SIERRA LEONE: Education ministry makes information more available to the publicSeptember 1, 2016
By Ahmed SahidNasralla (De Monk)
Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister of MEST
Staff of MEST ICT Unit doing some editorial work and uploading material to website
Not many people know that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) has led other ministries in its implementation of the President’s Post-Ebola Recovery Plan, with guidance from State House, and support from donor partners. In fact, there are a number of efforts underway at the MEST which are geared towards transformation of the sector but of which many know little or nothing.
In recent years, the MEST has steadily increased its focus on understanding what is going on in the sector, having conducted several studies and reports including the ‘Education Country Status Report- an analysis for further improving the quality, equity and efficiency of the education system in Sierra Leone’; the review of the education sector which took place in December of 2015, and has managed to execute an annual school census, capturing information on students, schools, and teachers to cover every academic year since 2011. These reports have been used to inform MEST decisions and strategy, including the ‘The Education Sector Plan 2014-2018- Learning to Succeed’, and most recently its key interventions supporting the President’s Recovery Plan and returning schools to normalcy after Ebola.
The Revitalizing Education Development in Sierra Leone (REDiSL) Project currently under implementation is helping MEST with some of these efforts. Funded by DFID and the Global Partnership for Education, channeling funds through the World Bank, the Project is financing the establishment and operationalization of a Teaching Service Commission (TSC) inaugurated in August, testing the concept of paying schools for performance, rolling out a pilot model of early childhood education programs and launching a national reading campaign (with books) for students in classes 1-3.
In the area of information collection and sharing, the Project is helping MEST address a key goal of building a healthy, information-sharing relationship with its general audience. As such, the MEST has for the first time in its entire history established a website and developed a staff directory as part of inputs being made to strengthen internal and external communications of the ministry. The website, which features data about schools and children, recent reports, information about the districts, as well as staff directory are part of a string of initiatives aimed at improving MEST’s internal and external communication capabilities and disseminating critical real-time information to students and parents alike.
“We hope through the website to get greater visibility of MEST and the work that is going on. We do a lot of work at MEST which people are unaware of,” says Dr. Albert Dupigny, Head of Change Unit at the Ministry. “We also hope that through the website we can make available electronic information that many outside the MEST will find useful and will help in understanding more about education in Sierra Leone.” Additionally, Dr. Dupigny continues, there’s now a Situation Room, where real live data on what is happening in schools are being processed. “All of this, including information on various projects and support we are getting, will be accessible on the website,” says Dr. Dupigny.
For example, the 2015 school census data, captured with support from the World Bank and UNICEF, is available now to the public via the website. “This now serves as an effective channel for disseminating the census information to the public and donor partners helping us all understand the state of education in the country, especially in the post-Ebola era,” says Kaliope Azzi-Huck, World Bank Task Team Leader responsible for the REDiSL Project.
The website, together with the MEST Staff Directory, was officially launched on Friday 26th of August at MEST. At the launching there was slides demonstration on the features of the website by the ICT Unit of MEST.
MEST Minister, Dr. Minkailu Bah, said it may not be the first government website, butquite confident it will be the most visited and useful. He acknowledged donor partners DFID, World Bank and UNICEF for their support towards the development of the country’s education sector.
The Chief Technology Officer of the unit, Emmanuel Harold Greywoode, says the MEST website has simple features to enable easy navigation, especially for the less technically inclined.
“It reflects the various education directorates in the 14 districts of Sierra Leone and publishes educational statistics, census reports, ongoing surveys, procurement transactions among many others,” says Greywoode, adding that the website is a re-enforcement of the open data initiative.
In addition, the good news for students, according to Greywoode, is that the website will eventually capture the issuance of government grants-in-aid and bilateral scholarships forms, “to ease the tension and burden on students (and officials) having to come to the ministry to collect and fill forms.”
Furthermore, Greywoode says the website will also regularly publish West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) results, although it is the responsibility of the WAEC office to do so.
One element of the website that still needs to be developed is a feature for forum group discussions, an interactive platform where users can comment and give instant feedback on information published on the website.
Greywoode says this is still a work in progress and they will consider more interactive features along the way.
“But in the meantime, the website is linked to all our social media accounts where we can also have direct feedback from the public,” he says. To ensure regular update, maintenance and management of the website, unlike most public institutions’ websites, Dr. Dupigny says he’ll insist a separate staff is assigned to professionally manage the website content and updates, and this is being discussed with the ICT team and the Permanent Secretary.
“I will insist that one member of staff is dedicated to this and this only. It’ll be his/her only assignment. This is what he/she will do. That will be his/her job,” he stresses.