Strengthening the teaching profession: Lessons from Sierra Leone

By Conrad Sackey, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in Sierra Leone and Quentin Wodon, Director of the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa  (UNESCO IICBA) in Addis Ababa

World Teachers’ Day was observed on October 5. This is a Day to celebrate the essential contributions that teachers make to our children, communities, and society, but also a time to take stock of where we stand on ensuring that we attract the best into the teaching profession. Last week we held in Freetown a validation workshop for a new study by UNESCO IICBA on professional standards and competencies for teachers and school leaders. The study was led by Steve Nwokeocha and Aminata Sessay.

As in much of sub-Saharan Africa, children in Sierra Leone are not learning enough in school and many drop out prematurely. Improving teaching in the classroom and the quality of the school leadership, including through professional standards and competencies, is the key to improving learning. The IICBA study focuses on three areas: (1) Sierra Leone’s framework of professional standards and competencies; (2) teacher education; and (3) the working conditions of teachers. The analysis relies on a mixed quantitative and qualitative approach including two online surveys, key informant interviews, and brainstorming sessions. Lessons for Sierra Leone are likely to be relevant for other countries as well.

What did we find? On professional standards and competencies, Sierra Leone has made major progress in the last five years with the establishment of the Teacher Service Commission (TSC). The country now has a standards and competencies aligned with the recommendations of the African Union. The country may be the first in Africa to have signed an agreement with its teacher union to change the salary structure and grade levels of teachers to match the career stages prescribed by the African Union Commission. As for teachers and school leaders, a majority seem to be aware of the new standards and in favor of them.

On teacher education, both pre-service and in-service, many issues continue to undermine quality. The regulatory and quality assurance frameworks for pre-service teacher education is weak and the Teacher Certificate remains the dominant qualification. At least 40 percent of teachers are considered “untrained and unqualified” – they require a path to acquire a degree and minimum qualifications. Even when teachers and school leaders feel they received adequate pre-service education, retraining is likely needed in many areas. Similar issues affect continuous professional development (CPD). Government programs (and budgets) are insufficient to address CPD concerns, with only a minority of teachers and school leaders trained each year. Another issue is the multiplicity of (donor) agencies training teachers, often with their own preferences in terms of what training should emphasize, without sufficient coordination. A positive development is a National School Leadership Program being developed by TSC, although it could be better aligned with the African continental standards, domains, and competencies of school leadership.

On working conditions for teachers, the recent Collective Agreement signed between TSC and the Teacher Union is a major step forward. The Presidential Teacher Awards instituted in 2021 to recognize some of the Best Teachers at the district and national levels is also a great initiative. Another positive development is the role of the Teaching Service Trade Group Negotiating Council in promoting harmony in labor relations between employers and union representatives. At the same time, issues remain. Teacher performance evaluations still follow a traditional pattern, not considering CPD credits for example. Overall, teachers and school leaders rate their social status and job satisfaction as average only, rather than good.

As we write this blog, additional positive developments are worth emphasizing. After receiving the initial report of UNESCO IICBA’s Situational Analysis, the Ministry has been working hard to address identified gaps. Last week, a Cabinet Paper on Recommendations, Guidelines, and Procedures for a Credit Mapping Framework that Allocates Appropriate Credits to Teachers for Approved In-Service Training Courses was approved by the Cabinet. In addition, a High-Level Policy Consultation on Continuous Professional Development will be developed into a Cabinet Paper to be jointly presented by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education. This comprehensive CPD framework for teachers in Sierra Leone will be based on quality reforms of key entities, providing enhanced alignment, linkages, accountability, and coordination in the governance of teacher professional development to make pathways for advancement transparent and equitably available to all teachers.

The IICBA study has been an important milestone on the path to professionalizing teaching and school leadership in Sierra Leone and beyond. The analysis was conducted within the framework of the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 2016-2025) and Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Sierra Lone is one of several countries selected for analysis and intervention by the Shanghai-FIT Project which covers Africa and the Asia-Pacific to professionalize teaching in both regions and make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Much has been achieved in Siera Leone, but much remains to be done to support teachers and school leaders as best way we can. This matters as teachers’ contribution to our children, communities, and societies is both fundamental and foundational.



1 comment

  1. An observation : teaching and management are two distinct professions, and conflating the two does not help in insuring a competent educational leadership.
    In countries where I work, much attention is given to teacher training, but almost nothing is done on management training. Pedagogical leadership is important, but so are the basic abilities to manage en educational system, be it local, regional or national.

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