In seven classrooms of the St. Pius School in Bo Town, Sierra Leone, 180 teachers-in-training cheered every morning and sang the National Anthem before spending hours discussing how to effectively teach primary school-age children with their counterparts from the United States, Canada, Scotland, and Liberia, West Africa. Among the international visiting master trainers were three affiliates of Hobart and William Smith’s Education Department: Assistant Professor Audrey Roberson, Professor Charles Temple and Mary Jameson ’12, a former Peace Corps worker in Uganda.
With barriers to accessing education, low retention and completion rates, and late entry across communities in Sierra Leone, university lecturers and teachers collaborated to improve access to education, while also reinforcing their pride in the country and the teaching profession. Their training was part of a World Bank-sponsored project called Revitalizing Education Development in Sierra Leone (REDISL) and was coordinated by the Sierra Leonean government and the Canadian literacy organization CODE (www.codecan.org). The aim of this summer’s effort was to offer 80 hours of training to 5,000 teachers of grades 1-4, along with 600 school administrators. The training took place in a dozen sites scattered throughout Sierra Leone.
“The teaching methods in our training were developed in partnership with Sierra Leonean educators over several years. Our friend Johanna Kuyvenhoven from Calvin College in Michigan, working with a local group called TALLE, contributed the training materials for grades 1 and 2. The materials for grades 3 and 4 came out of training I had offered along with TALLE for upper primary grade teachers,” says Temple, noting it was one of the strengths of the Sierra Leone teaching project.
For several years CODE has piloted literacy work in Sierra Leone with the writers’ group PEN-Sierra Leone and TALLE, creating 14 original children’s stories (with 20 more on the way) for free distribution to children across the country.
While working with the elementary students, Jameson realized the usefulness of pocket teaching charts and found seamstresses to make 180 of them in four days utilizing foot-pedaled machines at a nearby orphanage. She hopes the Sierra Leone Ministry of Education will arrange for more charts to be created and distributed to the more than 5,500 teachers in other parts of the country as well. As she pursues her Master of Arts in Teaching at the Relay Graduate School of Education in New York City, Jameson is teaching on the sixth-grade team at Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Charter School.
Roberson says she enjoyed serving as a co-instructor in the classroom with her Sierra Leone counterpart.
“When thorny questions arose or discussion was encouraged, it was helpful to have someone on hand with a deep knowledge of the country to navigate intercultural communication styles,” says Roberson.
Jameson also found the first component of the program that utilized the “Train the Trainer” model to be effective. During the sessions, they were required to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps while emphasizing teaching. “I have become more confident in what I know about development models,” says Jameson.