In 2015 we started RightToRead, a project that uses technology to improve English reading and comprehension skills for school children.
Schools in Sierra Leone often have crowded classrooms with up to 60 children per class, no teaching aids apart from a blackboard, under-trained teachers, lack of textbooks so the whole class shares just a few copies. Add in the problems of poverty – students sometimes miss school to go to work so they can earn some money – and unexpected events like Ebola which caused all schools to shut down for several months. In some areas less than half the children who start Primary school will complete it, and less than one third of Secondary-school age children will enrol in Secondary school.
We are partnering with English Helper to introduce a technology-enabled solution to help students with English proficiency (the national school curriculum is in English).
Academic Year 2015/16
We started academic year 2015/16 with 100 pupils – 70 students in grades 1-3 and 30 young adults in a Technical/Vocational Centre. The normal school year in Sierra Leone is Sept – July, but schools closed down during the Ebola crisis and only re-opened in Jan 2016. We ran a condensed RTR program from Jan-Aug 2016 to be ready for the new academic year in September 2016. English Helper is designed to fit into the normal classroom structure but with the shortened academic year we could only run RTR in post-school sessions, so children stayed behind after school (sometimes missing dinner when they got home!).
The project cost just under £14,000 – this included equipment (computers, projector, generator, etc), allowances for teachers and support staff, dinner and transport for children. Parameters for the year were:
- Ahkom School (70 students) and Technical/Vocational Centre (30 students) in Koidu
- 50/50 male/female students, aged 10 to 18, plus some adult students up to 25 yrs.
- 20% disadvantaged (Ebola, war victims, orphans, displaced, etc.)
- Low proficiency students
Over the course of the year the class average mark in English improved from 38% to just over 50%. See the full report.
Academic year 2016/17
We had hoped to expand RTR to other schools but we didn’t have the funds. We ran RTR in Ahkom school again with 2 key changes:
- RTR was incorporated into the normal school routine as opposed to after-school lessons. 2 of the 4 English lessons that each class had each week were run using English Helper ReadToMe software.
- Last year we used the JSS 2 schoolbook for both classes JSS 2 and 3, this year each class had its year-specific book available for lessons. Thanks to English Helper for quickly incorporating the new books into their software.
We had 128 Junior Secondary pupils at Ahkom school (see note below). We also repeated the RTR program in Ahkom Tech/Voc centre with 30 students.
**Note: We started with 160 JSS pupils in September 2016. By December 32 had dropped out of school, largely because they could not afford school fees and Ahkom school could not afford to sponsor them. A few moved to other school districts and a couple of young girls became pregnant and left school.
The average mark in English went from 41% to 70%. See the full report.
The cost for the year was £9,525. The reduction compared to 2015/16 was because we did not need to buy equipment, we did not need to feed and transport children during after-school lessons and we did not need to pay teachers to stay for after-school sessions.
Academic year 2017/18
RightToRead is running again at Ahkom school with 130 pupils using the same parameters as 2016/17.
Projected overall cost is £8,400. We have raised some money for 2017/18 but we’re a bit short. If you can donate towards 2017/18 costs that will be great!
Expanding the program
We would like to expand RightToRead to other schools in the area. It costs about £7,000 to bring a school online (£35/student/year) and £4,700 for subsequent years (£23/ student/year). If you can help do let us know – thanks!