Summer – school is out but our work continues!
As the school year winds down for children here and in Sierra Leone, the Foundation’s work is just beginning to ramp up as we move ahead with our research project on self-directed learning in Sierra Leone.
With the help of our many partners worldwide, we are putting learning resources for basic literacy and numeracy skills directly into the hands of the students. The impact can be transformative.
We recognize that, while improving academic outcomes is important, learning is a much broader issue and requires the interest and engagement of the child at many levels. Children in Sierra Leone live in a context where there are few qualified teachers, parents are often illiterate, poverty is a major roadblock, and schools are straining to provide even the basics for learning. With this in mind, we want to introduce children to new sources of information to help them to get ahead.
Our two-year project this year has two streams: a Peer Literacy program and a research component intended to evaluate the impact of self-directed learning. CAUSE Canada will implement both parts. The Peer Literacy Program supports high school girls, allowing them to continue their education while, at the same time, they work as literacy tutors to primary school children in their communities. Following a 3-week training course, 80 peer literacy facilitators will work with almost 5,000 students each year from September to June, in 2016 and 2017, in the district of Koinadugu of northern Sierra Leone.
Pre-testing will begin this fall in preparation for the research intervention the following year. At that point, we will introduce the Digital Learning Centres that will be offered to approximately 5,000 primary school students in an extra-curricular setting. These centres will include interactive academic content in the hope of increasing the knowledge acquired at school.
Each Learning Centre will consist of a learning area (classroom) that will be equipped with 15-20 tablets, earphones and a RACHEL (Remote Areas Community Hotspots for Education and Learning) Plus Wi-Fi server. The cost to fully equip a Learning Centre is approximately $3,500. The equipment will be powered by solar panels that we will procure from a supplier in Sierra Leone.
The RACHEL Plus Raspberry Pi (from our partner, World Possible, in California) has a capacity of 400 GB of content. Up to 50 devices can connect wirelessly to it so that students can work on any of the thousands of interactive videos and exercises in literacy (from our partner, Fantastic Phonics, in Australia, with the help of eXplorance in Montreal) and math, science and health (KA Lite, Khan Academy’s offline version). Other available content will include MIT Scratch (coding), Wikipedia Academic and thousands of e-books, including material developed by our partner CODE Canada in Ottawa. The content on the RACHEL Plus can be modified remotely to ensure that content is always up to date and in line with student needs and interests.
Professor Sonia Laszlo, the newly appointed director of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University, will lead the research team along with Professors Franque Grimard and Jim Engle-Warnick. Our research will focus on evaluating the cognitive or academic outcomes and non-cognitive outcomes from participation at the Learning Centres. We will be able to evaluate qualities such as the students’ intrinsic motivation and self-confidence. We will also be able to evaluate life aspiration changes that may develop as a result of children having access to interesting, interactive and entertaining content developed to support their natural curiosity and their innate talents, interests and skills.
We know that this multi-partner, multi-country effort will dramatically improve our understanding of what works effectively to improve learning outcomes and help us have a greater impact on our support of girls’ education. Everything we do will remain “open source”. Organizations and individuals around the globe will be able to share the lessons we have learned and the published results of the research study. It is through worldwide collaboration that we can truly ensure that we are offering the most effective and most innovative opportunities for all children to reach their potential.
Thank you for being there with us!!
President, 60 million girls
By Paula Gallagher
On February 12th, I had a lunch date in Nanaimo, BC. Those two hours were a wonderful reminder, not only of why I volunteer for the 60 million girls Foundation and the important work we do, but also of the amazing girls we have helped, and those we have yet to help. That is what having lunch with Shirah can do for you!
Shirah Owomugisha is a lovely, brave, twenty-year-old from Kanungu District, Uganda, and a graduate of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, a foundation with which we partnered in 2012 and 2015. In October 2015, Shirah arrived in Nanaimo to attend the University of Vancouver Island (UVI) on a full scholarship. From her remote village, Shirah first travelled to Kampala then flew alone from Kampala to Amsterdam, and then on to Vancouver. It was her first airplane flight and she didn’t get lost at Schiphol, Amsterdam’s busy airport!
Shirah’s ‘first-time’ experiences since then have been innumerable. One that stood out was a trip to the food market. In Uganda, people eat what they grow in their own gardens. But there are numerous other things to which Shirah has had to adapt: the weather, the number of people, the food. Everything is different. And, of course, there’s the technology. However, she easily gave me directions to her homestay using her cell phone…
Shirah is currently upgrading her English at UVI, and plans to start a degree program in September, perhaps in accounting or marketing. She has been amazed at the continuing kindness of Canadians, and is so appreciative of the opportunities to further her education. She realizes that she is paving the way for other Nyaka students and has a responsibility to take advantage of every opportunity.
Shirah wants to do well. After meeting her, I am convinced she will succeed. Just look at what she has done so far!