Sierra Leone

From POERUP - Policies for OER Uptake
Jump to: navigation, search

by Paul Bacsich for Re.ViCa. Updated for VISCED by Nick Jeans and James Kay

For entities in Sierra Leone see Category:Sierra Leone

Experts situated in Sierra Leone

None found so far.

Country in a nutshell

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea in the northeast, Liberia in the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest.

Sierra Leone has a population estimated at 6.4 million and covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi).

Its capital is Freetown - which is also the largest city and the economic centre (with a population of just over 1 million).

The country is a constitutional republic comprising three provinces and the Western Area, which are further divided into fourteen districts.

The country has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests.

English is the official language, spoken at schools, government administration and by the media. However, the Krio language (a language derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people) is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of the country. The Krio language is spoken by 97% of the country's population and unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other - yet despite its common use throughout the country, the Krio language has no official status.

Sierra Leone is very rich in minerals and has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. The country is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world, and mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone also claims to be home to the third largest natural harbour in the world, the Queen Elizabeth II Quay (also known as the QE II Quay and locally as the Deep Water Quay or Government Warf).

Sierra Leone is the third lowest ranked country on the Human Development Index and seventh lowest on the Human Poverty Index, raising many challenges for the government and people. However, Sierra Leone is slowly emerging from a protracted civil war and is showing signs of a successful transition. Investor and consumer confidence continues to rise, adding impetus to the country’s economic recovery. There is greater freedom of movement and the successful re-habitation and resettlement of residential areas.

Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim nation. Followers of Islam are estimated to comprise 60% of Sierra Leone's population. Muslims predominate in all of the country's three provinces and plus the Western Area. Followers of Christianity comprise 10%, and those of African indigenous religion, 30%

The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion - the government generally protects this right and does not tolerate its abuse. Unlike many other African countries, the religious diversity of Sierra Leone has seldom led to conflict.

Education in Sierra Leone

Education in Sierra Leone is legally required for all children for six years at primary level (Class P1-P6) and three years in junior secondary education. Primary education is free.

However, a shortage of schools and teachers has made implementation of this law impossible. Two thirds of the adult population of the country are illiterate.

The Sierra Leone Civil War resulted in the destruction of 1,270 primary schools and in 2001 67 percent of all school-age children were out of school. However, the situation has improved considerably since then with primary school enrollment doubling between 2001 and 2005 and the reconstruction of many schools since the end of the war. The Government has also set up special schools for children maimed as a result of the conflict in the country.

Public spending on education was 3.8% of GDP in 2005/06. There are six years of primary education and six years of secondary. The pupil-teacher ratio for primary is 37:1 and for secondary 27:1. The school year starts in September.

The principal tertiary institutions are Fourah Bay College in Freetown and Njala University, with campuses in Bo and Njala. These universities, together with Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (Freetown), Eastern Polytechnic (main campus in Kenema) and other independent tertiary institutions, are all affiliated to the University of Sierra Leone. The country also has a number of teacher-training and technical/vocational institutions providing certificate and diploma courses. Illiteracy among people aged 15-24 is 45.9% (2006).

The government's education plan for 2007-15 aims to complete rehabilitation of the country's education system, after the years of civil war, in order to give all citizens access to quality education. The plan emphasises primary education, skills training and tertiary education to meet development needs.

Schools in Sierra Leone

The new structure of Sierra Leone’s educational system embraces a preprimary (nursery) education. The new statutory age for a child to enter primary school is six years. Children between the ages of three and six can receive preprimary education. The main objective of this nursery education is to prepare children for primary education. However, preprimary education can be formal or informal. Because it is not considered a right in the country, preprimary education is given in private schools in the capital, Freetown, and in other large towns in the country. The government pays the salaries of serving teachers in these schools and controls the private preschools through the Nursery Schools Association and the Inspectorate Division of the Department of Education.

