How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?

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The EducAid vision: A dignified and democratic Sierra Leone where poverty is eliminated by educated citizens! It is difficult to create a productive school environment without a clear vision so, for us in EducAid, this is our starting point; we are ready to be as radical as we need to be in order to achieve our goal.

If one looks at this vision against the shocking reality that exists here at the moment, there is a massive job to be done. Sierra Leone is: a country with extraordinary natural resources: gold, diamonds, rutile, iron ore, bauxite etc.; a green, fertile country with fantastic agricultural land where everything grows; it has the most stunning beaches and diverse wildlife where tourism should be bringing in considerable wealth; and it has the 3rd deepest natural harbour in the world with the potential to become an import/export hub for the whole sub-region. Yet Sierra Leone is: the 8th poorest country in the world, and has appalling life and governance statistics.

This reality focuses our attention; we are always looking closely at how we can do something so radically different that we can contribute in real ways to improving this situation. The country does not lack educated leaders in the sense that there are people at the top who have qualifications. However the education that these leaders have received does not seem to be bearing fruit, in development terms. If we simply continue down the same road, repeating the same things over again, there is little indication that we will bring about change. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want to see change, we have to start by doing different things.

EducAid has always made innovative approaches to learning but, as we bring our vision into clearer focus, we have introduced more and more strategies to engage our young people in a more focussed way.

If our vision is a democratic Sierra Leone, there is no time to waste in ensuring our young people expect genuine democratic participation. Our ‘Every Voice Counts’ initiative is about making sure that all members of the school community knows they not only have the right, but also the responsibility, to make their voice heard and to contribute to decision making about how the schools are run, the money spent, events are planned, goals are targeted etc. Students, junior and senior staff contribute to the design of learning materials, the staff appraisals, the design of the school calendar, the budget and reporting on expenditure. Addressing problems is not a staff task but a whole community responsibility. As a result of this way of working we have seen the junior staff step up and introduce initiatives for improving teaching and learning; we have seen children holding each other to account for poor performance; and students helping each other address family challenges such as talking to parents about excessive domestic chores or finding alternative ways of managing behaviour of difficult colleagues. In addition, we ensure our students are well informed about the world with regular engagement with current affairs. With this exposure students are able to link their activities within the school to their future activities in the country, challenging corrupt practices and bringing up initiatives for improving lives.

Because the vision is so much more than just individual personal achievement, there is an excitement that catches the imagination of staff and students. Having a bigger purpose than ‘me’ and focusing instead on ‘we’, an environment is created that can really encourage the flourishing of all. Our staff are proud that the work they are doing is contributing to national development. By having a strong, captivating vision that is really lived out on a day to day basis in all our activities, staff and students find themselves in an environment that is encouraging, empowering and exciting: a true learning community.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk If you are in a position to support our work, please go to: Donate to EducAid

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