Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia

by Solon Foundation UK
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia
Quality Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia

As another year draws to a close, it seems only fitting to pause and reflect on the year gone by. Stepping back for just a moment, it’s easy to see there is much to be thankful for.

In Liberia, LIFE Literacy continues to support nearly 80 students in the Paynesville community on the outskirts of Monrovia. The past few months have seen spelling bees, trivia competitions, and sporting events like basketball, soccer and kickball hosted by LIFE, bringing together students from across the community in friendly competition. There continues to be a strong focus on the foundational skills for reading and numeracy, and encouraging a love of learning. More and more, parents are seeing the value of education and are enrolling their children in the preschool grades. 

“There’s so much to be thankful for”, says Mr Bedeah, the Program Coordinator for LIFE Literacy. “Seeing the kids are happy to come to school and learn makes all the difference in the world!”

In Sierra Leone, there were 27 grade 6 students from the Turtle Islands who finished primary school and sat their government exam. Only three years ago, we were thrilled to send the first 8 grade 6 students fully educated on the islands. This first cohort of students and those who have followed since are now enrolled in junior secondary school, supported by the Scholarship Fund. They continue to be important role models for their younger brothers and sisters. Only a few short years ago, there were only 3 primary schools across the islands, none of whom taught up to Grade 6. Now there are over a thousand students attending 12 primary schools, with ever-growing community support for furthering their children's education.

And so, as 2019 winds down and a new year begins, the Solon Foundation would like to express sincere thanks for the generous support you’ve provided to our students. We wouldn't be where we are today without you! 

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Elton is an 11-year-old boy from Nimba County in Liberia, one of seven siblings who have attended LIFE Literacy. Always keen to support others, Elton took it upon himself to encourage his friends from a neighboring community to join his school last month. They began the school year with enthusiasm – together they helped the school construct new benches for the growing number of students. From a distance, Elton would seem to be an ordinary Liberian student but there is great deal he has in mind to impact his community.

Just two years ago, Elton lost his father. Although himself uneducated, Elton’s father had made it his duty to actively participate in all of the school’s activities. He was constantly helping out around the school and doing odd jobs. It was important to him that his children benefited from the opportunities he never had. Elton is now following in his father’s footsteps, participating in school and helping out where he can.

Recently Elton’s mother has also started visiting the school and joining the PTA meetings. Although she can’t speak English, someone is always there to help her join in the discussion. During the school’s end-of-year ceremony, Elton gave the welcoming speech with such poise, that he received a standing ovation. His mother was smiling from the audience – ‘His father would be so proud’.

This September marked the tenth anniversary of LIFE Literacy’s operations in Liberia, and building relationships with students and their families has always been at its core. Although Elton and his family have their struggles, LIFE provides them with a community where they always feel welcome and supported. 

Elton dreams to buy land someday and build a house for his mother, something she has never had. For now, he is looking forward to his upcoming school year where he plans to join the quiz team and lead the school in the spelling competition. His mother will be there to encourage him and LIFE will support him every step of the way. And Elton will continue to make his father proud.

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Ibrahim is an only child. Slight in stature, he cuts a mature, pragmatic figure; visibly proud and humbled by knowing what his mum, a hardworking petty trader, has sacrificed for him. Supported by guidance for parents from his school, Rising Academy Network, Ibrahim talks, through a wide grin, of how his mum now knows how to support him to prepare for the upcoming public exams, although she herself never attended school. He has promised to never let her down.

Talking me through his daily routine and experiences, it is difficult not to be inspired and personally challenged. Ibrahim wakes up at around 4am to learn formulas, read and study - and comes home from school to chores. His life is one of discipline and commitment. He says he does not have the pleasure of being able to watch movies at night to relax – or even the luxury of food every morning. Perhaps he will be able to get back to playing his beloved football after exam season.

Upon asking him if he has always been this disciplined, he chuckles and flashes a cheeky grin. Apparently (and to my surprise) he was once shy, lazy and uninspired at school. However, Ibrahim goes on to tell me that understanding the 4 H’s of Rising - Happy, Hardworking, Honest and Helpful, has helped him to grow. Ibrahim’s deep internal motivation and commitment to his mother is evident. These qualities along with the support of his teachers and scholarship will enable him to improve his chances in life. Without his scholarship, Ibrahim would not have access to an education that has focused on developing his character alongside achieving academic excellence.

Ibrahim is striving to achieve an aggregate of ‘9’ on the public exams this July; all top grades of a ‘1’ in his six best subjects, excluding Maths. Having initially failed his first two practice exams in Maths, Ibrahim most recently achieved a ‘4’, which equates to a good pass; he is (unsurprisingly) working hard to improve. Ibrahim wants to be a journalist when he grows up, and it is hard to ignore the potential and resilience of this exceptional young man.

