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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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DSTI signs MoU with Purposeful Organisation to bring innovation to grassroots programs for girls 

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and Purposeful have signed an agreement that will support the latter’s work to deliver data-driven girl-centered development programs.  

The Memorandum of Understanding signed at State House last week allows the two institutions to collaborate for Sierra Leone’s achievement of SDG 5–gender equality of all women and girls. 

Purposeful mobilizes resources to support grassroots organizations and movements that amplify girls’ voices and challenge the structures that hamper girls’ achievement in Sierra Leone.

“This unique partnership will yield multiple innovative solutions for the girls of Sierra Leone and for the country as a whole, ” said Ms. Michealla George, Policy Lead, and Acting Director, DSTI.

Through this MoU, the Directorate will share data on issues affecting the human capital development of girls available through its IGIS Portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) and the Education Data Hub (www.educationdatahub.dsti.gov.sl) that Purposeful will use to inform service delivery and program design. 

“It gives us and our partners the opportunity to access and use the most up to date, customised data for our strategic and programme decisions,” said Chernor Bah, CEO of Purposeful.

“We will innovate the way work and how to measure the impact of our work as we press for progress for girls inSierra Leone.”

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in the public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. 

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DSTI Sierra Leone’s Integrated GIS Portal launched at NIDS wins $773,000 grant from the Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $773,476 grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to develop an Integrated GIS Portal that will utilize technology, software and devices to collect, label and model data to inform real-time government and development partner decision making. The grant will also seek to strengthen the local ecosystem around human capacity development. This grant for expanding the GIS Portal is in addition to the support already provided by the Foundation to Sierra Leone’s Innovation in Government Human Capacity Development Incubator launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in December 2018 at GoalKeepers South Africa. 

 “This generous support provided by the Bill & Melinda Foundation will enable DSTI to use low-cost technology solutions like SMS, USSD, interactive voice response, and mobile Apps to provide citizens with real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

 “We will further be able to collect and analyze data that will be provided to government service providers to optimize and improve their services both for supply chain and resource allocation.”

The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS) Portal 1.0 (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl) is a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase. The portal links diverse geographic information datasets from the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its partners. It supports GoSL in implementing policies and interventions towards the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals. H.E. President Bio has prioritized Human Capital Development as a central focus for Sierra Leone (SDG Goals 2, 3, 4 representing Food Security, Healthcare, and Quality Education, respectively). The iGIS portal, designed and implemented by DSTI in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone, brings together the data to support this national and Presidential vision. 

“The Foundation’s support will serve as the seed funding for the scaling of the Integrated GIS Portal and will support the collection of critical data and develop analyses to promote health, agriculture, environmental, and education outcomes,” said Glenna Wilson, Data Engineer, and GIS Portal Project Lead.

“By the project’s completion, the government will have the evidence to efficiently target HCD investment resources towards the most impactful interventions and to effectively coordinate investments by government, development partners, NGOs, and the private sector.”

In August 2018, Dr. Sengeh met with Bill Gates as they discussed issues on the intersections of technology and global health service delivery in the lead up to the second edition of Goalkeepers. A month later, President Bio joined the two innovators at Goalkeepers in New York, where he shared his bold vision to set Sierra Leone in the right direction with a focus on human capital development. 

At the launch of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown two weeks ago, President Bio thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their continued support of technology for development in Sierra Leone.

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Dr. Moinina David Sengeh is now Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic & Senior Secondary Education, and Chief Innovation Officer

“We the citizens – the designers, scientists, artists, and civic leaders – are the problem-solvers who will transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous innovation nation.”

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) announces that Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Moinina David Sengeh has been appointed by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio to lead the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE). 

Dr. Sengeh will serve as Chief Innovation Officer and Minister of MBSSE concurrently.

DSTI remains ever committed to its mission to use science, and technology to support the effective and efficient delivery of Sierra Leone’s national development plan. We would like to use this opportunity to encourage citizens to continue to SMS to *468# (*GOV#) to find and locate services nearest to them. Feedback on this service primarily for every citizen could be sent to info@dsti.gov.sl

Our team of data scientists, policy analysts, and technology enthusiasts will continue their work on the education datahub (http://education.dsti.gov.sl), the GIS portal (www.gis.dsti.gov.sl), the USSD project (*468#), and digital governance.

