Henry Lewis, Programme Manager, Feed the Minds writes
Feed the Minds is running a new one-year project alongside our local partner, Mankind Activities for Development Accreditation Movement – Sierra Leone (MADAM-SL). The Enhancing Community Participation in Promoting Sustainable Education (EnComPaSE) project will reduce barriers to child education in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone by increasing awareness and participation among parents and aspirations among children.
Poverty and other challenges
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 181 out of 191 countries in the most recent Human Development Index (UNDP, 2022). Decades of economic decline and 11 years of armed conflict had dramatic consequences on the economy (UNDP). Poverty is widespread with 52% of the population living below the national poverty line and life expectancy is low, just 60.1 years (UN HDI, 2022). These challenges were exacerbated by the deadly Ebola outbreak between 2013-2016, from which the country has struggled to recover.
In Sierra Leone, the Government’s ambition to achieve universal education is hindered by countless challenges including failure to recognise the importance of child education, traditional practices such as child marriage, child labour and FGM, a low number of trained and qualified teachers, inadequate teaching materials, and an unfriendly learning environment. In addition to this, schools are owned by private individuals, communities, faith-based organisations, and government. This leads to inconsistency in the quality of education services and efficiency, especially when it comes to meeting curriculum goals and recognising child development needs.
Educational institutions and literacy
In Sierra Leone, community schools, which are primarily found in remote, rural areas, are dependent on local donations, which cover the costs of basic teaching and learning materials and stipends for unqualified community teachers. If sufficient funds cannot be raised by community members, who themselves are often incredibly poor, these schools are subject to limited teaching hours and ultimately closure.
The average primary school dropout rate is 52.2% per cohort and the percentage of qualified primary school teachers is 57% (UNHDI, 2016). 44.2% of the population over 3 years have never attended school, but this figure is almost 3 times higher in rural areas (32.7%) than in urban areas (11.5%). Literacy deprivation is also greater in rural areas (38.64%) than in urban areas (12.64%) (Thematic Report on Poverty and Durables, 2015).
The adult literacy rate (among those aged 15 and above) is just 48.1%. As a result, low literacy levels among parents, combined with a high prevalence of poverty, serve to further limit school attendance and attainment among children as the importance of education is not fully recognised and meeting immediate household needs is a priority over education.
Reducing barriers to children’s education
This project will be implemented in four communities in Kunike Barina Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, Northern Sierra Leone. Tonkolili is one of the 5 (of 14) most deprived districts in Sierra Leone, with 8 in every 10 people living in multidimensional poverty. It is also one of the 5 most deprived districts in terms of literacy (39%) and school attendance (44%).
The project will support 110 parents and 240 pupils from 4 schools to increase basic adult literacy, raise awareness of the importance of child education, and to increase aspirations and attendance among the participants.
The parents will participate in weekly adult literacy classes aimed at increasing basic literacy skills while simultaneously identifying and addressing some of the key barriers to children’s education. Community-level events will raise awareness more widely. Education Champions in each school will organise a series of activities and events designed to elevate the aspiration and motivation of their peers. Subsequently, adults and children will have an increased understanding of the importance of and the barriers to education. This, in turn, will lead to increased school attendance, reduced dropout rates, and improved basic literacy skills among adults, enabling them to better support their children.
We are honoured to be working on this new project with MADAM-SL, a national NGO working with the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalised people in Sierra Leone.