Developing policy for inclusive education in Sierra Leone

Overview

The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), made a commitment to support the establishment of an inclusive environment for all learners in the Republic of Sierra Leone by developing a policy to promote inclusive education. Under the auspices of the Education for Children with Disabilities Network (ECDN) in Sierra Leone, Sightsavers commissioned the University of Northampton to conduct research to gather data to inform the development of an inclusive education policy.

Aims
What were the main aims of the initiative?

The aims of the research were as follows:

  • to provide advice on aspects of early identification, assessment of support needs for learners and schools and intervention/rehabilitation;
  • to suggest potential strategies to promote awareness of the educational needs and abilities of persons with disabilities within the education system and wider community, in order to support the development of inclusive education;
  • to make recommendations concerning the practical ways of promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities in formal and non-formal education and training;
  • to make recommendations regarding the promotion of a barrier-free environment for learners with disabilities in ALL learning institutions in the Republic of Sierra Leon;
  • to provide advice and make recommendations to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology concerning potential uses of specialised facilities, universal accessibility infrastructures and services, assistive devices and technology, equipment and teaching/learning materials;
  • to make recommendations regarding the training and professional development of school staff and associated professionals, to enable them to deliver quality services for learners with special needs and disabilities in inclusive environment;
  • to advise on potential approaches to enhancing collaboration and networking, strategic partnerships and participation of stakeholders, including the relevant ministries, parents of children with disabilities and other special needs, as well as organisations representing people with disabilities and organisations working in the field of disability and health;
  • to provide advice and recommendations on a potential research agenda to support the further development of inclusive education in the Republic of Sierra Leone.

The research led to the development of a policy proposal, which was presented to the MEST and subsequently developed as national policy.

Background
Location, Setting, Scope, Key Events etc.

Following armed conflict and the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, the country faces many challenges in the development of infrastructure and the provision of services to citizens. The policy challenges faced by the MEST relate specifically to the numbers of children who do not have access to adequate schooling and education. Children with disabilities and their families have faced major challenges in gaining access to education.

Data was collected through a series of interviews and focus groups (N=119) conducted with key stakeholders, including service providers and users in four regions of Sierra Leone. In addition, school documents were examined and observation visits made to schools in four regions of the country.

Issues Addressed
What issues/challenges does the case study address?

The policy aims to establish an inclusive environment for all learners in the Republic of Sierra Leone.

The commissioning of this work was influenced by the Education for All goals and international agreements pertaining to increased access to primary education.

Implementation
How was the initiative implemented?

Data was collected during the autumn of 2016 and a report issued to the ECDN in May 2017. This was subsequently presented to the MEST in June 2017.

Two visits to Sierra Leone were undertaken by the research consultant. During the first visit, field workers were trained and visits were made to four regions of the country to collect data. The first visit enabled interviews and focus groups to be completed with professionals working in education and health services, policy-makers at national and regional levels, parents, organisations representing people with disabilities and representatives of NGOs. During a second visit, the research findings were presented in four regions. These presentations provided a forum for discussion related to the practicalities of policy development and implementation before the report was issued.

The ECDN subsequently presented the report, recommendations and a draft policy to the MEST. The MEST has now issued the Sierra Leone National Education Sector Plan 2018, which reflects the work of this study (see link below).

A key role in this work was played by the ECDN, a well-respected organisation based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The ECDN has well-established links to other disability rights organisations throughout the country. Sightsavers also played an important role in co-ordinating the work and arranging a timetable and venues for data collection. The University of Northampton provided a research team and access to essential data collection and analysis facilities.

Key Outcomes & Impact
What where the key outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

The work established empirical data, which has subsequently informed policy development for inclusive education in Sierra Leone.

The full impact will only be known after a period of policy implementation. However, through this work, many individuals with disabilities, their families and organisations who represent them, were given an opportunity to have their voices heard and to influence policy development in the country.

Sierra Leone faces many socio-economic challenges. Away from the capital city, Freetown, many people live in isolated communities with poor infrastructure, communication and access to resources. Access to schools often requires significant effort on the part of families. Schools lack facilities to afford access to many children with disabilities, despite significant efforts to make improvements in recent years. Few teachers in the country’s schools have adequate training to enable them to provide a well-differentiated curriculum for a diverse school population.

There is a commitment in the country to improve opportunities for children with disabilities and organisations which are working effectively and to have good communication with government and non-governmental organisations in order to steer change.

Evaluation
Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The policy is new and, as yet, there are no definite plans for its evaluation, though there is an awareness that this will be necessary.

Proposals for change are contained in the recently-issued Sierra Leone National Education Sector Plan 2018. There are proposals which relate to school enrolment, teacher training and improvements in infrastructure, which, if implemented, will have a positive impact on access to education for children with disabilities and others from marginalised sectors of Sierra Leonean society.

Future Developments / Sustainability
Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

Proposals for change are contained in the recently-issued Sierra Leone National Education Sector Plan 2018. There are proposals which relate to school enrolment, teacher training and improvements in infrastructure, which, if implemented, will have a positive impact on access to education for children with disabilities and others from marginalised sectors of Sierra Leonean society.

Contact information

Richard Rose
Professor of Inclusive Education,
University of Northampton, UK

Richard.Rose@northampton.ac.uk

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Sierra Leone