Upon thanking him for his time and shaking his hand, I close by asking him “What does Salone need?” After a short pause, Ibrahim says this: “My country needs a disciplined Government who will serve the people and not steal. Too many of the Honourables and others make money through corruption and this has to stop. We need a government who will punish corruption, only then can we move forwards.”

It is brave, aspirational young people like Ibrahim who will determine the course of Sierra Leone’s future. We believe in the hope he represents for his country, and we believe you should too.

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Photo credit: Patrick Temme
Photo credit: Patrick Temme

Walton Jr is a JSS3 student at Rising Academy. Before going to school each day, Walton wakes up early to fetch water. Then he cleans the house and prepares for school.

Throughout his day, many things stand out to Walton as different from his previous school. For one, teachers don’t use corporal punishment. Instead, they set clear expectations for classroom behaviour and enforce them through detention and community service activities.

According to Walton, the system of teaching at Rising is unlike anything he experienced in the past. “The way and manner teachers teach their pupils is totally different”. Students are encouraged to participate in their lessons by asking questions, demonstrating their understanding in their own words, and sharing their opinions. Students often work in small groups, with faster learners supporting students who are struggling.

In Walton’s previous school, he had to sit quietly, copy notes from the blackboard, and could only speak if the teacher called on him. He would have to repeat exactly what he had copied down and would never dare ask a question if he didn’t understand. But at Rising, “teachers will teach you to understand. No matter how many times, if you don’t understand then the teacher will explain to you.”

Ultimately what Walton believes sets Rising apart the most are the school’s values – the 4 Hs. The values of happiness, hardwork, honesty and helpfulness are uniquely Rising. “The school I was previously attending was not having these values. These help greatly to a student’s life." The values are like a compass that point students in the right direction, both at school but also in their lives outside of school. Walton now sees hard work as the key to his success and believes he must be helpful and honest with others along the way.

When asked what his advice would be to students in primary school, Walton says “Be serious with education. Do not discriminate against students or teachers but look up to the values of Rising”. For Walton, taking his studies seriously and living out the 4Hs every day means he will be a better person in the future. “This is how I will make my parents proud.”

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It’s a three-hour journey by speed boat from the capital city of Freetown, heading south along the coast of Sierra Leone. First passing Banana Island, with its rich history and recent tourist destinations, followed by the poor, densely populated fishing communities of Plantain Island. Eventually from the horizon emerges a very small, low-lying island followed by another to the West and we know we’ve reached our destination – the Turtle Islands.

Largely isolated from the rest of the country, the Turtle Islands are an archipelago of seven small, low-lying islands, six of which are inhabited by fishing villages. Named for the sea turtles that come to breed on its shores, the Turtle Islands are incredibly rich in tradition and natural beauty but also severely impoverished. The Solon Foundation first started working with the Turtle Island communities in 2012 after its survey found that less than 1% of the female population could read, and the estimated under 5 mortality rate was more than double the national average.          

As the islands come in to view, it’s hard to imagine that 62 of our scholarship students call these islands home. The Solon Foundation’s scholarship initiative for the Turtle Islands was first launched in September 2016 and supported 18 students on full tuition scholarships to attend secondary school in Freetown. The promise of continued education encouraged more families to send their children to school. Across the islands, primary school enrolment has grown and with no secondary school in the chiefdom, the need for support to attend secondary school has also grown. The list of potential scholarship recipients from the Turtle Islands for the upcoming 2019-2020 academic year is already nearing 100 students.

Our boat slowly navigates the shallow waters approaching the island of Mutti. The community is waiting to greet us and among the gathered crowd are students from the neighbouring islands. Lined up on the beach in their school uniforms, these children are future scholarship hopefuls. Many are attending school for the first time, but along with their older siblings, friends and neighbours who already on scholarship, these children represent the future of the islands.

The community meeting on Mutti is well-attended, with elders, village chiefs and the paramount chief in attendance. With each person who comes forward to speak, the importance of education is reinforced. The survey from 2012 is referenced more than once as a reminder of the change the communities are seeking for their children. Appeals for more scholarship support are made, particularly for extending support to secondary schools outside Freetown. As the meeting winds up, the Solon Foundation’s programme coordinator comments on the change underway in his communities and the hope he feels for the future.

As the day draws to a close and our boat pulls way from shore, it is clear that access to quality education is a priority that is shared by all. Although the challenges are many, the potential opportunities provided by education inspire hope and a sense of optimism for the future. The Turtle Islands may seem like a world unto themselves, isolated and frozen in time, but increasingly they are a world that needs the new generation of educated children as their leaders of tomorrow.

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Organization Information

Solon Foundation UK

Location: London - United Kingdom
Project Leader:
Steph Dobrowolski
London, AB United Kingdom

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