Education in Sierra LeoneMany important improvements in educational outcomes have occurred in Sierra Leone since 2015, especially for women and children. The country is bouncing back from the civil war, Ebola crisis and other serious challenges. This progress is partially owed to organizations that help children go to school. Several NGOs and community-based actors support education in Sierra Leone. Here is a small glimpse into the work of many.

4 Organizations Improving Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Street Child: Street Child’s goal is to improve the educational prospects of the world’s poorest and most marginalized children. Since its founding, the organization has helped more than 250,000 children escape poverty and go to school.  It originally started by improving education in Sierra Leone, where it began a project for 100 children in a small northern village. It has since expanded to serve children in ten other countries. Some of its work involves providing young girls with school supplies and giving families financial support. The organization also trains teachers and supplies classroom materials.
  2. Mother’s Club: After setbacks and challenges from the Ebola outbreak, mothers in Sierra Leone began organizing to ensure their children would receive a full education. Mother’s Clubs are village and community-based networks that sell products to fund their children’s schooling. Profits from farming, tye-dyeing, gardening and soap making pay for school supplies, books and uniforms. Thanks to these self-starters, with aid from international partners like UNICEF, communities can help drive positive educational outcomes.
  3. Girls Access to Education (GATE): Funded by U.K. Aid and its partners, Girl’s Access to Education (GATE) aims to help girls from disadvantaged households go to school and enables out-of-school girls to resume their education. Importantly, it also empowers communities to create their own solutions. The net enrollment rates in both primary and secondary education have consistently increased since 2013, due in part to their work. Where the literacy rate for girls ages 15-24 was less than 40% in 2005, that figure rose to 62.7% in 2018. The gap between male and female literacy rates continues to drastically decrease as well. This speaks to an overwhelmingly positive impact on Sierra Leone’s children and youth.
  4. Teach for All: Teach for All is a network of education partners and nonprofits who work together to help inspire change on a global scale. The organization announced Teach for Sierra Leone as its latest partner in July 2020. Similarly to other actors, Teach for Sierra Leone is community-driven and recognizes educational disparities in the country as an urgent issue. They aim to bridge education gaps by recruiting women and teachers from under-resourced schools whose efforts will help break the cycle of global poverty.

A Brighter Future

Overall, these organizations play a critical role in improving access to education in Sierra Leone. Currently, many schools have been disrupted due to COVID-19, but now radio lessons bridge the learning gap until reopening. So long as outside actors continue to provide foreign aid, assist in educational outcomes and empower communities, children in Sierra Leone will be able to reach their fullest potential.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Media Misrepresents Sierra Leone
Governmental corruption, poverty and civil war have been the headlines claiming Sierra Leone’s existence for the past several decades. Whether violence in the streets or questionable policies behind closed doors, the country has not been well displayed or talked about in the media.

Phrases such as “grotesque human rights violations” fill newsfeeds across the globe, giving the international audience a limited look into the country, its people and current development as a nation. The media misrepresents Sierra Leone in numerous ways, but the inevitable takeaway is clear: Sierra Leone is a country with severe issues.

How the Media Misrepresents Sierra Leone

While it is true that Sierra Leone suffers from human rights violations, poverty, underdevelopment and even governmental corruption, these headlines do not tell the whole story. Yes, Sierra Leone has struggled and continues to face obstacles; however, positive development is visible in many regards. As Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa Region explains, “headcount poverty has been reduced from 66 percent in 2003 to about 52 percent” in 2014. Though poverty still affects about half the nation, a downward trend since the end of the civil war marks great potential overall.

Even the current status of Sierra Leone — a nation undergoing a peacekeeping mission headed by the United Nations (U.N. — is reason for optimism. A long and destructive civil war no longer affects the nation as it once did, and in its absence, progress is being made. Under the U.N.’s watch, Sierra Leone has been able to increase its financial return in the diamond industry and use the money for positive economic growth in a time of peace rather than weapon amassing during civil war.

Within this era of peace-building — which began in 1999 — more than 75,000 ex-fighters were disarmed, which included about 7000 child soldiers. This not only allowed for community rehabilitation, but it also ushered in a new time of democratic decision-making. Even more impressive than this is that the U.N. was able to remove itself from the country and end its peacekeeping mandate in 2005, only six years after the program’s initiation. Since then, the country has been able to remain relatively peaceful, though government issues and public tension still persist.

