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DSTI Sierra Leone’s Human Capital Development Incubator awarded 1,050,000 CHF grant to improve quality education

Geneva-based  UBS Optimus Foundation and the Peter Cundill Foundation have awarded a 1,050,000 swiss francs (10,5 billion leones) grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) on its quest to improve learning outcomes at primary schools. The EIC is under the technical supervision of the Human Capital Development (HCD) Incubator at DSTI.  President Bio launched the HCD Incubator in December 2018. 

Human Capital Development Incubator Team at DSTI including (L-R) Wilsona Jalloh, Elizabeth Smith, Aissatou Bah at a community engagement meeting in Makeni, Northern Province at the launch of the Education Innovation Challenge – October 2019

The Peter Cundill Foundation was established in Bermuda in 2012, following the death of its founder, Peter Cundill. In low to middle-income countries like Sierra Leone, PC Foundation supports organizations that are increasing learning adjusted years of schooling (LAYS) through wider access to and/or quality of basic education.  

The UBS Optimus Foundation is a grant-making foundation working to break down barriers that prevent children from reaching their potential by funding leading organizations to improve the health, education, and protection of children. 

“UBS Optimus Foundation has previously supported education work in Sierra Leone through various partners. However, this direct investment in government through DSTI enables us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research in the educational sector,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“The only way we can transform education- through data, innovation, and policymaking-is to focus on the learning outcomes for the children. This grant will support DSTI and partners to evaluate learners directly and also test new innovations and programs that will support the government’s flagship program in education.”

The government of Sierra Leone launched its Free Quality School Education Program in August 2018; the first year focused on access. Year two, which began in August 2019, is where the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) comes in.

In October 2019, five organizations in the education sector were chosen through a competitive process to implement their innovative approaches to improve learning outcomes in Sierra Leone. 

Save the Children-Sierra Leone, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision International, are working in 170 schools randomly selected across all regions for the 2019-2020 school year. 

The Human Capacity Development Incubator is a hub for local start-ups, private, public, and academic organizations to collaborate on projects that will help citizens access government services and information more efficiently. At the HCD, partners share data, build models, develop hypotheses, and test pilot projects to inform government investments in human capital.

In July 2019,  the HCD Incubator received a $582,626 grant from the New Venture Fund for Global Policy and Advocacy.  In November, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the HCD Incubator a $773,476 grant for DSTI’s Integrated GIS Portal.

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Scientists at DSTI go the extra mile to make it easier for children to get to school

Mike Fabrikant, a software developer from Washington D.C., is embedded within the data science team at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support systems delivery. His work with DSTI is made possible through an ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Technology for Development program. This collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone strives to improve the quality of life for children in Sierra Leone with the use of technology and innovation.

“I’ve been focusing on two kinds of software: applications that provide insight around mapping vulnerability, and open-source data analytics tools for non-technical people,” said Fabrikant.

Scientists and developers at DSTI built a school bus stop visualization tool to support decision making in education policy for the Government of Sierra Leone. Geo-data was collected to make it easier for local government officials to decide how best to meet the transportation needs of students using newly allocated school buses.

To map out the bus routes, Fabrikant, Kumba Musa, and Ibrahim Bayoh went on a six-hour drive at night to 89 proposed bus stops and plotted their geo-coordinates. Geo-coordinates are a set of numbers and symbols that show the latitudes, longitudes, and directions of every location on earth.

The outcome is this interactive visualization that shows every school and every school bus stop in the Western Area Urban and Rural districts of Sierra Leone. Each school is a point where its size represents the total number of students enrolled, and the color represents the distance between it and the nearest bus stop. The data that supported this was provided by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education from the 2018 Annual School Census.

“If we can bring open data sets, like the locations of communities, health facilities, and schools, along with private sector data, like cell tower coverage, into decision making, then there’s powerful potential to make an impact through improving how the government allocates resources,” said Fabrikant.

The School Optimization Tool is just one of many ways that DSTI continues to support decision making and service delivery to citizens. DSTI Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Technology for Development program will continue to collaborate to develop technological solutions to address the most significant challenges faced by children in Sierra Leone.

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Sierra Leone at the 2020 Education World Forum

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) and Chief Innovation Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) led Sierra Leone’s delegation to the Education World Forum held in London on 19-22 January. EWF is the largest annual gathering of education and skills ministers and policy analysts.

