In 2015 we started RightToRead at Ahkom School, using technology and multi-sensory learning to improve English reading and comprehension skills for Junior school children. Using RightToRead the class average mark for English improved from 38% to 50% in 2015/16, and in 2016/17 increased from 41% to 70%.
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 at Ahkom School in grades 1-3 and 30 young adults at Ahkom 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.
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.
RightToRead again ran at Ahkom school with 113 pupils using the same parameters as 2016/17. The average mark for JSS1,2 & 3 improved from 59% to 75% during the year.
UMC Girls School, Koidu
Thanks to a grant from the Casey Trust we will be starting RTR at UMC girls with 300+ girls in academic year 2018/19, at a cost per student per year of about £5.
Expanding the program
Our aim is to expand RightToRead to 10 schools / 2000+ children in the Kono district. It costs about £3,000 in the first year to bring a school online and £1,400 for subsequent years. With that footprint we will apply for funding from larger agencies (including SL Govt) to expand the program to many more children.
Our long-term vision is to have RightToRead available to all schools in the area and eventually all schools in Sierra Leone. We would like to set up an English centre of excellence where youth and adults can access RightToRead (perhaps for a fee). This centre will provide training and technical support facilities for RightToRead and the general community (again, possibly for a fee).