Human Rights and Education

While violence and civil war are vivid memories of a recent past, Sierra Leone has devoted much energy to emphasizing the discussion around human rights. The creation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a judicial body dealing with the prosecution of human rights violations, signifies a concrete shift towards assessing the damages of the past.

This court not only seeks to alleviate lasting injustice, but also hopes to establish a precedent for the nation’s future and its dealings with human rights. While the media continues to misrepresent Sierra Leone, tangible advancement can be seen when one takes a more in depth look.

Education in Sierra Leone has also been a point of concern. As Human Rights Watch reported in 2018, pregnant girls are widely barred from schools due to motherhood. While there is no doubt that issues in female education exist throughout the country, there are still examples in this area of concern where the media misrepresents Sierra Leone.

Female education, while in need of alteration, has made substantial progress in recent years. Not only was Sierra Leone able to redesign the “Education Sector Plan” in 2007, but it has also witnessed the creation of an annuel “Girls Education Week” and organizations that work on behalf of female education, such as Girls Child Network. These recent developments have given girls and women alike throughout Sierra Leone places where they can receive quality information and education, the resources and tools to pursue such opportunities and the atmosphere where such a mission is understood and valued.

A New Era

While it should be understood that the country continues to face issues nationwide, it is important to realize how the media misrepresents Sierra Leone and its current development. To say there is no progress being made is simply incorrect. Positive change is underway and shows signs of success at all levels.

Though this development may be slow, there is hope in eventually resolving the issues of the past and present. While Sierra Leone is still suffering, an era of peace and prosperity is not out of the question.

– Ryan Montbleau
Photo: Flickr

empowering Sierra Leonean women
Sierra Leone is considered one of the worst places to be a girl, but the nonprofit OneGirl is revolutionizing this status by empowering Sierra Leonean women through its program LaunchPad.

Women’s rights are a profound issue in Sierra Leone — poor conditions and social norms create immense vulnerability for girls and often inhibit them from choosing their own path. As a result, a girl’s fate is typically determined by three things: being sold into marriage, having an early or forced pregnancy and poverty.


Marriage and Pregnancy

In Sierra Leone, 44 percent of girls are married off to an older man by the time they are 18 years old. They are essentially owned by their husbands, and this often inhibits them from continuing their education. UNICEF reports that 68 percent of sexually active teenage girls in Sierra Leone become pregnant. Considered a nation-wide problem, early and forced pregnancies are the main reason why girls in Sierra Leone stop attending school; these pregnancies can occur as a result of rape, prostitution and not using contraceptives.


Poverty in Sierra Leone

More than 70 percent of Sierra Leoneans live in extreme poverty, managing to survive on less than two dollars a day. Consequently, education is not a top priority for families — if a family can afford to educate a child, it is almost always a boy.

After meeting Brenda — an African girl trying to escape a fate of poverty and lack of schooling by collecting 40 dollars to attend school — the founders Chantelle Baxter and David Dixon became inspired to create OneGirl. OneGirl is based in Australia and has big plans: to send 1 million girls to school.


OneGirl’s Impact

OneGirl’s LaunchPad program is making big strides toward empowering Sierra Leonean women to stay in school and educating them about business opportunities. They are accomplishing this in an amazing way — selling feminine hygiene products. The company has already sold more than 17,400 boxes of pads, and although selling pads may seem minuscule, it has had profound impacts.

To understand why this is so impactful, it is important to know the cultural perceptions surrounding menstrual cycles in Sierra Leone. Girls primarily use a cloth to soak up menstrual blood; when cleaning these, girls typically do not have access to sanitary water. Further, girls cannot dry their cloth properly because there is a taboo surrounding menstrual blood in Sierra Leone. Ultimately, this results in girls developing rashes, infections and diseases. OneGirl states that menstrual complications can result in a girl missing up to 12 weeks of school, but thankfully, LaunchPad solves this problem.



LaunchPad makes it possible for women to have cheap access to sanitary biodegradable products, while also keeping in mind of cultural considerations. For instance, the company does not sell reusable cloths or tampons because clean water is limited and female genital mutilation makes tampon-use painful.

LaunchPad has made more than just health and educational strides — the organization has opened a new market in which Sierra Leonean women can participate. LaunchPad has worked with Restless Development Sierra Leone to train female community leaders across the country to sell their product; these women are known as LaunchPad Champions.