The new 6-3-3-4 system allocates six years to primary schooling, from age 6 to 12. In the new system, all primary schools are controlled by the Department of Education. To open a new primary school, the Inspectorate Division must inspect the new school to ensure compliance with specified minimum national standards before being allowed to operate. However, private proprietors, missionary bodies, local governments, or such institutions as large businesses or university colleges are allowed to continue to operate primary schools for the children and wards of their workers. The student-teacher ratio is set at 40:1. At this level, emphasis is placed on the communicative competence of the children and their ability to manipulate figures. In classes one, two and three, the medium of instruction is the child’s community language, while English is the medium of instruction in the higher classes. The study of Sierra Leone forms a significant part of the child’s education so that the child will have a sound basic grasp of the facts of the country and its relationship to the world. Natural sciences and social studies receive considerable attention at this level. Continuous assessment of students has been introduced into the new system. At the end of class six, the last class of the primary school education, the student’s continuous assessment record card is to be submitted to the principal of the junior secondary school into which the student is accepted after taking the National Primary School Examination (NPSE). This exam, taken at the end of class six, is an external examination conducted by the West African Exams Council. It tests the whole range of the student’s competence.

Under the new system, secondary education is divided into junior and senior secondary schooling. After six years of primary schooling, the student spends three years in junior secondary school and another three years in senior secondary school. Junior secondary school (JSS) is the final part of formal basic education. It provides a broad-based general education to students between the ages of 12 and 15 years that will enable them to enter senior secondary school, vocational and technical education, or the workforce. The courses offered at this level are divided into core subjects, which are compulsory for all JSS students, and electives, which are chosen for study by the students with the help of their guidance counselors and parents.

Some of the aims of junior secondary education are to introduce subjects encouraging the development of nationally desired and marketable skills and the provision of training in community awareness and community responsibility. At the end of junior secondary school, students take the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), conducted by the West African Examinations Council. Continuous assessment forms part of each student’s final grade.

Senior secondary school (SSS) is the final stage of the secondary school education; it is a three-year program for students between the ages of 15 and 18 who have completed the JSS course and obtained the required BECE grades. This level contains an element of specialization, preparing the student for university education or a professional school or any other postsecondary institution. There are two kinds of senior secondary schools—general and specialist. The general secondary school operates a comprehensive curriculum, while the specialist secondary school caters to students whose interests and aptitudes are for such specialized subject areas as science and mathematics, technology, liberal arts, and business studies. In general, students at this level are offered a set of core (compulsory) subjects and some optional subjects. At the end of senior secondary school, a student takes the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE). A student’s grade at this examination, together with the student’s continuous assessment grade, determines the student’s final grade for this level


Further and Higher education

Universities in Sierra Leone

The country has two main universities:

  1. the University of Sierra Leone, founded as Fourah Bay College in 1827 (the oldest university in West Africa) - On that site the University VC notes: "We have introduced computer courses for all students so that by the time they complete their courses they will be computer literate and well equipped to perform effectively in their places of work."
  2. Njala University - (site not working at present). Thi is primarily located in Bo District, which was established as the Njala Agricultural Experimental Station in 1910 and became a university in 2005. In univerity form it was originally created as part of the University of Sierra Leone (USL) in 1964 with the help of USAID and offered degrees in conjunction with the University of Illinois. Subsequent legislation in 1972 paired Fourah Bay and Njala under the University of Sierra Leone Act, where the presidents of each institution switched the presidency of the USL on a biennial basis. This continued until 2005, when the University act separated Fourah Bay and NU into distinct institutions independently run. There is a fascinating historical overview of Njala University at,%20Sierra%20Leone%202.ppt

Polytechnics in Sierra Leone

Eastern Polytechnic

There is also mention of a Northern Polytechnic here and elsewhere, but information is harder to find.

Colleges in Sierra Leone

  • Teacher training colleges and religious seminaries are found in many parts of the country. These include:
  1. Bo Teacher's College
  2. Christ the King College
  3. Eastern Polytechnic - but note that the institutional web site is not the one given as !
  4. Magburaka Technical Institute
  5. Makeni Teacher's College
  6. Milton Margai College of Education and Technology
  7. Port Loko Teacher's College

Note that they all have informative Wikipedia entries but the web sites given are not valid institutional web sites.

  • Technical/Vocational Education: The new 6-3-3-4 system greatly favors technical and vocational education. This kind of education does not only serve school leavers but also older adults as well. The technical/vocational component of higher education is designed to grapple with the shortage of skilled manpower. Some of the objectives of technical/vocational education are to increase the number of indigenous, skilled, lower middle-level, blue collar workers; to produce a more literate, numerate, middle-level workforce to enhance national development; to encourage women and girls to participate in national development through the acquisition of technical and vocational skills; and to create the conducive environment for the development of appropriate indigenous technology.

