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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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Government is big; but it is small enough for one to have real impact built on vision and values

When you think about government and working for the government, what do you imagine? 

Two years ago, a word cloud of my perceptions read something like this: Governance, Politics, Opaque Systems, Policy, Regulations. At the time, I had just been offered (after a competitive process) the opportunity to work for the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). While I had spent the majority of my career in the public sector, I had never worked directly in government (and definitely not close to an Office of the President) and had no idea what this pivot might mean. At the time of the offer, I had built a career and identity focused on studying, deconstructing and organizing against systemic power dynamics in the international development space; designing, running and facilitating adolescent girls programs and movements globally. I am a lawyer but I saw myself as metaphorical David, the small and powerful antidote to Goliath and his excesses.

Substituting the government for Goliath in my imagination and experiences, I struggled with this cognitive gap and had difficulty imagining how I would fit in and what value I would bring. Nonetheless, I was deeply inspired and compelled by H.E. President Bio’s desire to center science and evidence in his government’s decision making and by Dr. David Sengeh’s vision and values for DSTI. I saw the magic and wanted to be part of it. I wanted to help build and resource it. I stood a chance, I thought, to broaden my experience, lending it more grit and a more balanced perspective, deepen my humility and desire to serve as I heard that working in government can be a thankless job. At the very least, I would update my word cloud and perspective on government. 

Turns out, I could not have chosen a better landing and transition into government. Whereas I expected big government and the attendant bureaucracies and inefficiencies, DSTI was an enabling oasis that allowed my colleagues and I the privilege of exercising unbounded intellectual and creative freedoms in effectively crafting our mission, our team and work environment. Under those conditions, we set out “to use science, technology and innovation to support the Government of Sierra Leone to deliver on its national development plan effectively and efficiently; and to help transform Sierra Leone into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub”. We would aim to build a culture that was rooted in the ethos of collaboration, openness, agility and one that focused on the future, problem-solving and humility to unlearn and learn with and from others. We curated a team and environment where young people (in my late thirties, I am one of the oldest staffers at DSTI) and women were not just equally numbered but equally voiced. DSTI is arguably the most gender equal institution in government I am aware of. For me, this is a high note not only because this outcome was consistent with my feminist values, but our approach to recruitment I believe guaranteed that we were able to curate the best and most capable team to deliver our mission in government.

DSTIWomen

I have worked with brilliant and thoughtful men at DSTI without a doubt, however, it is the young women at DSTI whom I have been privileged to collaborate with, to champion and work with that give me the most hope for our country and its future. In those DSTIWomen, I saw and experienced compassion, empathy, drive, humility, honesty, wisdom and brilliance, all qualities that we desperately need at the top of our government structures. The freedoms that allowed us to act were underwritten by a few factors which were enabling in ways I cannot overstate: the start-up nature of DSTI, the complete endorsement of the executive, and the appointment of solid leadership to DSTI with crystal clear vision. Why at the end of the day do all of these matter when experience in and of the larger government remains different? 

I believe that DSTI and what we have built at DSTI matters not as an aberration in the matrix but as a demonstration of what is possible and beyond within our ecosystem. It is an example of what is possible when we imagine different, when Goliath cedes power, when we have leaders who are driven by values, evidence and empathy.  

As if that wasn’t all enough, I also had the chance to move and influence several systems shifting initiatives while at DSTI- something not often imagined possible in government systems. I did this at a level I could only have dreamt of in my previous roles. Coming from the NGO space, I am attuned to the fact that many best in class ideas from the field never break through the project cocoon to replicate and embed in more scalable and sustainable structures. Government can be the north star for scale and sustainability so in my work I had always eyed and appreciated the possibilities and benefits that could come out of innovating alongside government. I just never thought I would be innovating from within government with the necessary mandate to collaborate, convene, influence and actually witness how my work actively molds and shapes government programs and policy that have direct impact on society. Just last year, a team I led at DSTI, in close collaboration with Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), Teaching Service Commission (TSC), the Tony Blair Institute and other senior government advisors, launched (through the Human Capital Incubator) its first Education Innovation Challenge– a US$1.5M initiative.

Leveraging the Free Quality School Education Programme launched by the central government, the Education Innovation Challenge is designed to support quality education outcomes in Sierra Leone by working with education service providers to test innovations aimed at radically boosting learning outcomes from Sierra Leonean children at the primary school level. This programme was designed with a learning objective (DSTI was involved in design and implementation to the extent that we were interested in creating a solutions ecosystem with MBSSE) and with an end goal and transition plan to MBSSE, the government body with the education mandate. This means as I now plan my move away from DSTI, the first  Education Innovation Challenge has also grown and entered its next phase. Earlier this year, we brokered a partnership with the Education Outcomes Fund to scale the experiment to a pilot which will find a new implementation home within the MBSSE with significant financial commitments from government and other partners.The speed and efficiency of this adoption is remarkable and I deeply appreciate that it would not have been as seamless working from outside government.

I also anchored GoSL’s relationship with the Digital Public Goods Alliance, where the Republic of Sierra Leone is one of four champions, helping influence and shape policy and facilitate resources for open digital technologies and data models towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals in countries like and including Sierra Leone. I was center in facilitating transformative trips and relationships, including the Harvard-MIT engagements and our grant awards, that birthed many other opportunities and involved pitching and persuading partners to direct investment in government through DSTI to enable us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research. These engagements have measurable, visible and direct impact on the lives of people and this is humbling. 

