How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty and recognises reality?
Most of our students are accessing education in their third language, having been raised in one of the wealth of local languages as small children, acquiring the lingua franca Krio as they meet others from other language groups and then eventually having to learn all of their school lessons in English. Accessing reading materials is difficult. There are no bright, multi-coloured, illustrated children’s books in Themne, Mende, Limba, Kono or Soso. In fact, none of the local languages are really even written languages. They are transcribed using phonetics for preservation’s sake, but these are oral languages with a rich history of story-telling and music instead. This, alongside little new input in terms of methodologies for improving the teaching of reading and writing, mean that poor literacy standards at every part of the education system are very common. When poor literacy standards are common, generating one’s own written or spoken English becomes a challenge. In fact, a lack of conscious teacher training on this issue means that students are rarely even expected to write their own ideas, their own sentences and certainly not to express their own opinions or defend them.
So, what are they doing? Largely, Sierra Leonean students learn to copy copiously! Other than the problems with independent literacy that emerge from this substitute for real learning, this requires the complete opposite of critical thinking in order to be a ‘good student’. Thinking, asking questions, challenging statements, assessing the validity of a piece of information, seeking corroborative evidence to support an argument, even having the argument are all seen as deviant behaviours. This is clearly desperately undermining not only many of the real purposes of education but also any chance of education being the key tool for preparing young people for genuine democratic engagement and citizenship.
The urgent need for a highly skilled and thinking population was demonstrated during the Ebola crisis when low levels of education combined with an extraordinary mistrust between people and authorities resulted in absolute confusion and the inability to access or assess good information and hundreds of unnecessary deaths. In times of political unrest here too, the inability to stand back from what goes as news and look at the biases that inform articles, result in the election and re-election of politicians who are never held to account for their promises, their actions or indeed their inaction!
In EducAid, we are greatly challenged by the fact that we have to prepare students to succeed in the national exams that require the consumption and regurgitation of vast amounts of subject content but are the only accepted measure of educational success, as things stand. While in the long run, I long for the opportunity to work with those in charge to find more suitable measures of success, for now, we have to work with what we have.
In our materials and lesson preparation, in our teacher training, in all of our outreach programmes, in all we do, we are consistently asking teachers to realise that copying does not even take their students on to the bottom rung of the thinking ladder. We use the Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking to prompt understanding of how we achieve development i.e. not just ‘photocopying’ one generation’s thinking over to the next one, but actually using all of the steps leading to creating which is where change and growth will come from. We teach staff and students to question whatever they are told, asking themselves what the evidence is, looking for corroboration or contrasting or apparently contradictory information and to seek for reasons for different perspectives, to realise that biases exist in so much that is presented as fact.
We constantly look for opportunities to add to the curriculum and to provide opportunities for the development of skills and attitudes that take us beyond the dangerous ‘banking’ teaching approach and actually prepare young people to build our vision: A dignified, democratic and prosperous Sierra Leone where poverty is eradicated by educated citizens.’
The qualities of an EducAid learner are:
- Naturally Inquisitive
- Courageous and resilient
- Value diversity
Our cross-cutting values which we actively search for in all our education programmes are:
- Pursuing excellence
- Ensuring equality of all
- Ensuring the safety of all
- Developing leadership thinking and behaviour
- Strengthening citizenship values
- Building community resilience
In EducAid, we encourage our young people to stand back from their own learning and see what aspects of the way they have covered a particular topic helped them develop the EducAidian qualities and values. We work in a way we call ‘EVC’, Every Voice Counts, and encourage all students to live up to their right and, maybe more importantly, their responsibility to have their well-informed voice heard in decisions pertaining to the school’s running, budgeting and teaching and so on. If they practice democratic engagement as youngsters they are far more likely to expect it of themselves and their society later.
We still have a long way to go, but we believe we have the building blocks in place for the empowerment of young people who can inform themselves, question what is presented to them, evaluate and assess and accordingly support others in resisting prejudice and unthinking knee-jerk responses to difficult situations.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young people please go to www.educaid.org.uk . If you are in a position to support EducAid’s work please go to https://mydonate.bt.com/donation/start.html?charity=66007
 Banking method of education is referred to by Paulo Freire in his ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed.’ It is otherwise often referred to as rote learning.