Rebuilding the Athens of West Africa for a bright future

Rebuilding the Athens of west africaSierra Leone holds a prestigious place in the educational history of Sub-Saharan Africa. The first secondary school for boys and the same for girls in the region was founded in Sierra Leone. Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone’s university was the first in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Being the country with the only institution of higher learning in West Africa from 1827 to 1948, Sierra Leone was known as “the Athens of West Africa.” It played a pivotal role in training the first corps of doctors, administrators, and teachers in Anglophone West Africa.

Today, Sierra Leone’s educational system faces many challenges. Poor children, especially girls are not always enrolled in school or cannot attend school due to a number of reasons. Many parents do not have the money to pay the transportation fare of their children to and from school or the informal fees charged in the schools. They cannot afford to purchase uniforms and books. The quality of education is also a serious problem; 40% of the teaching force is untrained and unqualified.

Education is central to economic and human development. Its benefits for society include lower child mortality, and better nutrition. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake is convinced that “ending the cycle of poverty for children, their families and communities starts with education.”

Strides are being made in the rebuilding the education system, as the nation moves up on the Human Development Index. In the Agenda for Prosperity (2013-2018), the National Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper III, the Government of Sierra Leone has clearly spelt out the importance of education and has expressed its will to continue to invest in and reform, the educational system.

UNICEF’s Education Programme contributes to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 2 (Universal Education) and 3 (Gender Equality) in Sierra Leone and supports the Government to ensure that both boys and girls have access to quality education.

The new Education Sector Plan (2014-2018) addresses the existing challenges and describes how the Ministry of Education will advance progress in the areas of access, equity, completion, quality and system strengthening. This is to achieve its desired goals for the sector over a period of five years. The Education Sector Plan is aligned with the Agenda for Prosperity.

In this vein, UNICEF addresses barriers to children’s education with the focus on the most vulnerable, through schools. Together with partners like the IKEA Foundation, the Dutch National Committee for UNICEF, and DFID, UNICEF Sierra Leone assists the Government in teacher training, curriculum development and child-centered teaching methodologies.

In January this year, IKEA Foundation visited Northern Sierra Leone to see the impact of their support to UNICEF’s Education programme. In Port Loko district, they saw firsthand how children who live in disadvantaged rural communities benefit from quality education. They witnessed new teaching methodologies that put the child at the center of learning. These included children’s active participation in class through creative thinking, without the use of the cane (corporal punishment).

After spending a few days with schools in Port Loko, the IKEA team proceeded to the more agrarian and mountainous communities in Koinadugu District, in the extreme north. Here they saw collective groups of women actively promoting their children’s education and discouraging child marriage through mothers’ clubs.

Mothers’ clubs are a UNICEF initiative that started in 2010 in over 2,000 communities across the country. In these clubs, mothers engage in income-generating activities, such as farming and soap making. The small profits help keep their communities’ children in school, refurbish schools, and serve as stipends to teachers who are not yet on the government’s payroll.

In addition, UNICEF also works with schools to promote better knowledge and behaviours regarding hygiene (WASH in schools).

Education has without any doubt a positive impact on the lives of children and women in Sierra Leone – with the promise for a better future.

*** by Rosmarie E. K. Jah, Reports Officer, UNICEF Sierra Leone ***

UNICEF Sierra Leone Newsletter January-March 2014 here:

Click to access unicef-sierra-leone-update-jan-march2014.pdf