This has been a difficult year in general (see previous post) but RTR lessons continued at our 7 schools with just over 1200 pupils in JSS 1, 2 & 3. Thank you to the teachers, tutors and support staff who kept lessons going. And a huge thank you to the children who, despite many challenges, continued to attend RTR lessons.
Pupils were assessed in English (reading, comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation) at the start and the end of the school year. Across all 1200+ pupils, the average mark increased from 54% in initial assessments to 66% in final assessments!
The table below shows the average class mark for each class (JSS 1, 2 & 3) at each school. Ahkom and IAMTECH teachers marked their final assessments more ‘firmly’ than their initial assessments, which explains the slight drop in class average marks. However, the teachers say that the children did actually improve, even though they got a lower mark in the final assessment.
[From David Sandi, RTR coordinator in Sierra Leone]
The 2020/21 academic year was not a normal one and there were few, if any, smiles. The Covid-19 pandemic was creating mayhem while the new government was hastily ushering in a free education program marked by big promises and radical reforms much of which it transpired, though well intentioned, couldn’t be met at once or fell short of their intended goals: fees subsidies were not being paid across the board and where they were, proved grossly inadequate eg 2 million leones (approximately £143) to run a whole primary school for 3 months. Government assisted schools are banned from collecting fees; government is meant to be paying their teachers yet many govt assisted schools, to date, do not have a single secondary school specific teacher on the government payroll.
Adding to all this was the worst performance in years by the government electricity supply team EGT and EDSA which impacted most on provincial settlements. There were more weeks of blackouts than days of electricity supply. Thus curriculums, activity plans and time tables of many schools; infact the whole school year, was turned topsy turvy.
Principals and school boards had to use extra initiative to keep as much schooling ongoing as possible. Even if it meant having to ignore cetain pronouncements by ministry of education they considered counterproductive to their annual stated goals.
Throughout this tumultuous period RTR provided a ray of hope for the children. Students, such as Mary of JSS2 at Jaiama secondary school, said the attraction of RTR encouraged her and her colleagues to follow up the option of continuing to attend school, even when they had the choice of staying home and engaging in radio or tv based remote learning. Even if they did have radios and tvs, which they didn’t, Mary said they wouldn’t have been able to access RTR which was not available on either radio or tv.
Her classmate, Tamba, added that in the case of Jaiama (a small isolated town which suffered similar infrastructure devastation during the war like the rest of Kono district) there were few radios and hardly any televisions in private hands. TVs, where available, were only used to play videos as there was no tv network. The whole town was dead boring, he concluded, as even the only two video centres in the town were closed because of covid-19 regulations.
Abdul of JSS 2 SLMB said his main joy was to go to school for RTR classes. He loved the interaction with ReadtoMe’s AI ‘Lucy’ and the healthy debates and jests with classmates on spell checks, pronunciation etc. Because these were not normal school times, Abdul explained they often stayed beyond the one hour period allocated for RTR and had to be driven out because the school had to save on generator fuel for other RTR periods.
We noticed like trends in the other schools. At Ahkom, which was also subject to Covid-19 remote learning restrictions, students always turned up for RTR although some not as regular as others. This is due mainly to distance. However, as Abdul of Jaiama highlighted, frequency and duration of classes this time round were more determined by availability of petrol or diesel.
The effect of Covid-19 on the world market has meant spiralling inflation in countries like Sierra Leone. Procuring fuel for generators to run several RTR classes a week became quite an expensive affair. I believe the fact that schools managed to do so, in some cases with students contributing to fuel costs, is a testimony to the pull of RTR.
During 2020/21 significant numbers of students dropped out of schools. Among female students closure of schools resulted in high rates of pregnancies and marriages. Some male students went to help out on family plantations and stayed on there. Others went into artisanal diamond and gold mining to earn a living both for themselves and family. They stayed on swayed by the lure of quick money.
Equipment purchased, as per the grant in 2020, were not brand new but good second hands.
As a rule we collect all laptops during the holidays and return them when schools reopened. Bigger items, like TVs, remain in-situ. This is because laptops are tempting for thieves and easily misused.
Community Initiative Academy of Kenema was removed from the program for non-compliance. Unfortunately they held on to our hardware which we’re seeking to regain.
