Despite recent progress in development and education, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Index. The Ebola virus wreaked havoc in this environment as it deepened human suffering and claimed thousands of lives in the duration of two years.
The social and economic consequences of the Ebola outbreak extended beyond the immediate human tragedy as the country’s economy suffered enormously. Daily life for the ordinary Sierra Leonean came to a halt as businesses shut down, trade slowed dramatically, and goods and services became highly scarce. The tragedy also moved beyond city dwellers, as the UNDP estimates the percentage of farmers impacted to be 63.6%. The negative impact on farmers was then translated to food insecurity for the nation as a whole.
On the educational front, many schools were closed all over Sierra Leone to mitigate the risk of transmission. Closure periods were approximately nine months during the crisis, leaving nearly 1.8 million children without access to comprehensive education, stalling their learning, and threatening the future growth and potential of Sierra Leone’s future generations. According to UNICEF, Ebola claimed the lives of 181 teachers and 945 students.
Additionally, the Ebola crisis swiftly and dramatically reversed the improvements made in education services since the country’s 1991-2002 Civil War. The improvements mainly addressed expansion in education services and eliminating education access barriers. To compensate for the missed learning opportunities, Sierra Leone schools opened in 2015 with an accelerated curriculum to shorten the duration of academic years.
To address this pressing issue, Dubai Cares launched Education in Emergencies: Evidence for Action (3EA) program in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The program aims to strengthen the quality of education by improving teaching methodologies, ways to monitor and mentor staff, and reinforcing teaching styles that improve classroom performance. The program includes a set of eight core competencies such as varying instruction methods to suit the learner, creating an intellectually stimulating classroom environment, using positive communication techniques (encouraging students, creating a sense of belonging, and promoting positive social relationships), along with effective collaboration with parents, community and other stakeholders. The majority of the teachers we work with in Sierra Leone would not have such opportunities for professional development without the support of Dubai Cares.
Barnadetta Sheriff, Head Teacher in Gerihun notes, “This program is very necessary. I now feel I am able to handle a lot of management issues in a much more professional way. Also, the Head Teacher-core competencies will really help me in assessing myself and my teachers. My collaboration with the community will also become more solid and I hope this program will grow from strength to strength with our full involvement.”
Dubai Cares’ program reinforces the concepts of reflection and accountability to make learning more effective in schools. It helped set in place a steady course of recovery from the Ebola crisis as it allowed children to return to their education in an improved learning environment.
Andrew Christian Gbao, Head Teacher in Yamandu describes the ways in which increased school management has lead to greater student success: “We now have the skills to manage our schools well, and are able to collaborate better with the community. This will make our work easier. I feel that the Dubai Cares program has arrived at the right time as an efficient and improved learning environment will help children to continue their education after the Ebola crisis. The Head Teachers’ core competencies are of great importance to me and I will make sure that I practice them in my school”.