Small Changes Can Shift Mindsets
“I never knew a girl could do this.”
This is what one of the girls in our project in Sierra Leone said to the project manager of We Day Kam Back, the project we are funding through our partner, CAUSE Canada. Through intensive, personalized tutoring, mentoring, and community engagement, we are hopeful that we are making in-roads in changing ideas about girls’ education, showing parents that girls can and should stay in school and that girls can contribute to their communities in new ways.
In the rural district of northern Sierra Leone where the project is taking place, most families live in deep poverty and with limited resources, they tend to prioritize their sons’ education. By the time girls are twelve or thirteen at the end of their primary education, they often leave school to help their families, eventually becoming young wives and mothers themselves. Most girls in this community don’t know any other way, and they don’t know the realm of possibilities that exist for jobs beyond care giving.
In Sierra Leone, just 67% of primary-aged children, and 46% of the poorest students, complete primary school. Less than half of all children and adolescents graduate from lower secondary and as a result, the youth literacy rate is very low with just 57% of girls aged 15-24 able to read a simple sentence, though 80% of boys are able to do so.
In fact, the generally poor quality of schooling means that young people in Sierra Leone wanting to continue to secondary school can find their path blocked by poor performance on required national examinations. Early learning achievement is a good predictor for future success in school, and data show that an appallingly low 6% of children in grades 2 or 3 have reached a minimum level of proficiency in reading and math.
The government’s new education policy, called the National Policy on Radical Inclusion in Schools, has taken important steps to change both access to school and the quality of education through deep consultations with communities and a new focus on foundational learning. The country has also revamped its data collection so the education ministry (and parents) can better assess progress.
In the meantime, We Day Kam Back is providing adolescent girls with a chance to restart their schooling. The project we funded, and which is nearing completion, aimed to boost not only the quality of education, but also the mindset keeping girls at home and out of the classroom.
Trained tutors offered two hours of daily learning facilitation with the intention of bringing students up to an academic level enabling them to re-integrate into formal schooling. Mothers’ clubs were empowered to keep students on track, and outreach activities helped to bring the whole community, especially parents, on board to support their daughters’ efforts. Many families didn’t know, for instance, that Sierra Leone had recently changed a law so that pregnant girls could attend school. This information helped shift ideas and the realization that all girls should continue their education.
The momentum from the project increased engagement from a planned 640 girls to accommodate a total of 800 girls in the tutoring program, all of whom stayed through the whole school year, with gains in math and reading evidenced in both the mid-term and end-of-project evaluations.
Many of the tutors grew up in these rural, isolated communities, but had returned after completing their education in the city. All were trained on how to use our Mobile Learning Lab – an offline technology with fun and interactive games and apps to support students’ learning. In addition to helping students with reading and math, the tutors acted as mentors and provided continuous support and counseling to the girls, encouraging them to pursue their education.
Our partners at CAUSE Canada were so excited to present the findings to us, relaying the hope that small changes over time will help to change norms and that adolescent girls will be able to see themselves in roles beyond motherhood and the home. We can’t wait to see what these young people will be able to achieve!