Dr. Sengeh, as Minister, and Chief Innovation Officer will continue to provide technical leadership and stewardship to DSTI. His appointment strengthens the already great existing working relationship between MBSSE and DSTI as the two institutions innovate to put quality into education.

DSTI will continue it’s work to support MDAs with technology and data for decision making as the Government aspires to make Sierra Leone into an innovation hub.

Blog

No citizen left behind – Sierra Leone develops a smart new direction towards innovation

FREETOWN – Sierra Leone’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has unveiled a national vision to digitize the way the government manages its resources and how citizens receive services.

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh , chief innovation officer checks the 3D printer on stage for the launch of Sierra Leone’s National Innovation and Digital Strategy – 1 November 2019 at Bintumani Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.

President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the National Digital and Innovation Strategy (NIDS) in Freetown on Friday, 1 November. He hopes it will boost and quicken Sierra Leone’s human capital development.

DSTI, which celebrated its first anniversary this week, is the agency that provided the technical know-how for Sierra Leone’s plan to go from analog to digital over the next 3 to 10 years. The foundation for digitization under NIDS comes after eight months of consultation with government and civil society leaders, donors, international actors, and citizens. A delegation from Sierra Leone also took a learning tour to Estonia-recognized global leaders for state-led digitization and e-governance. 

“What I have learned in engagement with innovators, and technologists from MIT, TED and here within Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is that if we are open to exploring new ideas, and innovatively doing things, we not only gain a better understanding of our development challenges but we also solve the problems affecting our people,” said President Bio. 

Sierra Leone has a population of 7 million, with 57% living in poverty. Out of 188 countries, it is ranked 184 on the United Nations 2018 Human Development Index. Other countries with the same GDP per capita rank better on the HCD Index. The country’s medium-term development plan notes that public service delivery does not meet the population’s basic needs for developing human capital. 

Over 55% of households in Sierra Leone own a mobile phone, and it is this fact that makes digitization plausible. Citizens can already access a DSTI Integrated Geographical Information System (iGIS) to retrieve information about public service infrastructure. With the iGIS Portal, citizens can use Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to send an SMS to the shortcode *468# to locate government services-‘find my nearest school,’ ‘hospital,’ or ‘local court,’ saving time and in cases of emergency facilitating life-saving interventions.

Sierra Leone is embracing digitization so that no citizen gets left behind. It hopes to have every national own a digital ID. All government employees, ministries, departments and agencies, and national assets will also be digitized. Banking and financial services will also be digitized-the latter already underway as of August when Sierra Leone became the first country to deploy blockchain digital ID platform to make financial services accessible to the unbanked. 

With NIDS, the government will better understand when, how, and where to provide services, and more importantly, which services will deliver the most impact towards the HCD. 

For the vision to become a reality, the government’s leaders must embrace the change, said the Chief Innovation Officer. 

One government agency already leading the way is Statistics SL – the agency that collects, stores, and analyzes demographic data to inform decision making. NIDS enables researchers at Stats to launch a Comprehensive Health and Epidemiological Surveillance System (CHESS)-a longitudinal study that will follow participants throughout their life. CHESS relies on e-ID to link data from health facilities to community-level information.

“We struggled to create the electronic identification system in other countries like Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, India and Vietnam where we implemented CHESS for research,” said 

Sierra Leone’s Statistician-General, Professor Mallam O. Sankoh, a global expert on development research and data for decision making.

Sierra Leone’s government aims to be fully underway on its digitization journey by 2023. Over five million citizens already have a digital ID that unlocks with their thumbprint. DSTI has developed a fleet management system that tracks and manages government vehicles to stop the kind of loss that occurred in 2018 when thousands of cars belonging to the state went missing.

25-year-old Jane Williams from Cole Farm, who works at a local media company, said that to her digitization matters because of accountability.

“This will also give citizens peace of mind knowing we can use digital data to monitor officials in terms of corruption,” said Williams at Bintumani Conference Centre after the launch of NIDS.

“Sierra Leone doesn’t lead in many things, but today with DSTI and the launch of NIDS, we can say we lead with technology for development.”

Blog

National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) launch is Friday 1 Nov 2019

The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation would like to inform all invitees to the launch of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy that the date has changed.

