Sierra Leone Schools
Progress Update for the East
The team in Sierra Leone have been crossing rivers, sliding along mud tracks and trekking through jungle to reach the most isolated and vulnerable communities that are most in need of education support. Despite the challenges of the terrain, they managed to reach over 200 communities across the country to assess and identify those that will receive support.
This latest update gives you an overview of the work achieved with the schools in the East, and what will happen next, whilst also bringing into focus a few key people and their activities.
Project Activities so Far
The Regional Team Leader for your school
Introducing George Quaker: a man who brings vast expertise and limitless compassion to his role as Head of Operations for the East. (Click here to watch him in action on our Girls Speak Out programme in 2016).
If you have joined Street Child for one of our Sierra Leone Marathons then you will likely have come across George’s huge smile at the project visits, workshops or cheering you on along the marathon route. As a result, he is a bit of favourite among staff and supporters who have been to Sierra Leone.
George’s main focus for the next few years will be on the communities in the east. Over the past few months, his regional team has been gathering information and building relationships with the communities. Most of the team have been brought up in the area, and so they have local insight that is key to this work (as well as helpful for navigating the rest of the team through the jungle paths!).
Teaching Specialist recruitment
The Teaching Specialists are currently going through the last stages of the recruitment process, after which they will receive training to deliver coaching and mentoring for the 40 rural teachers we will be supporting. Training courses will be given to the teachers in the school holidays. During the term time the Teaching Specialist will travel between 5 schools to provide ongoing support and skills building for the teachers.
By becoming closely engaged with the schools and communities in which they are working, the Teaching Specialists will also have a key focus on community engagement. This means ensuring the local chiefs, councils and families remain invested in the success of the school, which will in turn help us to leverage locally sourced materials and help from the community in case the school needs renovations or repairs in the future.
The information George Quaker’s team has been gathering is for the Community Assessments: a mission that took them to the most isolated and vulnerable communities they could find or had heard of through their local contacts.
Each community is assessed according to two key areas: their need for education support, and the potential sustainability of the project. Some of the communities have already been active in setting up a basic space for a school. For example in a photo later in this update, you will see a classroom where the community has built a simple structure and benches to provide a space for the volunteer teacher to conduct lessons. This is the perfect example of the type of initiative and commitment that makes a community school very eligible for receiving further support. Money invested into their education project is more likely to be valued and so that long after Street Child has gone, this school will be sustained by the community.
Here is a sneak peak into the team's trip across the country
(photos courtesy of Roxanne Hargreaves, Programmes Officer for Street Child UK)
Community Assessments - The Results
Each community presents a different set of issues that block the children’s education. ‘One-size-fits-all’ won’t work, and so each school is approached on an individual needs basis, which ultimately lends strength and sustainability to the project.
In the east, the mining economy dominates local life and many young boys frequently fail to turn up to school or leave early to sift for diamonds in the rivers. They are often the breadwinners for their impoverished families, making it unlikely they will ever return to school, as they are relied upon for the income. Without basic literacy and numeracy, these boys will remain easy prey for exploitative employers and diamond buyers. Their chance to build a better future for themselves is lost without education.
Even for those children who do manage to attend school, the quality of education is so low that they often struggle to learn anyway. At every school selected the children are failing their NPSEs (National Primary School Exams), which means they cannot progress onto secondary school. A few factors may be the cause: poorly trained teachers, a lack of learning materials, a substandard learning environment or even abuse against the children that has left them vulnerable and unable to engage with learning.
With every project, the long term goal is to bring the school closer to becoming eligible for government funding, and so ensuring its future. The strict conditions for a school to be approved for this funding are: a safe structure, at least one qualified teacher, and a WASH structure (Water And Sanitation for Health - aka working toilets and clean water supply). Getting the children learning and progressing is the essential task at hand. Therefore, Street Child’s approach to each school is based upon a) improving access to and the quality of education and b) getting a step closer to government eligibility.
The essential issues that block one or both of these can be narrowed down into the following:
Teacher competencies: in the most isolated communities, the schools often rely on volunteer teachers who are untrained and often lack basic literacy and numeracy skills themselves. Many will be selected and enrolled onto a 3 year teacher training programme, and all of them will receive coaching support from a Teaching Specialist.
School resources and renovations: most schools are very poorly furnished so that the students have no desks to work at or have no functional blackboard to learn from. Many of them also had inadequate or even unsafe classrooms, where the roof is falling in or the mud structure was prone to disintegrating in the heavy rains.
Community engagement: The Teaching Specialists, along with George and his Senior team, will work closely with the communities to build strong relationships. This is also important for our social workers, who need to know their communities well enough to be able to spot vulnerable children in need of specialised support.
Home support: for many children, the obstacles start at home, where caregivers are unable to provide support. Their caregivers may rely on their child for additional income, or cannot afford the hidden costs involved in going to school, such as uniforms, learning materials and transport to and from school.
The Next Phase
Just this week, the team bought their new ‘Right to Learn’ motorbikes! These will be used by teaching specialists while they are travelling between the schools they look after. The off-road terrain is tough and some schools are barely even accessible by 4x4. Therefore motorbikes are the only (and cheaper!) option.
Now that they are fully mobile, they will be able to implement the next phases of the project:
Now that the needs assessments have been made, the team are planning their strategy to reach all of these schools over the next 2 years. Once the final list has been confirmed I will be able to allocate you to your school in Sierra Leone - you can expect to receive this information in your next update in February!
Right now, the rural team are at a crucial moment: they are working with local communities to start selecting teachers to be enrolled under the Right to Learn programme (the umbrella title for this schools project). Working with the SMCs (School Management Committees), Chiefs and community leaders we can ensure the most dedicated teachers are selected for Teacher Training, and are therefore more likely to stay and teach in the school once they are qualified. During the school Christmas holidays, they will then receive their induction onto the programme and their distance learning will begin with the start of the next school term in January 2019. This will be supplemented with training courses during their Summer holidays, as well as constant coaching and mentoring from their Teaching Specialists. For those teachers who already have their Teaching Certificate, but are not providing their student with a sufficient standard of teaching, the Teaching Specialists will also provide them with ongoing guidance to improve their teaching skills.
Not only will this improve the quality of teaching, but a qualified teacher also brings that school one step closer to becoming eligible for government funding.
Construction work begins
Until now, this work has been impossible to start because of the rainy season. The ground must be completely dry for building and transporting materials to such rural locations, and mud bricks require clear weather to cement sufficiently. Therefore, for those schools in need of renovations, repairs and resources, the heavy lifting will be rolled out from January to May 2019.
Each construction project relies heavily on the local community for locally sourced materials and labour, due to the fact that many of these schools are so difficult to access from the main towns. From now until January, George and his team will be building relationships with the communities to garner their support in the school’s construction works, as well as sourcing vehicles and materials for those things that the communities can’t access or afford, such as zinc sheets for the roof.
This is just the start of this 3 year project, and so there will many more activities to update you on along the way. So stay tuned for your next quarterly update!