Also, in Sierra Leone’s delegation to the Education World Forum was Ms. Aissatou Bah, Head of Global Partnerships at DSTI and Ms. Grace Kargobai, Executive Assistant to the Minister and CIO. Supporting the delegation in the UK was Ms. Elizabeth Smith, embedded within DSTI from the Tony Blair Institute.

Dr. Sengeh and his team engaged with high-level leaders including the UK’s Department for International Development Chief Economist and the CEO of the Education Outcomes Fund.

The team focused on partnerships with the Education Workforce Initiative (on teacher training and assessments); Education Development Trust (on policy and research), expanding Education Outcomes Fund to Sierra Leone as well as education research with the Brookings Institute already in progress at DSTI.

Dr. Sengeh also participated in the UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020 as part of Sierra Leone’s delegation led by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.

(L-R) Elizabeth Smith, who is embedded within DSTI from the Tony Blair Institute, Grace Kargobai, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, and Aissatou Bah of DSTI at the Education World Forum, in the UK.

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Sierra Leone adopts electronic public financial management system – no more lost PETS forms!

Ministry of Finance adopts a new Electronic Expenditure Management System developed by DSTI Sierra Leone

In a memo sent to all government institutions on 6 January, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance announced it had replaced its heavily paper-based public financial management system, Public Expense Tracking Survey (PETS) and the Payment Voucher and Commitment Control Forms with a new Electronic Expenditure Management System (EEMS) developed by technologists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). 

The Directorate is developing Sierra Leone’s first national financial data architecture with embedded automated financial tools to be deployed within all MDAs and government-funded institutions. The goal is to consolidate all government spending into one seamless, transparent digital system. The current roll out features implementation in all government ministries. DSTI is working with the Ministry of Finance to roll out EEMS to all departments and agencies by 1st April 2020.

PETS were initially put in place to improve accountability and service delivery; however, the previous paper-based system was inefficient. The EEMS will improve the Ministry of Finance’s drive to strengthen and improve Public Financial Management (PFM). Although initially commissioned to digitize only the PETS system, DSTI’s approach to delivery: ideation, design, prototyping, testing, and evaluation – expanded the scope of the work to include other related components such as Vouchers and Commitments and Control Forms at the Accountant General’s Department. 

The words ”financial management” appear in 2018 and 2017 Auditor General Reports a total of 76 times, underscoring its importance to government operations. In the last eight years, Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Reports said that the government’s PFM was ”weak.” Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) rarely adhered to the recommendations made in the annual audit. Each year they made the same mistakes, further eroding public and donor trust in state institutions.

According to the Audit Service, Sierra Leone will improve its PFM when it makes “value-for-money” investments, and implements “sound systems and processes for internal control, and asset management.”

Furthermore, donor partners place a high premium on PFM for effective and sustainable economic management and public service delivery.

Before the adoption of EEMS, the Ministry of Finance and DSTI trained all ICT and finance personnel from across all of the government on the use of the EEMS tool, all the budget officers, senior budget officers and budget directors, all the Permanent Secretaries, all the Ministers, and the Deputy Ministers.  Additionally, the DSTI team developed a User Manual, Instruction Video, and a Standard Operating Procedure with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice.

“The system allows for tracking, which is the one major constraint public servants at MDAs face when making budget requests, ” said Bineta Diop, Business Analyst, DSTI Sierra Leone.

”The EEMS that we have developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance tracks where the PETS forms are at every stage of the approval process. We will know when a budget request has been reviewed and where the form is at any given time in the approval system.” 

The EEMS which automates the generation, submission, and processing of PETS forms, Vouchers and Commitment and Control forms is one part of the National Financial Data Architecture project  at DSTI. 

“In the past, MDAs have made PETS requests that disappeared. This means that critical project funds could not be allocated in time, ” said Anthony Maada Sallieu, Budget Officer, Budget Bureau, Ministry of Finance.  

”With this new electronically generated form, there will be no more lost PETS. It will be easy to keep track of them, and we will save time. This system also creates more accountability.”

The electronic payment and expense systems were developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance Finance, National Telecommunications Commission, Ministry of Works (including the Sierra Leone Roads Authority), Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Accountant General’s Department and the Ministry of Information and Communication. 

