Making strides to make digital literacy facilities accessible to children across Sierra Leone

Supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to improve digital literacy

Harriet Mason
A group of children work on computers in a digital lab in Freetown.
05 May 2022

Freetown - After an hour’s journey through the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Freetown, we arrived at the Murialdo Institute, in Kissy Community, east of the city. Inside a building in the centre of the compound, the eyes of a group of primary school children are glued to computer screens.

It is one of the UNICEF -supported labs where children in class six (grade 6) who are preparing to sit the National Primary School Examination, spend a few hours of their afternoons. At these labs the children benefiting from the pilot phase of the Learning Passport rollout, pupils go through past National Primary School Examination questions to prepare them for upcoming examinations.

Eleven-year-old Precious Kamara, one of the children who have been accessing the lab since the pilot phase commenced on April 11th, is grateful for the opportunity. “The first time I ever operated a computer was at this lab. I now know the basics of operating a computer including accessing the internet”, he said.

Learning Passport (LP) is delivered through a partnership between UNICEF and Microsoft. This platform can be accessed both online and offline and provides local, contextualised content in line with the national curriculum, while individualised records of learning for each user are well stored and are transferable across physical and digital borders. About 100 students in 10 schools across the country have participated in the pilot phase.

A young boy uses a computer inside a digital lab in Freetown.
Eleven-year-old Precious Kamara uses Learning Passport at a UNICEF-supported digital lab at Murialdo in Freetown.

In line with Sierra Leone’s Education Sector Plan 2018-2020, LP looks to make accessible, equitable, and quality education available on a large scale. The platform can be used by learners, teachers, and parents/caregivers for both learning and teaching purposes. LP allows users to choose the level of content they are interested in based on their grade, with content ranging from preschool/Early Childhood Development (ECD) to Senior Secondary School 3 (SSS3 -the final year of senior secondary school).

For eleven-year-old Princess Harding, the sessions at the lab have helped her learn new topics, especially in mathematics. “I have been able to prepare more for my exams. The practice sessions have helped me learn how to manage my time well so I can cover all my questions when I go to the exam hall”, she said.

Princess’ views were affirmed by Joseph Konneh, one of the facilitators at the Lab: “the platform is helping participants gain knowledge of the basic use of computers” he said, adding that “it has also provided an opportunity for the children to practice answering questions in a timed manner, just as will be expected of them during the real exams”.

A girl and a boy stand inside a digital lab in Freetown.
Precious Kamara(R) and Princess Harding (L) stand inside the Murialdo Lab in Kissy, Freetown.

Shane O’Connor, UNICEF Innovation Specialist, said “this work is a product of the dynamic partnership between UNICEF Sierra Leone, Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) and the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) to promote a digital future for learning and skills development in Sierra Leone, especially for marginalised populations”.

Through this pilot with learners from primary schools, the platform managers will learn what needs to be iterated to make the platform more effective, user-friendly, and equitable for all. For children like Precious and Princess, the LP has not only helped prepare them for their exams but also introduced them to the use of computers and the internet, serving as a foundation for digital literacy and potentially empowering them for the future.