The President of Sierra Leone will launch NIDS on Friday, 1 Nov., 2019 at 8 a.m. at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Aberdeen.

Please ignore contact information on previous invitation as there was a misprint. To RSVP please contact 076 190 990 or 076 206 252 or email zainab.brima@dsti.gov.sl.

Guests and dignitaries are kindly encouraged to bring their invitations along. Each invite admits one.

The Directorate regrets any and all inconveniences caused by the misprint and change of date.

Blog

Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation marks first anniversary – #DSTIatONE

FREETOWN — The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is celebrating its first anniversary today.

On October 29th, 2018, President Julius Maada Bio officially launched the nation’s first and only agency primarily focused on science, technology and innovation. DSTI’s mission is to harness the power of technology for good – use big data, computer science, and design to bolster development for Sierra Leone’s 7 million citizens. 

“My strategic vision is developed around questions. Can we plan our economy for long term sustainable growth by deploying innovation? Can we collect reliable data over time that we can use to our advantage in economic planning in the delivery of government services?” 

These were some of the questions posed by President Bio last year, that drives the scientific research and experiments at DSTI led by Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, chief innovation officer, of Sierra Leone. His team of over 20 scientists, researchers, and technical policy experts drive the President’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation.

DSTI has deployed numerous cutting edge solutions.  Most noteworthy amongst these are the GoSL Integrated GIS Platform, the Free Quality Education Data Hub, and ePets, which is part of a larger national financial data services mapping platform to integrate and track government spending. 

While its key function is to support Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), as well as the local tech and innovation ecosystem, DSTI has developed relationships with leading institutions for technology and research globally. DSTI international partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UNICEF Innovations, TED, eGovernance Academy of Estonia, Kiva, Tony Blair Institute, and the World Bank

On October 31, 2019, the Directorate will launch the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS), which is Sierra Leone’s framework for using technology and science to accelerate national development. 

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Sierra Leone invests $1.5 million to bring education innovation to schools for better learning outcomes

A national education dashboard released last month by Sierra Leone’s agency for technology and innovation and the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) showed that schools and students across the country are failing in national exams. To roll back this trend, the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation with support from donor partners are investing $1.5 million into an Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) that will impact 170 schools in all but one district. 

The national exam pass rate for all students is 55%. Two-thirds of students pass at the primary level, but by the time they take the national school-leaving exam at the senior secondary level less than a third pass. More years in school does not result in more learning. 

The World Bank’s 2018-Learning to Realize Education’s Promise reports that “125 million children across the world are not acquiring functional literacy or numeracy, even after spending at least four years in school.” Sierra Leone’s children match this statistic. The latest early grade math and reading assessment results for students in primary class 2 and class 4 show that students are not learning. 

Precisely, it is estimated that 97% of students in class 2 in Sierra Leone, don’t know how to read according to the most current Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) done in 2014. The EGRA is an individually administered oral assessment of the most basic foundation skills for literacy acquisition in early grades, while the Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) measures numeracy. Sixty percent of students still score zero on the same EGRA reading comprehension test in class 4. Early math learning outcomes are just as poor. Only 10% of grade 2 students and 30% of grade 4 students can do basic subtraction.

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 this year, is where the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) comes in. The EIC is under the technical supervision of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation’s Human Capital Development Incubator. Its primary aim is to find new ways to improve learning outcomes at primary schools. 

Five organizations in the education sector were chosen through a competitive process out of 20 to implement their innovative approaches.

Save the Children-Sierra Leone, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision, will trial their interventions in 170 schools randomly selected across all regions for the 2019-2020 school year. The Education Innovation Challenge is being supported with over $1,5 million of external funding in the first year. The Government of Sierra Leone through MBSSE is providing critical support to the service providers.

“We put out a call for innovative ideas in education under the Education Innovation Challenge,” said Aissatou Bah, Head of Global Partnerships, DSTI. She explained the selection process to education stakeholders at the Northern Region Education Innovation Challenge workshop held in Makeni, Bombali District, in the Northern Province last Thursday. Similar engagements were held in the Eastern and Southern Provinces and the Western Area that brought together all Head Teachers, District Directors of Education, and other staff in one room.

“The five winners of the challenge will run concurrent nationwide experiments in every district except for Falaba due to logistic reasons. We believe that our partners selected through the EIC will help us find solutions to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes in the 170 selected schools.” 

