Technology in Sierra Leone
Ranking as one of the least developed nations in the world, Sierra Leone aspires to increase development through investments in advanced technologies. President Julius Maada Bio’s ambitious plans for digitization center around the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation led by Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. The creation of DSTI could have a revolutionary effect on the government’s capabilities to help its citizens and progress the technology in Sierra Leone.

What is DSTI?

DSTI is the main element of the Sierra Leone National Innovation and Digital Strategy. It emerged in 2018 and is based on the philosophy of “digitization for all.” Its primary mission is to use science and innovation to promote the Medium-Term National Development Plan, which strives to improve people’s lives through education, inclusive growth and a strong economy. Furthermore, DSTI hopes to make Sierra Leone a country where innovation can thrive and where people of all ages can come together to lead their own start-ups and initiatives.

Headed by the country’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Sengeh, DSTI has created an opportunity for the development of technology in Sierra Leone for its citizens. One of those opportunities presents itself in the form of a partnership between UNICEF Sierra Leone Country Office and DSTI. The organizations have come together to create government processes that revolve around the use of data for successful decision-making. The UNICEF Office of Innovation team provides its expertise and advises DSTI regularly. This support will strengthen and secure the partnership and aims to improve the lives of Sierra Leone’s women and children.

Current Technology in Sierra Leone

In 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported DSTI with a grant of $131,130. This grant assisted the plan for a viable and cost-effective drone-delivery system for Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain. Drones could potentially provide access to places in Sierra Leone that others previously thought were too remote or too difficult to navigate. The efficacy of these drones allows authorities in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation to have on-demand delivery for essential medical supplies; restock rural community health centers and hospitals in a timely, cost-effective manner; extend limited diagnostic coverage and decrease response time to pathogen outbreaks. DSTI has joined forces with the National Medical Supply Agency and development partners and intends to plan a five-year project that integrates a nationwide medical delivery service in Sierra Leone using drones.

In April 2019, Sierra Leone became a drone-testing site to better the lives of children in the more rural areas of the nation. UNICEF and the government of Sierra Leone established a drone corridor aiming to develop and test drones for “aerial imagery and transportation.” DSTI and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation lead the project for the drone corridor. In addition to aiding Sierra Leone’s medical system, the drone initiative will set up education programs. These programs will help locals build the skills needed to use and maintain the drones.

The Importance of Technological Advancement

In September 2019, President Bio revealed the first portable DNA sequencer. This sequencer can provide quick, efficient information in multiple fields such as medicine, agriculture, food, water and education. Additionally, police can utilize the sequencer for investigating sex crimes. This is a huge breakthrough for Sierra Leone because President Bio had declared a national rape emergency earlier that year.

All these technological and scientific breakthroughs have a transformative effect on Sierra Leone’s government and its ability to meet the needs of its citizens. Along with improving the nation’s development, Sierra Leone could provide a blueprint for the rest of Africa and recognize the nation’s economic potential.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Sierra Leone

Situated towards the bottom of the bulge on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone sits on top of one of the most concentrated gold and diamond deposits in the world. But the country’s history as a prime subject of colonialism’s horrors explains why it consistently ranks as one of the poorest in the world. Here are eight facts about education in Sierra Leone that help gage context for the country’s current state of affairs.

8 Facts About Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Poor Education Statistics- As is typical in low-income communities, the country, now with a population of more than 7.5 million people, yields unimpressive statistics when it comes to categories such as enrollment, completion and literacy. A 2016 UNESCO report found that only 47 percent of all primary school students progressed to their last year, which is the American equivalent of fifth-grade. However this social problem is well recognized, and the country’s most recent president-elect, Julius Maada Bio, even incorporated it as one of the pillars of his campaign.
  2. Recent Switch in the System- In 2017, Sierra Leone switched its education structure from a 3-6-3-4 system. The current Sierra Leonean educational system now operates under what is known as a 6-3-3-4 structure. This means that a student’s “complete” schooling is broken into four parts: six years of pre-primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four years at a college program.
  3. Testing into Higher Education- Students face obstacles along the way through their education, as after the first nine years, which are compulsory education, they must take a Basic Education Certificate Examination which determines who can proceed to senior secondary school. Students that pass this test must take an additional test following their completion of senior secondary school: the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination.
  4. The Difficult BECE- This exam carries extreme importance, as its passage is necessary to be granted a spot in the Sierra Leone university system. Moreover, in 2011, only 47 percent of test-takers passed. Although alternative routes, such as trade schools, have been set in place to provide pathways for students that fail to reach this point, a general lack of funding towards them has resulted in their deterioration.
  5. New President Dedicated to Improving Education Standards- Bio’s election in 2018 meant a leadership transition from the All People’s Congress (which had been in power for the previous 10 years and had been consistently accused of corruption) to the People’s Party. In an article, the online publication Theirworld described his campaign as “tumultuous,” insinuating that the turnover was far from smooth. Despite this, Bio has since lived up to his campaign promises regarding education and is paving the way for better academic opportunities for future Sierra Leoneans.
  6. Free Education for Primary and Secondary Students- Bio recently launched a program that grants free education to the more than 1.5 million primary and secondary students in Sierra Leone, a move that holds tremendous implications towards reducing the country’s socioeconomic bias towards education completion. He also nearly doubled the country’s education budget, raising it from 11 percent to 20 percent of public spending. With the implementation of affordable education, Bio hopes to combat the low school enrollment and completion levels that have traditionally plagued the country.
  7. Free Teacher Training- The new education plan also includes increased attention to teachers across the country. The teacher competency rate currently hovers below a mere 50 percent across the board for all levels of education. Bio addresses this in his program by making teacher-education free and by opening teacher training campuses which are fairly distributed across the country.
  8. World Bank’s Positive Involvement- The last of these eight facts about education in Sierra Leone is that the World Bank is actively involved in the establishment of new programs working to remedy the aforementioned institutional problems with education. Their recent program labeled the “Revitalizing Education Development in Sierra Leone Project” has funneled $31.37 million into the education system since 2016. The fruit of this is the Performance-Based Financing (PBF) plan, where schools receive higher government grants funded through the World Bank based on “key contributors to school effectiveness”. These include student attendance, reading proficiency and school management practices. The PBF program enforces good educational practices, which in turn benefits the entire learning environment.

Even with all these improvements, it must be noted that Sierra Leone still faces significant gender discrimination in its education system, as women are currently significantly underrepresented. For instance, in 2015, the male literacy rate almost doubled the female literacy rate for the population aged 15 or older.

However, hopefully, the trend of inclusion rooted in uniform equity being promoted by Bio will soon extend to all people, especially those historically excluded. His sentiment is echoed in his own words as he said during his campaign, “Education is a fundamental right for all Sierra Leoneans.”

– Liam Manion
Photo: Global Partnership