Following announcements on popular social network media and a fund-raising campaign to support the mission to introduce professional development, the Sierra Leone Teacher CPD sessions took place in both Freetown and Makeni City in the Northern Region, situated approximately 100 kilometres north of the capital towards Guinea Conakry. The 2-part sessions were delivered free of charge on 14th and 15th August 2018 to a total of 220 teachers by Isatu Bangura and Joyce Elemson, co-founders of UKAPES.
An interactive, practical and relevant session to meet all levels of students …….and a great opportunity for African teachers to implement international ways of teaching
…………………Samuel Lahai, a teacher from Sierra Leone.
Minister of Education and his Entourage
During the course of the delivery, the moderator, Honourable Siafa Jobson Momoh, retired Permanent Secretary and former member of the Sierra Leone Parliament, announced the arrival of the Minister of Education for Basic and Senior Secondary Education, HIS excellency, Honourable Alpha Osman Timbo, accompanied by Mr. Sylvester Meheaux, Co-ordinator, National School Feeding Programme and Mr. M. L. Sesay, Director of School Inspectorate. Before addressing the participants, on the proposed free and quality education and formally declaring the Seminar officially open, the Honourable Minister opted to sit in and observe the delivery of the modules of the teacher continuing professional development workshop.
Its initiation by Isatu Bangura, a Sierra Leonean, resident in the UK, a qualified nurse, assessor and lecturer was appropriate in closing nationally identified skills gap of practising teachers in the early years, primary and secondary sectors. As a co-founder of UKAPES, she engaged her partner in fulfilling the obligation to transfer the relevant pedagogies from the UK to Sierra Leone. Under highly constrained contexts, Isatu and Joyce pulled all resources including launching a GoFundMe campaign and utilising personal funds to make the training sessions a reality. Local ad hoc staff such as Anita Koroma and others were recruited to find suitable premises, source for refreshment and mobilise teachers across the 3 levels of education to attend the sessions. Due to the promotion of the event, Isatu was invited to a local radio station, Radio Democracy, to shed more light on the concept of continuing professional development; a new form of specialised capacity development designed for and delivered to teachers based on global innovative and evolving teaching and learning practices. Radio Democracy which has a wide audience across the capital Freetown and beyond invited Isatu for an interview about the event where she spoke in Krio, the preferred language with which to communicate important information to reach large sections of the teacher population in Southern Sierra Leone.
The choice of modules to be delivered was to cut across the 3 levels of education, hence the selection of assessment methodologies and principles of effective teaching. The objectives of the sessions were to strengthen assessment practices and improve teaching principles using effective cost-free techniques.
In the main town of Freetown, registered teachers participated in the first session which was delivered mainly by Isatu and supported by Joyce. Teachers were asked to reflect about their existing assessment strategies in preparation for the full exposition of the module. As Isatu went through the key learning outcomes of assessment, differentiation, feedback, teachers paid rapt attention and were encouraged to give comments or raise questions. A deliberate interactive and engaging session saw many teachers relate their classroom pedagogies to the whole group.
With permission from HIS excellency, the training proceeded into a discussion of the need to identify learning disabilities that include dyslexia, attention disorders, social dysfunction and other hidden forms of learning disabilities. It was reiterated by Joyce that teachers who may not necessarily be experts, but must be aware of the symptoms associated with the disabilities and refer any suspicions to the Additional Learning Support unit for accurate assessment and intervention to boost learner achievement. His excellency duly annotated the mechanism which he included in his opening speech under the context of an imminent launch of the Free and Quality Education which took place on 20th August 2018. The minister indicated an interest in developing a mechanism to scale up professional development to all teachers and encouraged participating teachers to share acquired skills with their colleagues as a way of strengthening the effectiveness of the programme. Acknowledging the challenges faced in education in Sierra Leone, he urged pessimists to change their perception by fully committing to government efforts to overhaul the education system. He stated that invitation had been extended to many school teachers and heads to participate in the launch of the free and quality education. Finally, he declared open the event and added that he was priviledged to have participated in the workshop.
After a robust lunch, the second session delivered by Joyce was themed principles of effective teaching which explored different strategies to improve pedagogies. Teachers were taken through methodologies that include error diagnosis, questioning strategies, collaborative learning, application of concepts to real life, connections between concepts, problem thinking abilities developed through methodical approaches and integrating digital skills. Joyce reiterated that it is a disservice to teach 21st century students without appropriate technology, to which many participating teachers raised concerns about a severe lack of resources and support. For instance, teachers were pleased to know that their smartphones were a good resource to embed technology by showing suitable videos as part of their teaching practice among other techniques. They were advised to be proactive in the use of technology and made aware of easily accessible interactive web-based resources, apps and were supported to open email addresses. Completed feedback forms indicate a strong and positive embrace of CPD, deep appreciation and demand for future sessions. A satisfied school leader was so pleased with the sessions that she opted to donate funds towards meeting costs.
The Makeni City session welcomed a vibrant community of teachers who were experiencing a historical and free provision of capacity development session for the first time. Despite limited resources, the session took place starting with Isatu who explored innovative principles of Assessment for Learning. As teachers engaged and participated in the session, they were eager to view the laminated resources and made annotations for their subsequent practice.
Teachers were encouraged to compare and contrast their current practice of assessment with newly acquired techniques with the objective of supplementing their existing skillset. During the break, teachers networked among themselves and posed for pictures. Some commented positively about the content and relevance of the event for teachers in a disadvantaged part of the country and had never experienced any such support mechanism offered by the government or indeed any organisation.
When Joyce resumed the second half, she stated that it was UKAPES’ objective to introduce and institute CPD into Africa’s education system, a robust provision in UK’s institutions. Though an ambitious project for all Anglophone African states, Joyce was very optimistic that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and as a result, progressive measures are taken to achieve the stated objective. While repeating the same module as effective teaching strategies, teachers participated actively, enthusiastically relating their experiences of their teaching practice.
A meeting facilitated by Honourable Jobson Momoh with the Chair of the Teaching Service Commission, Dr Stanela Beckley confirmed the urgent need for driving up education standards in Sierra Leone through teacher development. She identified efforts made by her organisation to stimulate the process through professional and progressive teacher status approaches, competency tests, performance, observations and collaborations with aid organisations. Concerned about the proliferation of capacity building programmes offered by external agencies, Dr Beckley expressed an urgent attention to coordinating such activities. In her gratitude to UKAPES for the programmes, she insisted on keeping the lines of communication open to strengthen the provision, assess its impact and co-ordinate its frequency. Her counterpart, Mrs Sylvie Risch, Director of Teacher Development and Performance, on awareness of continuing professional development was keen to embrace the transfer of innovative and evolving teaching strategies as promoted by UKAPES co-founders.
It is expected that this pioneering and historical teacher development event provided by UKAPES will stimulate an improved teaching and learning experience for young people, more government involvement through adequate funding with the desired outcome of skilling up youths for effective global participation and economic productivity.