The first phase of the EIC in this pilot edition is with 170 schools. These schools were chosen using the data from the Annual School Census of MBSSE. Data and policy experts at the HCD Incubator, MBSSE and DSTI will continue to provide technical leadership in support of the EIC. An external assessment will be done at the end of this academic year in addition to a baseline assessment to evaluate impact. The results will inform the design of Phase II, a broader 2-year pilot that will run nationwide from 2020 – 2022. The results of the pilot will be used to inform a national scale-up of successful approaches from the EIC. 

Human capital development is the cornerstone of President Bio’s New Direction for Sierra Leone. He promised that education must not only be free, but it must be of a high standard of quality. The Human Capital Development Incubator launched by President Bio in December 2018 at Global Citizen in South Africa promotes innovation in government.

“The incubator is a unique initiative that will bring together the private sector, academia, and government agencies. Partners will share data, build models, develop hypotheses, and test pilot projects to inform government investments in human capital,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“Sierra Leoneans will feel the increased benefits of innovation in their lives.” 

Blog

Sierra Leone to launch bold new digitization strategy

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh has announced that Sierra Leone will launch a National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) at Bintumani Conference Centre at Aberdeen on Thursday, 31 October 2019. 

The  Chief Innovation Officer shared this news with stakeholders from various Ministries Department and Agencies, private sector partners, Academic Institutions, NGOs, and donor partners who met to review and make contributions to the NIDS document at State House yesterday. 

When the National Innovation and Digital Strategy is launched next week, it will provide the framework, plan, and policy recommendations for the adoption of digital technology for national development. NIDS was developed over the past 18 months by the citizens and the Government of Sierra Leone in collaboration with relevant policy, technology, and research institutions in the public and private sectors. 

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Njala University Joseph Sherman Kamara, said the NIDS would uplift Sierra Leone’s development and help institutions like Njala tap into the benefits of digitization for education.

“For our institution, the strategy means that we now have a national framework document that guides our work to prepare students for the emerging job market,” said Dr. Kamara.

Also present at the meeting were representatives from private financial institutions and telecommunications providers. The General Secretary at Orange Sierra Leone, Haffie Haffner, said the NIDS aligns with the telecommunications industry’s drive to improve connectivity. 

“We launched the digital revolution because we believed right back then that digitization is the way forward to the development of the country,” said Ms. Haffner.

DSTI held the meeting to gain from the knowledge and experience of key partners in the innovation technology ecosystem. The success of NIDS depends mainly on collaboration and inclusiveness. In preparation for the development of NIDS, DSTI and several GoSL leaders traveled to Estonia to learn from the Estonia Governance Academy; DSTI staff went to all 16 districts in Sierra Leone with the National Commission for Children engaging with children on topics of robotics and innovation; and worked with international partners in developing leading-edge policies like Child Rights and AI Ethics with UNICEF

“We want everyone here to take ownership of NIDS, it is only then that we can use technology to deliver on Sierra Leone’s national development plan,” said Dr. Sengeh.


Blog

Register to attend Sierra Leone’s first ‘Big Data’ Seminar with University of Pretoria’s Dr. Vukosi Marivate

Dr. Vukosi Marivate
University of Pretoria

Dr. Vukosi Marivate an expert in machine learning and data science will lead a seminar on “Applied Data Science and Machine Learning” at the University of Sierra Leone, Fourah Bay College on 7 November 2019 for data analysts, university faculty, graduate students, and academic and non-academic researchers.

This is a one-day data science workshop to train policymakers and data experts on new cutting edge tools and data analysis algorithms with a focus on big data.

The seminar will include lectures, interactive demonstrations, hands-on exercises, and discussions covering topics including:

  • Data Science
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Visualizations for Data Science
  • Machine Learning

Eligibility criteria:

  1. Data analysts, university faculty, graduate students, or other academic and non-academic researchers can apply
  2. Applicants must be proficient in reading, listening, speaking and writing in English. 
  3. Applications must be submitted here before the deadline: October 25th, 2019, 12:00pm GMT.

Each participant must come with a laptop to ensure active participation in the exercises and, if possible, come along with data sets to work on.

The seminar is organized by the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation.

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