Last week, I met the Deputy Director of Education for the Western Area of Sierra Leone. Addressing me as ‘comrade’, we spoke for around thirty minutes about how the country can possibly cope with the demands on its educational system.
The population growth is acute – class sizes are increasing at a worrying rate and classes of eighty plus are now normal. At the same time, he is concerned about the lack of teachers. Many are moving into other professional work at the first opportunity (if they can) with salaries pitifully low, and government systems for direct bank transfer of wages not yet reliable.
The familiar refrains regarding under-resourced schools are repeated with some justification, and the civil war, closely followed by the Ebola crisis, have further delayed development. But the key factor preventing improvement is training.
To really make a step-change here in this wonderful country, an investment in training coupled with improved school leadership is required. The best teachers need to be identified and rewarded for sharing good practice; this is the way teachers best learn and develop.
I put my ideas to my ‘comrade’ who acknowledged my thinking and didn’t rule it out – a teaching school in each part of the district – but I suspect other pressures (providing pupils with books and pencils for example) may take precedence.
But it’s the same in the UK as it is in the Sierra Leone – teachers learn best from other teachers in a climate of appreciative enquiry. In both countries, this is sadly not happening nearly enough.
In Sierra Leone, deadly civil wars and viruses have proven insurmountable obstacles. In the UK, through our obsession with competition and accountability, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and only have ourselves to blame.