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50,000 citizens to gain industry-ready skills as Sierra Leone becomes the first African country to launch Coursera’s Workforce Recovery Initiative

With 60% of the world’s student population impacted by the temporary closing of schools and hundreds of millions of people left without employment due to the on-going socio-economic disruption of COVID-19, many industries including education are relying on digital technologies to curb transmission rates, mitigate the impact on student learning and enhance sectoral resilience. In Sierra Leone, for example, technology including, e-learning, radio, TV and SMS are being used to support remote learning in schools and universities.

There is a pressing need for students, at-risk or displaced industry professionals, and unemployed individuals to upskill, reskill and retool in order to gain a competitive edge or have the necessary skills required for roles in the workforce during and post-COVID. In recognition of this, DSTI in collaboration with the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and Coursera has launched nationally, the first African Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative!

The Sierra Leone Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative will offer learning and certification for Sierra Leoneans in over 3,800 courses and 400 specializations effectively supporting 50,000 Sierra Leoneans build on in-demand and industry-ready skills to accelerate workforce development over the next 6 months (July to December 2020).

Coursera is a leading online learning platform for higher education founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng with a vision of providing life-transforming learning experiences to anyone, anywhere. It is now the world’s largest online learning platform with 65 million learners in nearly every county. In light of COVID-19, Coursera launched the Workforce Recovery Initiative to help governments worldwide provide their workforces with free access to 3,800 online courses. The initiative supports governments to help impacted workers and unemployed citizens to reskill and up-skill to regain employment. 

“The pandemic has affected hundreds of millions of jobs around the world, including the livelihoods of many youths in Sierra Leone, Coursera is honoured to partner with the Government of Sierra Leone and the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to provide young workers in the country with job-relevant online learning to swiftly enter the workforce”. Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera.

In the last 4 days since the initiative was launched nationally on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020,  over 2,000 Sierra Leoneans have registered and clocked in 1,664 learning hours to pursue professional certifications in Google IT Automation with Python, web development, data science cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, accounting, AI etc. 

During the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation webinar convened by the UN Secretary-General in June 2020, the Government of Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, David Moinina Sengeh, highlighted that there has been an increase in internet usage in Sierra Leone in the last one year. Increased internet penetration (8.1% to 25%) during this period demonstrates Sierra Leone’s willingness to adapt to new technologies, digitisation and innovation, and means many more Sierra Leoneans will benefit from this initiative.

While President Bio’s administration continues to support individuals and businesses across all industries during COVID, it is also working on incentivizing more people to apply and gain the necessary skill sets that will make them ready to work in an economy that is increasingly digitally dependent on 21st-century problem-solving skills. To join the programme register online here:  https://www.dsti.gov.sl/coursera/

Blog

“Drones in Salone” Weekly Webinar kicks-off on May 15 – Join the Conversation!

DSTI will host a weekly webinar to examine the use of drones before, during, and after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sierra Leone has the only national drone corridor in West Africa, the second on the continent after Malawi.  The “Drones in Salone” webinar is a platform for  policymakers, regulators and private sector drone experts to discuss emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities and benefits in the local drone ecosystem. 

Drone enthusiasts, innovators, media and the general public  are invited to participate in the panel discussion every Friday starting May 15, 2:00 PM GMT via Zoom.

The theme for the first-panel discussion is “The Role of Drones in the Covid-19 Response”. Speakers include; Edmond Nonie, UNICEF; David Manley, DSTI; Koinguma Baimba, Flying Labs Sierra Leone; James Houghton, Crown Agents Sierra Leone; Samuel Nonie, TYB Holdings; and Michael Duff, Drone Video Journalist.

The UNICEF backed Drone Corridor was launched in December 2019 by H.E. Julius Maada Bio, a demonstration of Sierra Leone’s high-level commitment to technology and innovation. Since the launch of the corridor,  drones have been used for medical delivery and most recently for surveillance during the government-mandated lock down to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Next week the “Drones in Salone” Webinar will take place on May 22, at 2:00 PM with guests including; Minister and Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, and representatives from the World Bank Sierra Leone and the World Economic Forum. Visit @DSTISierraLeone on Facebook and Twitter for weekly updates.

Blog

Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 lock down and curfew E-Pass for essential travel is here

Over 1000 paper applications were submitted to the Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center (EOC) during a 72-hour lockdown in early April. When additional interdistrict travel restrictions were put in place, the manual process required additional manpower and time. The Government has now announced an indefinite extension on the lockdown and curfew to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed 4 Sierra Leoneans this week. 

