Archive | February, 2014

Amanda Jones – Sierra Leone – it’s all in the percentages

12 Feb

” ‘some’ soon becomes ‘all’ and ‘get through’ fast becomes ‘reach their full potential’.”

I’m nearing the end of this trip to Sierra Leone and, in meloncholy at the thought of leaving, I am taking the opportunity to reflect upon another month spent in the beautiful Kambia district.

And ‘reflect’ is quite the apposite word to choose, since ‘reflection’ has characterised the theme of my visit to the FAWE team this time, with whom we are implementing a UKAid-funded primary education programme.

This current project began in January 2012, and has targetted 45 schools with teacher training, school governance and management training, adult education support, and establishing community groups who are responsible for supporting the school.  The end of the project is nigh and so we have been talking to key individuals who have been involved throughout the initiative, to illicit their views on the gains made and challenges faced so far.

Before I go on, let me first set the stage.  As all good project teams do, we’ve been assessing ourselves as we go and, so far, our findings have been encouraging.  I will draw upon end of year class test scores as an example.

Looking at the 24 schools targetted in the first year of the project (target schools), the percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work.  Amongst those who passed the tests, 27.5% scored more than 70% (the pass mark is 50% so scoring 70% or more is a good result), compared to only 11.6% of children who scored more than 70% the previous year; so an increase of 15.9% here.

The percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work

The percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work

We compared all of these test results to those from the 21 schools with whom we are working now (new schools), and had not worked with before the tests were taken.  This is where things get really interesting.  Now remember that in our target schools the percentage of children who passed increased by 9.4%.  Well the corresponding figure for the new schools was only 4.1%.  Likewise, the percentage  of children in new schools who scored more than 70% increased by only 0.3% from the previous year, compared to the 15.9% increase seen in the target schools.  I’ve included a table that might explain the findings better than I can put into words… too many ‘%s’ perhaps?

Table1 v2

So, tick.  Remembering that test results don’t capture the full extent of learning, and can themselves be flawed measures of progress, the findings suggest that learning is improving, and that our work is contributing toward this positive change.

"Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and  stones (for voting) scattering."

“Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and stones (for voting) scattering.”

So, motivated by these reassuring findings, we are of course eager to continue.  Now, we know there are still many challenges faced by the 45 schools, and education is still not at the quality that it needs to be to enable children to reach their full potential.  So who better to consult on next steps, but the people with whom we’re directly working?

So, over the past week or so, the FAWE office has been full of Head Teachers, parents learning to read and write, and community group leaders.  Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and  stones (for voting) scattering.  Its been hectic, and a real tell on my Krio (the lingua franka) skills, but the results are now in and they are interesting to say the least!

We asked 12 Head Teachers if they wanted to continue working with us and all 12 said yes.  Great!  So we asked them what they would like us to do directly with the school.  83% said more teacher training, whilst 67% said more School Management Committee (SMC) training and 50% asked for more training for themselves.  Reasons given included:

 “I will prefer H/Teacher training because I am not opportune to be trained by MEST [the Ministry of Education].  I was just an assistant teacher that have been promoted to Head Teacher.  So I need to be trained as H/Teacher” and The teacher training will be very much important because most of the teachers are not trained and cannot afford to go to college because of financial constraint’”.

But we wanted to know how they would like to go about this training.  We suggested training options – would you like to have refresher training workshops, much like the approach we used last year, or would you like to try something new, and have Teacher Trainers placed in your schools longer term, for more 1-2-1 coaching and mentoring, and training workshops designed more specifically to meet your needs?  Two thirds of the Head Teachers interviewed opted for the more traditional refresher training approach (perhaps we’re onto a good thing here), whilst a third suggested the Teacher Trainer placement scheme.  Why refresher training?  The most frequent reason given was that training content is easily forgotten, and who cannot attest to that?!  What an insight into the need for continuous in-service training, even for qualified personnel (of which there is a severe shortage in the schools with which we work).

We asked members of the community groups that are supporting schools about the support and training they’d received through the project. From this we learnt that people wanted more training in book-keeping, and project proposal writing, so that they are able to access funds from other avenues (e.g. government grants, or grants from embassies).

With adult learners, we learnt that they have very differing aspirations for their own learning.  Some parents are eager to read books (one woman said she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in telling her children to finish their education if she had not finished her own), whilst others are happy to learn just how to write their name as they do not have time in the day to progress past this level.  This has implications for the design of the adult education programme, as we need to be flexible to people’s  aspirations and availability.  We were also told that adult learners wanted to learn more about business skills (receiving 36% of a vote to prioritise topics suggested by the workshop participants), agriculture (23%), planning daily activities (23%), and family planning (18%).  We also learnt that the main problems facing the adult learning groups are the time constraints of the learners themselves as their other responsibilities make them late for classes, if they have chance to come at all, and means they have little time to study at home.

"back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning..."

“back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning…”

These are just a few highlights of our findings, all of which are currently being spilled over as we plan our follow-up support programme.  Of course we’re reflecting critically, and not taking things at face value.  Debate is raging in the FAWE/Children in Crisis office at the moment, I can tell you!

So we’re now back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning activities that will bring this learning to life.  It’s fun and exciting and I am led to revel, once again, at incredible privilege I have to work alongside the innovative and inspiring FAWE team, school personnel and community members who despite all the odds, succeed in getting some kids through.  I take very seriously my responsibility to support these groups to build on what they have already achieved, so that ‘some’ soon becomes ‘all’ and ‘get through’ fast becomes ‘reach their full potential’.

Thank you for reading and if you have any ideas or questions, please feel free to contact Children in Crisis! / 020 7627 1040