Practising presentations for Exhibition Day
What makes Sierra Leone the most religiously tolerant country in the world? That was the question students at Rising Academy Regent explored through The Tolerance Project, a 10 week interdisciplinary study of religion and conflict.
Sierra Leone comes near the bottom of almost every global index of health, education, governance and economic development. But according to a 2009 Gallup Survey, the country, which is 78% Muslim and 20% Christian, tops the table when it comes to religious tolerance. Learning that “was a surprise,” says student Mohamed Bah. “I thought it would have been Senegal, because you never hear of any problems there.”
With religion at the heart of so many global conflicts in recent decades, from Syria to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to northern Nigeria, it’s important to understand what makes Sierra Leone special.
To explore that question, students first heard presentations from a local imam and pastor about the place of tolerance in their respective faiths. They then learned about a number of conflicts around the world where religion has been a major factor, including the struggle between the government and Boko Haram in Nigeria, Sierra Leone’s West African ‘big brother’.
The centrepiece of the project was a student-led survey. Students learned about survey design, different types of questions, and what makes for good and bad questions. They then came up with their own survey questions, and conducted their survey with members of their community. For many students, it was exciting to be given this kind of responsibility. “Doing surveys is normally something which only older ones in university do but in Rising Academy JSS1 can do it”, says student Matilda Saffa. Another student, Unisa Sesay, talks proudly about how, when he was doing his survey, one of the people in his community brought him a chair to sit on, a sign of respect that he clearly valued.
To make sure they could present the findings from their survey in a compelling way, students also had to work hard on their writing. During the project, they were introduced to the basics of writing in paragraphs.
Several students from each class were then chosen by their classmates to present their reports at Exhibition Day, in front of the rest of the school and an invited audience including imam Pa Swarrey and local chief Madam Tarawalie.
The Exhibition Day capped off a great first term at Rising Academy Regent. End of term assessments showed that our initial intake of 88 students have made rapid progress in reading, writing and maths, albeit from a very low base. Average reading scores rose from 36% to 47%, writing scores from 17% to 28% and maths scores from 21% to 35%. These are fairly large effect sizes in such a short period, particularly in the case of maths. One way to interpret these effect sizes is to look at where a student with a given score would have placed at the beginning versus the end of term: for maths, a score that would have seen a student rank in the top 20% of students at the start of the term would only have been average by the end of term.
Of course, for some of our students their journey with us began back in October. That’s when, with schools forced to remain closed because of the Ebola epidemic, we launched our Ebola Crisis Home Outreach (ECHO) program, supported by GlobalGiving and our friends and supporters. Small groups of students received a few hours of tuition each day from one of our teachers at the home of a nearby parent. For these students, the learning gains have been even more impressive. Reading scores for this group rose from 33% at baseline in August 2014 to 53% in July 2015, maths from 23% to 39%, and writing from 19% to 32%. Again these are large effects, especially considering the limited instructional time students received before schools opened.
For a full report on our students’ learning progress, click here.
Once again, we are hugely grateful to all our Scholarship Fund supporters for ensuring that more families can receive a quality education. 100% match funding is still available for all donations on GlobalGiving.org (but not GlobalGiving.co.uk) so do continue to spread the word.
Masters of Ceremonies Rosaline and Allie
Asking questions of presenters
Working as a team
Imam Pa Swarrey gives his reflections