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), and Niche Solutions created the Electronic Pass (E-PASS) Management System (http://www.epass.eoc.gov.sl) as part of an integrated ICT response to COVID-19. The electronic issuance of passes will now make it easier and faster for the EOC to process requests and authorize the movement of essential goods, and service providers during the COVID lockdown and curfew in a transparent and auditable process.  

“We are mobilizing tech resources from within our existing ecosystem to provide government and citizens with the tools they need to stop the spread of the pandemic while mitigating the impact on essential services,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

“The public should continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly, and respect all government measures put in place to flatten the curve. In order to support the fight against COVID-19, the E-Pass would only be issued to individuals and organizations who offer essential services and functions that are necessary, during this pandemic.”

Essential services include goods and other supplies that Sierra Leoneans need to survive, such as medical supplies, food, public works (electricity, and water), telecommunications, and gasoline. Essential workers are the personnel needed to maintain essential services such as health care workers, security personnel, social and emergency relief. 

A consortium of public and private technology experts will continue to develop tools that would enhance and strengthen existing systems to support the government efforts in response to COVID-19. Niche Technologies is the lead private sector partner on the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass. Niche’s Chief Executive Officer was a former Director of Planning and Strategy in Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center. He brings his crisis response experience and technical expertise to the forefront.

Mahmoud Idriss, CEO, Niche Technologies in Sierra Leone

“One of the most notable differences  that I see this time around is that the ICT response has been swift and efficient. When we came in as non-state actors, everyone knew their expected deliverables and we helped put the wheel in motion,” said Mahmoud Idriss, CEO Niche Technologies.

“It is not uncommon for the Government to have many partners around the table trying to get the same thing done. The problem is how quickly you can get everyone to agree on what they’re supposed to do. The leadership at DSTI has been effective in removing the hurdles and the bottlenecks that could have slowed down the tech response.”

The E-Pass is but one of many tech solutions currently in the works.  A COVID-19 Mobile Self-Check and Update tool that was launched earlier this month has over 250,000 USSD responses since its launch.

All E-Pass applications will be processed within 12 hours of submission but within 6 hours for emergency requests. An SMS will be sent to confirm or reject an approval. Applicants would also be informed if applications require further review.  E-Passes can only be used by the individual or vehicle whose name and registration number appear on the pass. Security officials at inter-district and other checkpoints would carry out verifications using USSD and other mobile solutions- the mobile phones used are donated by the two leading telecommunication companies in the country.

DSTI will continue to engage with partners in the public and private sectors to deploy innovative solutions that will improve and enhance the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response efforts.

To make inquiries call the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass Toll Number +232-55-117117. For all health emergencies, please call the 117 National Emergency Helpline.

Blog

DSTI and Dimagi partner to create cutting edge tech solutions for COVID 19 Response

As Sierra Leone scales up its national response to COVID-19, the Directorate of Science Technology and Innovation (DSTI) has announced that it will develop digital solutions with local and global partners to support frontline workers. 

The first of these collaborations will be between DSTI and Dimagi, Inc. – creators of CommCare, a powerful mobile data collection and service delivery platform. DSTI and Dimagi will develop digital solutions for contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the distribution of public health messages for community education.

“The contagious nature of COVID-19 means that technology has a crucial role to play in breaking the chain of transmission. Furthermore, governments can use technology to remove redundant and inefficient processes to strengthen the wider healthcare system. DSTI is working on a host of other digital solutions and partnerships to support Sierra Leone’s efforts, including the use of USSD for communications with citizens,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI.

Sierra Leone currently has zero reported cases due to swift emergency measures put in place by President Julius Maada Bio. However, the government will continue to increase its preparedness by leveraging mobile technology for social impact. During the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, Sierra Leone used mobile money to disburse payments to frontline health workers nationwide, and a Public Health National Emergency 117 Call Centre served as a tool to document, track and provide follow-up on suspected EVD cases and deaths.

Using lessons learned from the Ebola response, DSTI and Dimagi will create a joint team to support the ongoing rapid development of a contact tracing mobile application specifically for COVID-19. This solution will decentralize contact tracing, and increase efficiency in resource mobilization, information dissemination, and comprehensive data collection. 

“As we saw during the previous Ebola outbreak in West Africa, digital technology can play a critical role in improving the impact of the outbreak response. Through this partnership with DSTI, we will leverage leading best practices in developing critical technology to rapidly respond to and curtail the impact of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO, Dimagi. 

This latest partnership with Dimagi along with others including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, UNICEF Sierra Leone, and UNDP underscores DSTI’s commitment to strengthen the local ecosystem for technology and innovation in collaboration with local and global leaders. 

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