Alright. It’s been a little bit since my last post, but we’re just gonna skip right over all those excuses and apologies and jump right into it. Let’s talk about education in Salone.
Small aside: Before we get into all the nitty-gritty stuff, I feel that it’s important to point out a few things that will be important to take into consideration while reading the rest of this post. First, I studied psychology and international politics at university. I never took a class that involved teaching and the last English class I took was sophomore year (i.e. English 202A, so. many. papers.). That being said, I’ve taken few child development classes through my psych degree. Second, Sierra Leone had just started making progress rebuilding after a vicious civil war that ended in 2002, when they got hit with Ebola in 2013. Which is to say, they haven’t really gotten a chance to work on their development/infrastructure in recent history. Third, I am writing this from 8 months of experience teaching at a Junior Secondary School (JSS) “upline” [note: The phrase “upline” is used in Sierra Leone to talk about any area outside Freetown, the capital. Unlike America, the best schools are available in the bigger cities with the best being in Freetown. Overall, there is a higher education level in Freetown compared with the rest of the country.], which should theoretically teach kids in a similar range of age and education as Middle School kids in America.
Now then, as I was saying, let’s talk about education in Salone [note: Other name for Sierra Leone]. The current state of education in Sierra Leone is kind of a hot mess, and like most problems in developing countries, there isn’t really a simple solution. There are many different factors that are affecting the education system here. So, for ease of understanding and succinctness, I’m going to group the different factors under broader categories.
We are going to start with students, because they are the main component in an education system. When Ebola came to Sierra Leone, it effected every manner of daily life, especially those that required large gatherings of people (ex. Market, Church/Mosque, school, etc.) [note: The Ebola virus easily spread from infected people to non-infected people when they were in close proximity to each other. It was very common for entire households to be infected]. More specifically though, it forced the government to halt any activity involving the gathering of people; aka schools got shut down across the entire country. For nearly two years, children weren’t able to go to school. With no help from the absence of school in the children’s lives, the range of understanding (and more specifically their English ability) varies wildly from child to child. It’s not uncommon to have a group of students who can read, write, and speak English at an almost conversational level, while also having a group of students who not only have zero understanding of English, but also can’t speak Krio, the lingua franca of Sierra Leone. And while I recognize that it’s totally normal to have a class of students that have different levels of understanding in America, the difference is that in America, the national language is ENGLISH and the large majority of students speak ENGLISH and the language all their classes are taught in is ENGLISH. In Sierra Leone, the lingua franca is KRIO, but the large majority of students speak a TRIBAL LANGUAGE, and yet all the classes are taught in ENGLISH. The students’ learning levels isn’t the only thing that’s varied, the age range of the students can also be dramatically varied. In the 3 levels of JSS, the youngest student in the school is 11 and the oldest is 23.
SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE AND RESOURCES
Unlike school compounds in America, the ones in Sierra Leone are not enclosed. The classrooms themselves are enclosed rooms (usually), but there are only 2-3 rooms per building and rooms are connected in a row so you still have to move outside to walk to a different classroom. Because of the classrooms sharing walls, the noise level can get rather disruptive when teaching. Furthermore, there might be 2-4 buildings per compound, but they are all designed the same way (straight and long) and they are not connected. As a result, often times people and non-student kids can walk through the school at any time. The schools are sometimes built near surrounding houses too. Any talking, yelling, or loud noise can be very distracting to the class [note: Many school aren’t built with windows, but rather, the upper part of the walls are designed with holes to let air and light in. The noise cuts right through it].
Another problem in the schools is that most classrooms get over packed. While most classrooms are built small enough to comfortably hold around 30 students, upline the majority of the classrooms are filled way beyond capacity. For example, there are some volunteers that have 25-35 kids, where others have around 90. The average is around 50; my classes have 55-60.
Sierra Leone is a developing country, meaning they are very poor and lack many things. This includes general school supplies for the majority of schools. In villages most schools and students, they don’t have textbooks or assistive materials. The teachers usually get one textbook/teaching book to use for lessons, but the students usually don’t have the accompanying textbook to follow it along. This can become a particular issue when you are trying to teach English for example and want kids to practice reading, but they don’t have books to read. Something else that is common in schools is for students to share pens, notebooks, and book bags, so when teaching, you will have students from other classes walking into another class to take a pen or notebook from a shared backpack.
There is a huge problem with corruption in many aspects of Salone society, but that’s another conversation for another time. In schools, it can affect how often teachers will come to teach or whether a student “passes” a test/exam. Students can sometimes pay teachers or administration small fees, and then they will “pass” their test/exam. Have they payed attention in class? No. Have they studied for the test? No. Do they understand the material in any capacity? Nope. And yet, kids will still move up grade levels. So what can happen is these kids get to higher levels in the education system (and even college), but won’t be able to do basic math/English/science.
If you hadn’t noticed yet, this post has been kind of negative. BUT, the future is looking up. I promise. Sierra Leone has been Ebola-free for over a year, and society is getting back to normal, albeit a new normal, and education is changing with it. Recently, The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) announced that the curriculum for JSS and Senior Secondary Schools will be moving away from the abridged Ebola curriculum and the old Child-Centered technique. With the help of UKAID and other NGO’s, MEST has been rolling out text books for the new curriculum that schools across the country can follow (which are excellent btw). Additionally, kids are eager to learn and want to see progress in their country.
Other notes of varying degrees of importance: After two months with a shattered screen, my iPhone is finally fixed and working again! Which means that my posts will actually come with pictures, yay! I’m going to start including a new formatting thing in my posts. When I use an unfamiliar word, phrase, or fact, I will follow it with “ [note: blah blah blah] ”. So, if you noticed it a few times in this post, that’s why. You’ll most likely see it in future posts too. Pablo is getting sooooo big. I started letting him roam outside without a leash (or supervision). Some neighbors like him cuz he chases the chickens away. Also, he now just walk into my next door neighbor’s house all the time like he owns the God damn place; but most likely because they actually remember to feed him more often than not.