The lack of female teachers in Sierra Leone makes it hard for girls to aspire to a career of their own. Only 27% of girls are still enrolled in school by secondary level.
The Girls’ Access to Education (GEC SL) programme, funded with UKaid from the UK government, seeks to support marginalised girls and children with disabilities to reach their learning potential and transition from primary to secondary education and beyond. As part of GEC SL the Open University has designed an innovative pathway to the teaching profession for young women in rural areas. Working with rural communitiesyoung women who have been unable to complete secondary schooling
,are selected to become Learning Assistants. Learning Assistants undertake a practical work placement in a local primary school and also engage in a distance learning programme (Maths and English) supported by a tutor. Highly interactive study materials guide their subject study and participation in school.
After 12 – 18 months Learning Assistants sit the entrance exam for Teacher Training College. Those who are successful continue their school placements whilst studying on the Teachers’ Certificate Distance programme to become qualified primary school teachers.
The programme has already supported over 500 Learning Assistants and 476 are currently studying with the Teachers’ Colleges. A further 250 Learning Assistants have started the programme. As part of a COVID response the learning assistants and student teachers trained by the OU are at the center of providing learning support to marginalised learners in their communities.
Learning Assistants have been shown to make a difference to the quality of rural schools and the experiences of children. They promote learning and aspiration, particularly with girl pupils.
Catherine M Lahai lost both her parents before her secondary school exams, so there was no one to help her continue her education. Catherine sells vegetables at the roadside to support herself while she studies to become a teacher.
The independent study in the programme has improved my study skills. The in-school experience means I can proudly conduct class tests and much more. Before this, it was very much evident that I had no future hope, but today I strongly believe I am better placed both within and outside my community. It has created tremendous change in my life.Catherine M. Lahai
The Learning Assistant programme was designed by The Open University and is delivered in partnership with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) as part of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) Girls’ Education Challenge Programme in Sierra Leone (GEC SL), led by Plan International UK. Local partners include international and national NGOs and the Teacher Training Colleges.
The project is made possible by UK aid funding through the Girls Education Challenge Programme, set up by the UK Government. Local partners include international and national NGOs and a teacher training college, through which the project reaches over 180 rural primary schools.
The learning resources for the GEC SL project are freely available to all on the OpenLearn website under a Creative Commons license.