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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 (www.educationdatahub.dsti.gov.sl) 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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Sierra Leone introduces new e-Justice tool to improve rural courts system

June 17, 2019 –  Freetown, Sierra Leone: An e-Justice tool that uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) developed at The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) digitizes local courts and cases in Sierra Leone. E-Justice is the use of technology to improve transparency and efficiency for wider access to justice.

Developers at DSTI have created an integrated GIS platform that allows citizens and lawmakers to better understand national data on population, education, health, water, financial institutions, communication-related assets, and access to justice.

A prototype of the integrated GIS tool was used to visualize, and digitally map the geographic locations of  Sierra Leone’s local courts. Henry Musa Kpaka, Ph.D., London School of Economics (LSE), collected the geospatial court data while DSTI provided the technical and statistical support needed to analyze the data for policymaking. DSTI welcomes and encourages all researchers and academics to submit data that will enhance the GIS portal.

Geospatial mapping of Sierra Leone’s local courts system on the GIS Platform

Reviewing the geospatial data presented by the team, Professor David Francis, Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister, who hosted the meeting at State House said that improved access to justice and judicial reform would strengthen Sierra Leone’s democracy.

“H.E the President is committed to ensuring that our justice system is impartial and accessible to every Sierra Leonean, ” said Professor Francis.

”A justice sector that is transparent, coherent, robust and most importantly developed on the principle of dialogue amongst government, citizens, communities, justice delivery stakeholders and our development partners is what will best serve Sierra Leone.”

The geospatial mapping of the local courts is the first nationwide digitization of the geographic locations of 241 local courts in 149 chiefdoms over the past decade in rural Sierra Leone. Upon deployment of the GIS portal, citizens and policymakers will be able to log in to locate any court and to gain a better understanding of the nature and type of disputes at the provincial level. Although the local courts were established in 1963 to adjudicate over land and civil disagreements, there has been limited oversight of the courts by the Judiciary.

“In the past, we relied on data that was not initiated by the government,” said Dr. Priscilla Schwartz, Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.

The Attorney General said that while the local courts offer the nation’s most vulnerable access to justice, the Judiciary did not have the tools to explore the nature of dispute resolution on a national scale until now.

“Thanks to DSTI, we have credible government-owned data to assist with the digitization of Sierra Leone’s justice sector.”

Mr. Kpaka, a Ph.D. candidate at the LSE, explored several questions related to costs to access to the courts, distance to the courts, record keeping, legal capacity, efficiency, and cultural attitudes around dispute resolution. He found that across Sierra Leone, locals do not access justice through the courts because of mistrust.

“There are some places where there are court buildings, but when you go there they will say no this hasn’t been working for over five years,” said Kapka.

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in the Office of the President has a mission to use science, technology, and innovation to support the government’s National Development Plan. DSTI has been pioneering the use of state-of-the-art tools in service of its strategic pillar linked to data analytics for decision making. While scientists at DSTI have been the core of this transformative use of data analytics across government, they work closely with partners in and out of government.

“The GIS portal takes data like what we received from Mr. Kpaka, maps and visualizes it into an accessible format that can be used to inform policy,” said Glenna Wilson, Data Engineer, and GIS Portal Technical Lead at DSTI.

“We collect data from all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. Then we write the programs to analyze the data using tools like Python. Our ultimate goal is to provide the technology to allow everyone to access and understand  data to enable better decision-making from the central government to Sierra Leonean citizens at the last mile.”

Media Enquiries

DSTI Media:  +232 76 403103 / media@dsti.gov.sl

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