There are three levels of the technical/vocational educational structure. In level one, the student spends three years leading to the technical/vocational certificate (T/V certificate) stage three, or two years leading to the T/V certificate stage two, or one year leading to the T/V certificate stage one. In level two, the student spends two years leading to the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) after obtaining the T/V certificate stage three. In level three, the student spends two years leading to the Higher National Diploma (HND) after obtaining the OND. The polytechnics offer the HND as their highest qualification; the technical/vocational institutes offer the OND and HNC as their highest qualification, and the trade/technical/vocational centers offer the T/V certificate stages one to three. The community education/animation centers offer courses to early school leavers and adult learners, which qualify them for entry into technical/vocational centers.

  • Professional Education: Professional schools such as the School of Nursing; the Hotel and Tourism Training Center; the Institute of Library, Archive, and Information Studies; and the Law School are entrusted with the responsibility to train professionals.

Education reform


Sierra Leone is one of the countries with the highest illiteracy rates in the world. The New Education Policy for Sierra Leone maintains that 69.3 percent of the male population is illiterate, while 80.0 percent of the female population is illiterate. Part of the function of the National Commission for Basic Education is to coordinate adult and nonformal education. “A significant percentage of 6- to 16-year-olds are not attending school and there is a high rate of school dropouts. With a population growth rate of approximately 2.6 percent a year, the literacy rate cannot improve significantly without a massive and urgent intervention by the government” (New Education Policy). The nonformal component of the new system aims at accelerating adult literacy.

The Department of Education, the Basic Education Commission, and the Adult Education Committee intend to work together to implement a language policy to facilitate the use of English and indigenous languages in literacy and nonformal education classes. These bodies, among other things, also aim to ensure that by the year 2020, animation centers/community education centers are established in every district and attached to all teacher training colleges.

The new system also envisages a situation whereby the enrollment and retention of female students will be encouraged by making their primary education free and compulsory, as well as making it possible for young mothers to be re-admitted into the formal system of education. The National Education Action Plan (NEAP) clearly specifies that in nonformal and adult education, the focus is on women and girls with particular attention to rural folk, street children, the disabled, and the disadvantaged. A Materials Development Department is in place to provide materials for literacy classes.


Efforts at improvement in education in Sierra Leone seem to have been directed more at basic education than higher education.

Administration and finance


The old organizational and managerial structure of education in Sierra Leone was inadequate to meet the social, economic, technological, and other challenges of the time. The new system seeks a systematic reform and reorganization of the management and administration of education at all levels. The new structure will be decentralized and professionalized. Matters relating to administrative and service matters will be decentralized to the regional and district education authorities. A directorate system has also been put into place. The director general and chief advisor to the secretary of state is the professional and administrative head of the Department of Education. Separate directorates are responsible for planning, educational programs, educational services, resources-personnel and finance, and support services. The Director of Education (Inspectorate) is responsible for coordinating the daily administration of education at the regional and district levels.

Public funding of education for the past quarter of a century saw a drastic decline partly because of the downturn in the national economy and the neglect of education by various governments. In the new system, all possible sources of funding for education, internal and external, will be harnessed. The new system advocates increasing central government funding to education with more support to basic education and external assistance to primary education through investment. Another means of funding education will be through work study programs and loan schemes. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will be encouraged to finance specific programs, segments, projects, or activities. Also, private individuals, youth organizations, local bodies, professionals, and other groups will be encouraged to participate in the funding of education in the country. For the efficient management of educational finances, the Department of Education has set up a directorate for resources.

An autonomous National Curriculum Research and Development Center will deal with curriculum research, development, and evaluation, as well as with the development of materials and textbook production. Some of the aims of this national body are to conduct research and situational analyses that provide detailed information about the educational process and the criteria for such changes in the curriculum as may be necessary to initiate, promote, and develop new curricula in consonance with research findings, as well as to articulate the objectives of the approved educational structure/system.

