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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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