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
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
“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.”