Jaiama Secondary school suffered a generator blow out which blew their laptop. Our IT has been trying to repair it but the correct spare parts have proved difficult to come by. Because of student demand for their RTR classes, we procured a desk top from the Director’s allowance, less expensive than a laptop, for them to manage until the IT repairs theirs. Even though laptops are far more ideal for classroom situations.
Thanks to a donation from a supporter in Oxford we are delighted to announce that RightToRead has been launched at 6 more schools with over 2000 Junior Secondary pupils in total, 60/40 boys and girls, at a cost of under £1 per student.
David Sandi and the team in Sierra Leone brought these schools online. That involved buying and setting up a laptop & TV at each school, installing and configuring ReadToMe™ software on the computers and training the teachers in the use of the software at each school. Well done everyone, especially in the current COVID situation with school closures and delays in examinations.
For the sharp eyed amongst you – the missing school from the pictures above is Jaiama Secondary, we don’t have a photo of them as yet.
Word of the success of RightToRead has spread – many other schools in the area are eager to join the programme. We’re held back by money – we need to purchase the equipment for each school – but we’ll get there.
Thanks to a grant from The Casey Trust we were able to start RightToRead at UMC Girls school in Koidu with 240 girls in Junior School classes JSS 1, 2 & 3. School (and consequently RTR) started late last year due to a shortage of teachers with classes starting in October rather than September. Each class has 4 English lessons per week, 2 of which were RTR lessons. The graph below shows the dramatic improvement in pupils’ English results in a start and end-of-year assessment that we run. The assessment focuses on reading, pronunciation, comprehension and vocabulary.
We delivered RightToRead at UMC at a cost of just over £5 per student per year.
There are many more schools interested in running RightToRead. But we don’t have the money! We can bring a school online for about £1,000 – that could mean improving English for a few hundred children!
As we enter the festive season we’re coming to the end of another eventful year.
The efficacy of the RTR programme, as an accelerated English language learning tool, has been proved beyond doubt since its inception as a pilot in Ahkom school back in 2015/16. This is evidenced by the fact that the junior secondary school class of that year, now just sat to their BECE, have achieved a 99% pass rate in Language Arts in the 2018 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) – for the first time. BECE pass qualifies a pupil to progress onto senior secondary level one. The 1% failure actually stems from the standard practice by the West African Examination Council of awarding to a school an automatic failure grade for any pupil whose name was forwarded but failed to sit to the exam. Irrespective of cause.
This academic year witnessed the expansion of RTR to UMC girls secondary school. Thanks to receipt of much needed funds from the Casey Trust.There were a few initial hiccups but the programme is now back on track.
A number of other schools have been clamouring for RTR but financial contsraints have posed a significant barrier to expansion. This mainly in respect of acquisition of necessary equipment like computers, tv/projector, generator and the like. A reality that led to consideration of alternative strategies, such as first expanding into schools already in possession of their own equipment. SLMB school in Kono and Elbethal in Freetown are earmarked for this option. Others who heard the RTR publicity are gearing up for 2019.
Active consideration was also given by LSL to the possibility of taking RTR to the wider Sierra Leone public and to neighbouring countries, on a fee paying basis. These considerations were taken on board by the in-country Africa team. 2019 will see progression in the first case with paid for evening classes commencing at Ahkom school. In the second case the Director is just back from a very successful trip in neighbouring Guinea, a former French colony, where the thirst for English language learning is at fever pitch. RTR has teamed up with A+ English Language tuition and a Guinean school to realize this initiative early 2019. But necessary steps such as staff recruitment, purchase of equipment, assembling learning materials (the LSL team has held positive discussions with English Helper in this regard) must happen sooner than later. Which is why the Africa team has formally requested assistance from LSL to secure a small start up loan that will can be repaid from fees collected.
RTR is on a positive up- swing and there should be no turning back. As seen in the case of Ahkom school where RTR classes have helped to secure what may justifiably be viewed its first 100% pass rate in BECE English language, RTR is set to do more on this continent in the widespread promotion of English language.
It is in this vein we appeal to prospective donors to assist the small but hardworking Love Sierra Leone team which pioneered this wonderful initiative, supported all the way by the online English language service provider – English Helper.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and happy new year.