Lest I start to give the impression that it was all la vie en rose, it is important to note at this point that I also encountered numerous challenges and frustrations in my work and not everything I touched turned to gold. In fact, I did fail at times. Some argue that failure makes learning possible. I agree, with a broad caveat that failure makes learning possible within an institution only when that institution is keen to learn, is flexible and has a built in ability to absorb and bounce back. One failure that does stand out is my inability to successfully establish a physical hub space for the Human Capital Development Incubator.

When I joined DSTI, the team had already brokered an agreement with an academic institution in University of Sierra Leone (IPAM)  to use their penthouse space for DSTI. The ambition at DSTI was to design and create a hub space that would accommodate the HCD Incubator, IPAM student entrepreneurs and a coding school. In fact we had entered into an agreement with a corporate sponsor to establish the coding school. The sponsor had agreed to cover recurring costs of running the school and as owner of the space and school, DSTI would cover the capital and all other costs associated with establishing and running the Incubator space and coding school. Unfortunately, I was not able to mobilize the full funding we needed to kickstart this important project. This delay caused some frustration for our partners and while the project hung in limbo, we had to cede use of the penthouse space back to IPAM and there is a chance our corporate sponsors will move ahead without us.The HCD Incubator, even without an official space, operated and thrived from my tiny office at DSTI. At one time, that space was host to more than 6 staffers at a time! Good times.

A big shout out to every career civil servant who has toiled under a less than ideal and enabling condition as I have during my short time in government. I understand my experience is not representative of the majority and the very outcomes that have made my time so fulfilling are not guaranteed even over the course of a career. This is so because moving big bureaucratic systems can be onerous and systemic changes happen slowly and impact often is not felt until years later, often time after a particular administration has passed. I think of it this way: our lines remain long- our lines for opportunities, ministry lines, recruitment lines, payment systems, even getting paid takes longer than what it should- and for citizens, most interaction with government most likely still feels like a long waiting game.

These challenges are exactly why DSTI should exist and be optimized for: The freedoms and mandate granted DSTI are extraordinary and necessary in our quest to enable an ecosystem that accelerates and leapfrogs our national progress whether it is through solving for our basic literacy and numeracy issues, making it easier to do business in Sierra Leone or designing systems to enable government to do its work faster, optimize service delivery to citizens and reduce the time citizens spend waiting for basic government services in health, education or other social services.

I acknowledge we are far from solving our most critical problems and some of the issues I have worked on and highlighted here are still percolating—as a country, we still have a gender problem, we are still struggling with our education outcomes, many of our compatriots do not have the basic necessities but I am proud that in my time at DSTI, I had the opportunity to be changemaker and part of the solution to help demonstrate, build and show the kind of changes that will drive the President’s vision for a true new direction—a Sierra Leone fit for every child and every woman and every citizen.

Click here to apply for the position of Head of Global Partnerships and Business Development.

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DSTI’s Human Capital Development Incubator will scale-up innovations to the Free Quality Education Program

The Human Capital Development Incubator (HCDI) at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation held a two-day workshop to develop the framework and design of the next phase of the HCDI’s Education Innovation Challenge (EIC). The workshop brought together leaders and experts from the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, the Teaching Service Commission and the Education Outcomes Fund for Africa and the Middle East (EOF).

Currently, in the first phase of implementation, the Education Innovation Challenge is Sierra Leone’s $1,5 million investment to improve learning outcomes across 170 schools in 15 districts. HCDI has engaged EOF for support to the EIC’s nationwide scale-up that will run from 2020 to 2023. 

The EOF works together with governments to fund innovative education and youth employment readiness programs, such as Sierra Leone’s EIC, on an outcomes basis. 

“EOF is enthusiastic about supporting the Education Innovation Challenge because it is a government-led program that is focused on innovation and learning and we are also very emboldened by the government’s overall focus on Free Quality Education and support of a transformative vision, ” said Alina Lipcan, EOF Senior Education Advisor. 

The three-year program, which will start in September 2020, is designed to improve and incentivize government-assisted primary schools to learning outcomes. In achieving this, the government will identify schools in need of additional support, set the target outcomes and implement innovative interventions in partnership with NGOs. Unlike the typical fee-for-service model, the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners will only pay for those interventions that improve learning outcomes.

“We are embarking on ground-breaking innovation to bring about significant improvements in learning outcomes. It is worthy to note that innovation has resulted in significant positive advances in education, ” said Dr. Albert C. T. Dupigny, Education Consultant and Advisor, MBSSE.

Dr. Dupigny, Education Consultant and Advisor, MBSSE

”Under SDG4, we are to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ and that is why the DSTI-HCD Incubator, MBSSE, TSC, and other service providers through the EIC are developing partnerships with organizations like EOF to develop interventions and approaches that will ensure that by the end of 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”

Over the next three years, the Government of Sierra Leone in partnership with EOF will invest additional resources in schools, education partners, administrators, teachers and all players engaged in the ecosystem to ensure that all students have access to inclusive, and quality education.

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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 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.

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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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