LaunchPad champions earn a profit from their work, and because of their service, women across Sierra Leone are more educated about their menstrual health and have higher chances of staying in school.


Female Champions

One LaunchPad champion named N’Mah Fofonah went above and beyond her call of duty by involving her neighboring community in LaunchPad’s efforts. The two groups of women joined together in their endeavors to put all their profits toward helping their community members.

Efforts such as those accomplished by OneGirl demonstrate the lengths of positivity and change that can occur by empowering Sierra Leonean women. Sierra Leone is just another example that when you empower women, they empower others.

– Mary McCarthy

Photo: Flickr

Education in Sierra Leone has been a challenge. The devastating Sierra Leone Civil War that lasted from 1991 to 2002 took the nation’s education system as an early casualty, wiping out 1,270 primary schools and forcing 67 percent of all-school aged children out of school in the year 2001. More than a decade later, education in Sierra Leone is still recovering from the destruction caused by the conflict. The first nine years of education are compulsory, but this law remains virtually impossible to enforce due to the shortage of facilities left in the war’s wake. The West African nation continues to struggle with its school system and the difficult tasks of rebuilding schools, training teachers, and educating children who have never stepped foot inside of a classroom.

The system of education in Sierra Leone comprises three basic levels: primary, junior secondary and senior secondary. All six years of primary education are free of cost. Students begin junior secondary school around the age of 12 and remain at that level through age 15. Girls living in rural areas typically have the toughest time reaching this level of schooling due to cultural beliefs that often discourage their participation. Students enroll in senior secondary schools from the ages of 15 to 18, and it is at this level that they may choose to between continuing their academic education with plans of proceeding to university or focusing on vocational training. Most vocational education programs focus on agricultural skills, followed by other proficiencies like mechanics, carpentry and bricklaying. Students wishing to pursue a university degree in Sierra Leone have two options to choose from: Njala University and the University of Sierra Leone.

The Hurdles Facing Sierra Leone’s School System

Despite these opportunities, education in Sierra Leone continues to face significant hurdles. More than 40 percent of primary school teachers are untrained. There is also a massive shortage of textbooks, and it is not uncommon for four or five students to share a single book. The literacy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds is below 60 percent, and the total adult literacy rate is even lower, at about 43 percent. Secondary school participation is low, with a net attendance ratio from 2008 to 2012 of 39.9 percent for boys and 33.2 percent for girls.

The Good News about Education in Sierra Leone

However, this is not to say that Sierra Leone has failed to improve from the initial damage left by the war. Education in Sierra Leone has experienced notable advances in recent years. Just after the conflict, a mere 55 percent of children were finishing primary school. That number has since jumped to 76 percent of students finishing primary school, and 77 percent of those children advancing to the junior secondary level. The youth literacy rate jumped a full percentage point from 2009 to 2010. The government of Sierra Leone spends 14 percent of its national budget on education and half of that figure is devoted to primary education.

With generous funding from the government of the Netherlands, teacher-training programs have been greatly improved in recent years with more than 3,000 teachers now enrolled in first-time or continuing courses. UNICEF’s Cross Border Schools Project, which trains teachers and school managers, is in the process of curtailing the high numbers of out-of-school children throughout the nation’s border regions.

Girls’ Education in Sierra Leone

An especially serious problem that continues to plague education in Sierra Leone is the challenge of girls’ education. Although girls’ educational access is improving, class completion remains scarce with high dropout rates and consistently low enrollment in secondary school. Early pregnancy, gender-based violence, child marriage and cultural biases propagate the cycle of gender inequality. Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest adolescent pregnancy rates, a phenomenon that is largely responsible for the high dropout rate among girls. Girls in Sierra Leone often get married as early as age 11, and more than 60 percent of girls throughout the country are married before the age of 18. Early marriage further hinders these girls’ abilities to pursue an education and gain independence. Shortages of facilities, supplies, and quality instructors have made it virtually impossible for all children to enroll in school, and a preference for boys’ education remains dominant. Girls are often instructed to stay home and perform domestic responsibilities while their brothers head to the classroom.

While education in Sierra Leone still has a long way to go, the progress made so far has been encouraging.

– Shenel Ozisik

Sources: Global Partnership, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, Classbase, CIA
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Learn about poverty in Sierra Leone.