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At a glance: Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, getting back to school – on the airwaves

By Yolanda Romero

With schools closed throughout the country as a result of the Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone is bringing the classroom into students’ homes through the use of educational radio broadcasts.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 21 October 2014 – At the end of a labyrinth of small streets in Freetown’s New England neighbourhood lies the home of 13-year-old Uleymatu Conteh. Normally this morning she would have made her way to school dodging the motorbike taxis and the market women selling fruits, sweets and bread. Instead, she is sitting on the floor of her home, listening to the radio and taking notes while leaning against a wooden stool.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Romero
Moalem Siseh, 17, writes on a blackboard to help teach Uleymatu Conteh, 13, who is taking her school lessons by radio. The project aims to reach more than 1.7 million children in Sierra Leone who have no access to education because of the Ebola outbreak.

She’s listening to a science lesson about non-living and living things, with the help of an older relative, Moalem Siseh, 17.

The Ebola crisis may have made school out of the question for now, but the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, with support from UNICEF and other partners, is trying to make sure learning continues, through a national radio education programme launched this week.

“The aim is to reach 1.7 million children that have no access to school with quality education opportunities,” says Uche Ezirim, Education Manager at UNICEF Sierra Leone. The programme includes core subjects such as English, mathematics, social studies, physical and health education, psychosocial and life skills, and hygiene and handwashing (which could include basic information on Ebola). Other courses are being developed by professional teachers and broadcast to pupils in their homes through a network of 41 radio stations across the country, coordinated by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the Independent Radio Network.


The radio education programme is a useful stopgap measure for students in Sierra Leone, where primary school attendance rates are 73 per cent for boys and 76 per cent for girls, and secondary school rates 40 per cent for boys and 33 per cent for girls.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Romero
Gomoi, 18, is happy to have a way to learn, but he would like to go back to school to see his friends.

Not far from Uleymatu’s home, we meet Gomoi Sandy, 18, with his mobile telephone firmly on his ear. It’s a common sight in a country where mobile phones are seemingly everywhere. But Gomoi isn’t having a chat with his friends – he’s studying a science lesson. Like Uleymatu, he’s listening to an education programme. “Electricity has gone,” he says. “And through the mobile telephone it’s the only way to listen to the radio education emission.”

Gomoi normally attends senior secondary school, and he’s listening to the programme even though it targets students at a lower level.

“The highest level, senior secondary, is aired from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., from Monday to Thursday,” Nice Mest from the Ministry of Education, tells Gomoi. A three-day information campaign was aired the previous week in Sierra Leone, but there is still work to do to get the word out about the different types of programmes and when they are scheduled.

Missing friends

Gomoi is happy to have a way to learn while he misses out on regular schooling. “For now, I can manage with the radio emissions,” says Gomoi. “But I would like to come back to the school to meet my friends.”

The Government foresees reopening schools by January, if the situation allows.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2014/Romero
“Education is important to gain success in life,” says 14-year-old Mohamed, who says he would prefer the programme to be broadcast on television.

We also meet Mohamed Barrie, 14. He was at secondary school when the Ebola outbreak started. He now uses his mobile phone to learn, as well. “In Freetown, we don’t have electricity constantly, and it’s difficult to get batteries,” says one of Mohamed’s neighbours.

“I listened to the first emission yesterday,” Mohamed says. “I would like the emissions to be broadcast on the television.”

“We foresee this possibility in a short time,” replies Nice Mest from the Ministry of Education.

In the meantime, Mohamed says he loves the idea of the radio education programme. “Education is important to gain success in life,” the 14-year-old tells us.
Mohamed says he enjoyed the introductory session about social studies, but he was less enthusiastic about science. He says robotics is his thing.

“I’d like to improve on technology,” he says as the day’s lesson finishes and he switches off his phone.



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