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DSTI and UNDP team up to accelerate Sierra Leone’s national innovation strategy with artificial intelligence and evidence-based approaches

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  to continue collaboration on applied artificial intelligence for governance, entrepreneurship, and social good.

The MoU signed in Freetown last week provides a framework of cooperation and collaboration for both institutions to contribute to the successful implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS), especially in areas of common interest. 

In October 2019, the UNDP Country Lab also known as the Accelerator Lab for Sierra Leone was launched to examine and explore emerging untapped resources to speedup national SDG performance. The UNDP Accelerator Labs are a network of 60 labs serving 78 countries with the collective aim of finding new evidence-based approaches to problem-solving with the use of artificial intelligence, testing, mapping, and experimentation

“DSTI and UNDP have been engaging since Day 1. However, this particular agreement focuses on how we can continue to make significant inroads in the implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh.

“When the government and partners collaborate, we can identify specific areas of application to accelerate Sierra Leone’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The leadership of both institutions and the technical staff are already working in this vein.”

Although the MOU makes the collaboration official, joint efforts by DSTI and UNDP were already underway as of last year that led to the delivery of a successful national UNDP Social Good Summit, and mapping of the local technology and entrepreneurship ecosystems.

“This MOU signing symbolizes UNDP’s commitment to the philosophy of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy and is a tangible evidence of our organization’s readiness to undertake the 10-year journey in partnership with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Dr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Resident Representative.

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. Since its inception, DSTI has built partnerships with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, and UNICEF Sierra Leone.

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DSTI Policy Brief: A Spatial and Temporal Assessment of Cases Reported at Local Courts in Sierra Leone Between 2009 and 2018

This DSTI policy brief addresses biases that may result from variation in access to the local courts by geo-spatially mapping all local court locations to determine if they are optimally located and whether the distribution gave most people the chance to access them. We also collected information on the cost of accessing each of these courts from the record books, and the length of time to resolve cases in these courts (recall information from court clerks). Acknowledgement Note: This is research was funded by the International Growth Center (IGC) in collaboration with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation. Lead Researcher: Henry Musa Kpaka – DSTI Fellow.

Download the brief here

Blog

Sierra Leone designs online portal to take long wait out of teacher recruitment

A new teacher recruitment portal developed at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) will make it easier and faster for education administrators to hire teachers, and allocate teachers to classrooms. The Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) upgrades Sierra Leone’s paper-based teacher recruitment processes, including application, approval, and allocation system.

“We created this digital one-stop-shop Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) to help streamline how schools receive the teaching staff they need,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

The portal decentralizes the teacher recruitment process giving teachers and administrators access to resources for professional development, grant information, school data, and education best practice research and the latest education policies developed by the government of Sierra Leone. It also limits clerical or eligibility errors in the application process which often can be hard to detect thereby improving efficiency.

“Before, if you wanted to hire teachers, each application needed to be reviewed and signed manually by several people. A physical paper application had to be moved across the country between three different agencies. Five copies of each application were signed by both the Minister and Chair of the Teaching Service Commission. This process can often take more than six months. Many applications have been destroyed and lost in past years, leaving thousands of applicants waiting in vain for decisions that will never come,” said Dr. Sengeh.

With TAAAP, teachers can find and apply for jobs online, they can track the status of their applications, and the school administrators can see where there is a need for more teachers and make the necessary allocations. School administrators can post public job openings for all to apply to, and once reviewed and authorized, the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) can then approve the prospective hires automatically linking the records to other systems of the Ministry and TSC. Each listing is live for at least one month, and schools receive all approved hires for final selection.

The Ministry of Basic and SeniorSecondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission will adopt the portal in the implementation of Sierra Leone’s flagship Free Quality School Education Program over the next five years. Since 2018 the government of Sierra Leone has committed 21% of its annual budget to education spending to bolster human capital development. President Bio launched the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in November – a promise to leave no citizen behind, and a commitment to use digitization to improve the delivery of goods and services to citizens. The portal ensures that no prospective teacher applicant is left out of the recruitment process.

Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski demos TAAAP at State House – Freetown – December 2019

“We’re trying to increase transparency. Anyone that saw an application will be able to track its movement from one agency to the next. They can see who reviewed the application and who approved it. Applicants will also be able to see where their applications are at all times, whose dashboard it’s on, who has reviewed it already, and they can see when they’re going to get a response,” says Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski.

Trigos-Raczkowski, an MIT graduate with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, led the creation of the portal with other staff at DSTI and the Teaching Service Commission. Trigos-Raczkowski is a full-stack developer, interested in the intersection of social good and technology. As an intern at the Human Capital Development Incubator at DSTI, she worked with the team to develop the portal making it easier for citizens and decision-makers to track otherwise cumbersome recruitment processes.

“Each application leaves a digital footprint, and the portal shortens the process of teacher recruitment,” says Trigos-Raczkowski.

The portal allows for on-the-go tracking for everyone involved, high-scale authorization and authentication, and mobile-first access.

“There is a lot of back and forth and paperwork that takes up much of our time. Imagine having to sign 5000 applications from 5000 applicants each application with a total of five forms, making it 5000 times five; it’s just too much. But now, with this portal, we can take action to improve recruitment with the click of a button,” said Sorie I. Turay, Secretary, Teaching Service Commission.

Staff at Teaching Service Commission and MBSSE are testing the portal which will be made live to the public in 2020.

Blog

Drones for Good Corridor launched as drones take flight to deliver medicine to remote areas in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN; 29 November 2019 — Sierra Leone is a step closer to fast and efficient health care delivery of medical supplies, thanks to the drone corridor launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in Njala today.  

During the launch, test drones were launched from the 250m runway to demonstrate the capability of drones to travel in a 200km square airspace to deliver supplies to health centers, which have traditionally experienced delays due to distances and topography.    

This new way of service provision is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).

“It is time for Sierra Leone and other developing countries to take the lead in solving our developmental challenges, such as maternal mortality. My Government has prioritised technology and innovation as an essential part of our solutions package. Using fourth industrial revolution technologies to accelerate our development goals is not an option–it is the only way we can quickly and most efficiently address the huge problems existing for our people,” said President Bio.

Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate is 1,165 per 100,000 live births, which is one of the highest globally. According to the Ministry of Health & Sanitation National Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health Strategy 2017-2021, almost half (46%) of all maternal deaths are due to obstetric hemorrhage or blood loss.   

Women in remote rural communities like the Njala Kori Community Health Centre, which serves a population of 4000 residents, are at the most risk of maternal deaths and would therefore benefit from the speed and efficiency that drone technology will provide to the health sector. 

“The facilities to store blood are not widely available, so mothers die due to a lack of blood. Drones can be used to deliver this life-saving input at a cost and speed to make a real difference as we have seen in other parts of the world.” said Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative.

A drone corridor is a segregated area and airspace where drones and drone solutions can be tested for use to support different sectors in the country. With support from UNICEF Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Office of Innovations in New York, Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will explore using aerial drones for medical deliveries, emergency response activities, agroforestry, and geospatial mapping to start. The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Civil Aviation Authority and the DSTI, is working with partners to develop a regulatory framework for drones to take flight for health service delivery and other use cases for societal impact.

Over the past weeks, DSTI has held engagements with Njala University, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide the land for the corridor. Njala has committed 73 acres in total of its property to the corridor to support the drone ecosystem. Researchers and students will gain experience and new skills in drone technology as they work with DSTI and UNICEF to test use cases for drones in Sierra Leone. 

DSTI provided the technical leadership from the Government that fast tracked the construction of the corridor–their oversight will continue with the collection of data for research and decision making. 

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, said the partnership with UNICEF has made it possible for Sierra Leone to explore the use of drones for development.  He noted that DSTI and UNICEF would collect data on all drone deliveries beyond today’s test launch to gain insights to inform decision making in health service delivery for women and children. 

“Drone blood deliveries in Ghana and Rwanda are saving lives; we want to do the same,” he said.  “Sierra Leone and its partners are developing a national innovation ecosystem where problem solvers can test and scale solutions to improve health outcomes for all citizens.” 

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DSTI strengthens local tech ecosystem with data science seminar

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has just concluded a series of data science seminars on data collection, analysis, and visualization.

