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Government Incubator Education Innovation Summit highlights lessons from national pilot program

Learning by experimentation was the theme at the Education Innovation Summit hosted by the Human Capital Development (HCD) Incubator in Freetown, Sierra Leone last week. President Julius Maada Bio launched the HCD in 2018 as an Innovation in Government Incubator to test, seed, and scale innovations related to health, agriculture, and education.

The Incubator hosted education partners, Save the Children-SL, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision SL to exchange ideas, best practices, and innovations in education service delivery. Their winning ideas are currently being implemented in 170 schools and communities in Phase One of the Education Innovation Challenge

The leaderships of the Directorate of Science, Technology, & Innovation, the Ministry of Basic Senior Secondary School Education (MBSSE), and the Teaching Service Commission jointly co-chaired the event.

The Minister of MBSSE, Dr. David Sengeh, said that access to quality education in Sierra Leone has always been unequal; rural communities have had less than the Western Areas, and girls and women less than their male counterparts. He said that making education inclusive was a guiding principle for the Free Quality School Education Program. He also announced that the Education Innovation Challenge was to receive additional donor funding that would extend the pilot phase. 

Dr. Staneala Beckley

The Chairperson of the Teaching Service Commission, Dr. Staneala Beckley, said that the Summit’s purpose was to assess the pilot’s impact on learning outcomes for children. She said that the challenges and lessons gleaned from this phase would inform the pilot. 

Two representatives from the HCD and DSTI; Benjamin Davies and Foday N. Kamara, presented the EIC baseline findings—data collected from a random sample of ~10,000 students whose literacy and numeracy levels were evaluated by researchers before the pilot.

Wilsona Jalloh of the HCD Incubator gave a summary of The Challenge so far and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to data collection. She said that the findings drive decision-making—not just the pilot design but education policy. The pilot’s singular focus is to improve learning outcomes for all of the children in Sierra Leone. The HCD will conduct an end-line study and review the 2020 National Primary School Examination results to learn more about the interventions’ impact. 

There was a breakout session for the various EIC implementing organizations. They brainstormed in smaller groups with DSTI, HCD, and other education stakeholders to understand what worked, the challenges, and outstanding questions. 

The EIC Summit closed with a recommitment of Government to the partners who will continue these innovations in education service delivery.

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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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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 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.” 

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