Private institutions have always been a significant part of Sierra Leone’s education system. Unlike government/public institutions, private institutions do not receive assistance from public funds. The establishment and maintenance of private institutions is guaranteed in part 11, section 3 (c) of the Education Act No. 63 of 1964. The new system upholds the existence of private institutions as long as no child is discriminated against by the private institution on the grounds of race, creed, or religion. The new system endorses the principle of partnership in the provision of education. Although not funded with public funds, private institutions are expected to follow the prescribed national curriculum with specific reference to Sierra Leonean languages, Sierra Leone studies, and life skills subjects. They are also subject to regular and systematic inspection by the Department of Education Inspectorate staff. Students in these institutions are allowed to take the NPSE, BECE, and SSSCE. The new system stipulates that at least 25 percent of the teaching staff in a private institution shall be Sierra Leoneans.

Under the Education Act, 2004 in order to establish a new private school, written authority of the Director-General is needed. Notable private schools include the Lebanese International School and the Limount College, both of which follow syllabi developed in the UK to prepare students for O-level and A-level equivalency level examinations that are internationally recognized.


The majority of higher education institutions are public, with various smaller technical and vocational institutions. (1)

Quality assurance


The West African Examinations Council hold the responsibility of ascertaining examinations required in the public interest in Sierra Leone and other English-speaking West African countries.


The National Council for Technical, Vocational and Other Academic Awards (NCTVA) regulates the activities of techniacl and vocational institutions. (1)

Information society

The country's National ICT Policy put internet penetration at 0.27 %, while according to Internet World Statistics, Sierra Leone is at 0.3% (2)


  • Lack of national broadband strategy: connecting the provincial and district centres
  • Lack of ICT Education Policy,
  • High cost of digital electronics devices,
  • High cost of high speed internet connectivity,
  • Lack of a reliable and sustainable national IP Network,
  • The poor infrastructural development such as the frequent power cut or no power at all.
  • The lack of technical skills especially on software.
  • The low availability of funds. (3)

In Sierra Leone, despite all the difficulties the country faces, private-sector activities have led to some efforts at developing a robust ICT infrastructure.

  • Fixed-line operators: 1
  • Total fixed-line telephone subscribers: 23,327
  • Cellular mobile operators: 5
  • Total cellular mobile subscribers (2005): 297,000
  • Mobile subscribers (per 1,000 people) (2004): 22
  • Internet users per 100 inhabitants (2004): 2
  • Personal computers per 1,000 inhabitants (2004): 12

All the major tertiary institutions, such as the university and polytechnics, have computer centres for training students and giving concessionary Internet access to staff and students. The University of Sierra Leone has a computer centre that provides teaching in basic computer skills to all staff and students. The centre also offers Internet and electronic library services. At the school level, there is very little infrastructure in terms of computers and the Internet. The competing education needs means that very little has yet been done in the area of equipping schools with computers and efforts in this area are mainly through the support of NGOs. (4)

ICT in education initiatives

Virtual initiatives in schools

The civil war disrupted the communications network nationwide, leaving Sierra Leone’s Broadcasting Unit dormant for a long time. However, since the end of the war, several private and public FM broadcasting stations have been established across the country and there is one FM 95.1 Radio Education unit housed at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology with UNESCO support. The government is now (2005) in the process of revamping it to implement educational programmes for children between 6 and 14 years of age. The aim is to accelerate the level of literacy from 20% to 75% and to ensure the participation of women and girls in non-formal education programmes. (1)

Virtual initiatives in post-secondary education

Prompted by the massive growth in pupil enrolment as a result of fee-free education provisions, the need for training and upgrading primary school teachers became acute in 2000. Teacher training through conventional face-to-face instruction was found to be inadequate to provide for the large numbers of people needing training. Thus, starting in 2001, the use of distance education to upgrade existing primary school teachers began, with support from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), UNESCO, UNICEF and Plan Sierra Leone. There are at present (2005) about 2,000 unqualified and untrained primary school teachers enrolled in the Teacher’s Certificate Course operating in Freetown and eight districts of the country. The students follow the same syllabus as the conventional teachers’ college students for the same duration. The first batch of students for the Teacher’s Certificate graduated in 2004. (1)

Lessons learnt

General lessons

Notable practices


1. Education in Sierra Leone



4. InfoDev report June 2007

> Countries
>> Main Page