $3000 they can test DNA evidence. 

“This workshop was an excellent demonstration of inter-agency collaboration between SLARI, MAFS, Njala, DSTI, and others,” said Dr. Sengeh. 

“The President challenged DSTI to bring the best from around the world to Sierra Leone so that we can learn and co-create to address our challenges and to fast track our national development. We are doing just that,” said Dr. Sengeh. 

At the end of the 3-day training, a device set was donated to Njala University where research scientists in Sierra Leone will continue to use the MiniION device for DNA extraction, sequencing, and analysis for other cash crops like cocoa, coffee, and to be used in crime investigation.


The secrets of scientific writing unlocked at DSTI workshop at Fourah Bay College

The journey to becoming a published author just got a little easier for researchers and academics in Sierra Leone. Over 44 of the nation’s smartest minds participated in Dr. Elaine Nsoesie’s public lecture on writing and publishing in scientific journals at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Dr. Nsoesie, who is a Professor of Global Health at Boston University School of Public Health, hosted the lecture as part of her fellowship at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

Dr. Elaine Nsoesie, Professor of Global Health, Boston University, and Research Fellow at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation

“Scientific writing communicates a scientific idea or finding,” said Dr. Nsoesie.

“So maybe you have done research on a specific topic, for example, diabetes in Freetown and you want to write about what you found in your research. You can write your findings and publish them in a scientific journal. What we covered here today is the process of making that happen.”

A lot of ingenious work has been produced in Sierra Leone, but the local and international communities do not get to learn about them.

“As researchers, we often lack the writing skills to communicate our methodology and findings in scientific papers,” said Kumba Musa, a data scientist at DSTI who participated in the lecture.

Excellent scientific writing is clear, simple, impartial, logical, accurate, and objective. It is often technical and intended for others in a scientific field or discipline to learn something new. The scientific writing workshop taught participants how to write and publish a scientific paper.

Publishing in international journals and publications make Sierra Leone known for its contributions to global science. Notable Sierra Leonean scientist, Dr. Davidson Nicol published groundbreaking discoveries on the use of insulin for the treatment of diabetes. DSTI supports research and innovation in academia; providing opportunities that make it easier for local scientists to have their works published is key to that mission.

“In Sierra Leone, we are a bit lacking in terms of research writing, but with this training, I believe we can improve our capacity to do research,” said Mariama Lahai, a researcher at Connaught Hospital who attended the workshop. Like Dr. Nicol, Lahai’s research is also on diabetes.

“I’m looking at the prevalence of depression amongst patients with Type 2 diabetes. I collect data from our weekly counseling sessions with patients suffering from diabetes and hypertension”.

Another workshop participant said the lecture would impact their work is a laboratory technician and researcher from the University of Makeni.

“This workshop will help me write a good dissertation in my final year,” said Yusif Osman Sheriff.

He said that he is already working on research that he hopes to publish before the end of the year. He and Lahai were amongst 102 people who applied to attend the scientific writing workshop. Half of the best applicants were chosen and of those 44 attended.

DSTI has formed partnerships with international institutions of higher learning to create opportunities that support and strengthen the ecosystem for scientific research and academia in Sierra Leone. These have included hands-on learning hackathons on artificial intelligence and workshops for professors, students, academics, and researchers. This scientific research writing workshop was supported and done in collaboration with the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone.


Sierra Leone turns to technology and analytics to put quality back into education

Today, an estimated 2 million students return to school for the second year of the Free Quality School Education (FQSE) Program. The Government of Sierra Leone commits 21% of the national annual budget to the education sector as part of this historic initiative.  Last year’s focus was on universal access – tuition subsidies and learning materials. This year, policymakers will use data science and analytics to focus on quality to improve learning outcomes.

Click to view this visualization in the education hub

The FQSE Program is part of Sierra Leone’s larger national development plan which focuses on human capital development. Sierra Leone currently ranks 151 out of 157 countries on the Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures the level of productivity a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18. The primary indicators are health and education. Children are expected to complete 9 years of basic (primary and junior secondary) education in Sierra Leone. A child born today will produce at 35% of his or her potential at 18 years if he or she had quality education and good health. However, for half of that time, students are enrolled but are not learning. Sierra Leone has a learning gap of 4.4 years according to the most recent HCI

The Government of Sierra Leone wants to change this statistic.

