Access to education and marketable skills remains a challenge for children in Sierra Leone
Access to quality education, retention and completion of school remain challenges for children in Sierra Leone. These factors are compounded by poverty, gender discrimination, long distances to schools, perceived low value placed on education, negative social norms practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM – 86.1 per cent), early marriage (30 per cent of women are married before age 18), teenage pregnancy, an unsafe learning environment. The percentage of school age out-of-school children in primary, junior and senior secondary schools is as follows: primary school (18 per cent), Junior secondary school (19 per cent), Senior secondary school (36 per cent).
Due to the many of the factors listed above, many children in Sierra Leone fail to complete primary school or to make the transition from primary to Junior Secondary School (JSS). Completion rates stand at: primary: 64 per cent, JSS (lower secondary): 44 per cent, SSS (upper secondary): 22 per cent.
Furthermore, few opportunities exist for alternative education for out-of-school boys and girls, which could help them to acquire functional literacy for sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment, in order to realise their full potential and contribute meaningfully to nation building.
UNICEF contribution to the solution
In August 2018, Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) launched a phased Free Quality School Education (FQSE) initiative that provides free admission and tuition to all children in government-approved schools. While the initiative is timely and well received, many children are still out of school, at risk of dropping out or not benefiting from this initiative, as they live in remote rural communities where there are no schools or schools are yet to be approved by the government to qualify for the FQSE. Furthermore, due to high and persistent levels of poverty, parents are unable to pay the direct and indirect costs of education even with the FQSE initiative.
UNICEF has been providing technical and financial support to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) and partners to address the educational needs of vulnerable out-of-school children through a community-based school enrolment drive, provision of school materials such as uniforms, bags, shoes, learning materials, etc. and support to a bridge programme to prepare girls who are out of school, including pregnant girls and lactating adolescent mothers, to re-enter formal schooling after giving birth.
However, there is a dire need for a comprehensive alternative learning pathway, including accelerated learning and marketable skills development programming to help prepare overaged out-of-school adolescent boys and girls to re-enter formal education or pursue the options of skills and livelihood development enterprises for sustainable employability. In this vein, following a national assessment on out-of-school children, UNICEF in collaboration with MBSSE have developed a comprehensive national strategy to design effective interventions that reach all categories of out-of-school children, including adolescent boys and girls.
To further address the issues of out of school children (OOSC), UNICEF will work with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and ST Foundation to adapt the UPSHIFT programme. UPSHIFT is a youth, social innovation and social entrepreneurship programme, designed to build skills and opportunities for young people who are disadvantaged, due to poverty, gender, disability or ethnicity. This programme will provide opportunities for adolescent girls to build 21st century skills as for employment in the labour market and enable the beneficiary adolescent girls to contribute meaningfully to their wider communities. This proposal therefore seeks funding to support out-of-school adolescent girls to enrol in school or benefit from the UPSHIFT programme to build their socio-economic empowerment.