Fifty-five students, researchers, scientists, and professors participated in Dr. Vukosi Marivate’s lecture for professionals interested in data science at the University of Sierra Leone-Fourah Bay College, on 7 Nov 2019. Dr. Marivate conducted a similar workshop at Njala University- Njala Campus Bo, earlier in that same week.

Data science is the study of data – involving methods of recording, storing, and analyzing data. The science of data allows for insights from both structured and unstructured data. Dr. Vukosi said the training covered data science in general, with a specific focus on data visualization and natural language processing.

“I taught data visualization today because it is straightforward to look at data in a picture and understand what it represents,” said Dr. Marivate.

“Writing long paragraphs can be confusing to understand because it takes a lot to understand written words, but single pictures can carry a thousand words.”

Data scientists are people who simplify complex data problems with their expertise in mathematics, statistics, and computer science. The development of data processing techniques in Sierra Leone is critical for all. Iye Mary Brimah-Sallu, a health worker who attended the seminar, said it was meaningful for her work.

“I am going to use the content of the teaching for my profession as a health worker and see how I can expand my knowledge on the use of Technology in the healthcare system. There is a lot of unused health care data that is just waiting to be gathered, and I know I can be that person to collate and bring them to the notice of decision-makers,” said Brimah-Sallu.

DSTI’s mission is to help Sierra Leone become an innovation and entrepreneurial hub where data supports decisions made in business and government. Over the past 12 months the Directorate has held several workshops on machine learning, DNA sequencing, and scientific writing for academics, civil servants, youth and start-up leaders.

“For many years, the country has lacked the value and appreciation of data. It is high time we caught up with the rest of the world in the use of data to make decisions and to make sure the population is data literate,” said Jasper Sembi, Operations Lead, DSTI.

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DSTI and two engineers from Facebook host two-day hackathon for Sierra Leonean students

Abdoul-Kader Keita and Patrick Taylor, two West African developers at Facebook in consultation with the Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, held a two-day hands-on-learning hackathon at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation on Nov 9-10 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Hackathons are events in which programmers, designers, those involved in computer software development, and problem-solvers come together to solve problems with innovative ideas.
Before the hackathon could get underway, participants were taught the basics of data structures, algorithms, and modern web server development with python. Teaching was necessary because very few were able to complete the online test setup to measure participants’ programming skills.

The hackathon brought together 25 young people, including students from Limkokwing, Fourah Bay College, Njala University, and the University of Makeni–most of them first-time developers to solve the problem of student registration at universities. Every year during the first couple weeks of the new semester, thousands of students across Sierra Leone spend hours in queues waiting to register for classes. The hackathon tried to develop alternative ways to register to ease student strain.

Coding at DSTI

“More than one hundred software developers in Sierra Leone took the test, but only 12 were able to pass,” said Mahmoud Javombo, Ecosystem Manager at the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation. With a population of more than 7 million, that has just 25 developers means that more needs to be done to promote coding skills.

Those who gained entry to participate in the two-day workshop, and hackathon were able to develop the knowledge they needed but did not have to perform the functions required to attempt to solve the problem of registration.

“Technology is not complicated with the right guidance, right structures, everybody can make significant progress in a short time,” said Abdul Kader, an Ivorian software engineer at Facebook.

Mary Sia Konoyema, a third-year student of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, said she had learned a lot in these two days.

“I had done two programs, but I just did it out of obligation, but now I know a better way of doing things.”

She said she was introduced to APIs during the workshop, and she learned how to create and work using the API system.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In other words, an API is a messenger that delivers your request to the provider that you’re requesting it from and then responds to you.

Hackers at the student registration hackathon at DSTI – Nov 9, 2019

“Their output was great. We were amazed at the brilliance of students that they gave high-quality output in terms of their progression from day one to day two. This shows that a lot of them were able to pick up a new understanding of the new programming language,” said Kader.

The top 3 performers at the hackathon will intern with DSTI to work with software developers, data engineers, and scientists. The hackathon was the fifth held by DSTI in just 12 months. Hackathons and workshops are part of DSTI’s broader mission to create and transfer knowledge locally to strengthen the local ecosystems for technology and innovation.

Kader and Taylor will head over to Ivory Coast, where they’ll hold the same event for developers there in a bid to get local developers on the continent focused on problem-solving.

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