A new national Education Data Hub ( developed by the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in partnership with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) shows that at least 80% of students across Sierra Leone failed the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Exam (WASSCE) between 2016-2018. 

Click to view this visualization in the Education Hub

Five districts: Bo, Bombali, Bonthe, Moyamba, and Pujehun have reported fail rates greater than 96%. While student performance drops slightly from the primary to junior secondary level, performance declines dramatically from junior to senior secondary school. The Education Data Hub includes data from the Annual School Census (Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, 2018) and the National Examination Results (West African Examination Council, 2016-2018) for all three national exams (NPSE, BECE and WASSCE). 

The Minister of Basic Senior and Secondary Education (MBSSE) says they can now make better decisions and inform education policy because of data analysis and visualization available via the education data hub.

“For the President’s vision of Human Capital development to materialize, agriculture is involved, health is involved, but the narrative starts with education,” said Mr. Alpha Osman Timbo, Minister, MBSSE at a recent Ministry leadership workshop.

The Minister said that the availability of data will allow decision-makers like him to change the way they plan, how they spend, and where they invest government resources. The data hub will ensure that beyond making education free and accessible for all children, quality takes focus. Citizens too can use the data to hold policymakers and educators accountable when students fail and to also directly support their schools thereby increasing accountability. 

The Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, says the data casts a dark shadow over the nation’s recent educational past and its current state. He recently did a demonstration of the education data hub showing never before seen linked data to all Deputy Directors of Education from all districts, Free Quality School Education (FQSE) program heads, leaders of the Teaching Service Commission, and the leadership of MBSSE at the regional consultative workshop for the FQSE Implementation Plan.

“While most people had an idea that our education system had challenges, they believed that their districts, schools, and children were doing well because they did not look at the entire data. But when you see the numbers, it becomes clear that something major is wrong and that education over the years has been a disaster in Sierra Leone,”  said Dr. Sengeh.

“For example, the WASSCE pass rate for Pujehun district – where my parents come from –  was 1% last year. We cannot have our children spending twelve years in school and have none of them pass to go to university. What is discouraging is that the fail rates happened repeatedly and yet no known changes of impact were made by parents, educators or the government at the time.”

A team of data and computer scientists at DSTI prepared the data and led the development of the hub and its dashboards with partners over eight months starting in January 2019. The hub data includes (10,747 schools) every school in Sierra Leone that responded to the Annual School Census in 2018. National Examination data records were also obtained from the West African Examination Council for the 2016-2018 period. Linking these records and validating population data from Statistics Sierra Leone allows for deeper research and analysis of a variety of indicators that may have an impact on student learning outcomes.

“For the first time in history, we can begin to understand the effect of having bathrooms in good condition on examination performance. Being able to visualize the distribution of schools that have computers or bank accounts, or need classrooms, allows decision-makers to now interact with data to inform policies,” said Kumba Musa, Data Scientist, DSTI.

“The combination of datasets also helps the Ministry understand the distribution of children that are out of school across the country, map the distances students have to commute to access school and visualize poorly performing schools against their approval statuses,” said Ms. Musa. 

To prepare, clean, and validate the data, scientists at DSTI worked in close collaboration with staff at the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, particularly the Policy Unit headed by Mrs Adama Momoh. Mrs Momoh heads a team of experts within the Ministry who lead the digital collection of the school census and have technical knowledge on the education sector. Missing data, invalid entries, misspellings, and several other structural challenges made it tedious to clean the datasets. However, through the power of data analytics algorithms and from the lessons learned, the team at DSTI have developed models to expedite the cleaning of the 2019 data.

The hub and dashboard show that Sierra Leone’s commitment to education goes beyond getting students into school buildings. Year one of the previously seemingly impossible Free Quality School Education Program launched by H.E President Bio focused on access. Now, the country can begin to explore quality education by using data to optimize the learning outcomes of Sierra Leonean children so that they can become productive adults engaged in national development.

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