EU SUPPORTS FREE, QUALITY EDUCATION THROUGH ENHANCED DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMME

Posted By: Michael Kamara ⇒  Posted Date: 10/27/2019

EU SUPPORTS FREE, QUALITY EDUCATION THROUGH ENHANCED DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMME

The EU funded Support to the Education Sector in Sierra Leone (SESSiL) has begun the second of three workshops geared towards enhancing distance education programs in Sierra Leone. Educators from six teacher education institutions (Port Loko University College, Eastern Polytechnic, Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science & Technology, Njala University, Freetown Teacher College, and Milton Margai College of Education & Technology) have met in Port Loko, where from the 8th to the 11th November they discussed how they can maximize the potential of their individual distance education programmes to better support the Free, Quality Education initiative.

The workshops fall within the European Union's wider commitment towards supporting the Ministry of Basic and senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) to improve the quality of pre-service teacher preparation. Across the world, more countries are turning to distance education as a convenient, flexible and multimodal means of upgrading the skills of untrained teachers, continuing teachers' education opportunities or helping teachers gain advanced degrees or certification. In Sierra Leone the Teachers Certificate by distance learning was launched by the Freetown Teachers College, with nearly 1,000 students. In a review of the distance teacher education programme, Distance Education expert Dr Alison Mead Richardson notes that the institutions collectively have reported more than 6,200 distance students for the academic year 2017-2018 across the 3 programmes offered - the Teachers Certificate, the Higher TC Primary and the Higher TC Secondary.

Dr Samba Moriba, who is the Acting Principal of the Freetown Teachers College and also a participant at the workshop noted that distance education is crucial to the sustainability of the Free, Quality Education currently being rolled out in primary and secondary schools. "The schools do not have enough teachers and some of the teachers are not trained," he said. "Distance education creates an alternative for not only untrained and unqualified teachers but all teachers who are unable to undertake the more conventional ‘face to face' training courses." He also pointed out that more robust distance education programmes allow teacher training institutions to prepare to more adequately manage the influx of students expected to enter those institutions from secondary school, as a result of the new free education programme.

Njala University is the latest of the six teacher education institutions to begin offering a distance education program. On the 1st and 2nd of November this year, a pilot programme was developed so that come next academic year, Njala University will be fully engaged in accommodating the increased demand for distance education.

At the opening of this workshop, educators expressed their expectations, revealing a number of issues that challenge the efficacy of the existing distance education programs at a fundamental level. For instance, distance learning methodologies need to be improved as the modules currently offered need to be revised. In addition, more effective measures need to be implemented to ensure that they are being uniformly applied by all teacher education institutions. They also highlighted financial constraints that hinder the printing and effective distribution of learning materials, suggesting a shift to a more electronics-based approach in sharing material.

Dr Alison Mead Richardson, the primary facilitator of the distance education workshops observed that that the idea behind enhancing distant education in Sierra Leone aimed at a more flexible, school-based, blended model. In this workshop participants learnt among other things, how quality distance education systems function, what learner support systems need to be in place and how to generate distance flexible learning materials. The achievement of these goals will enhance the capacity of the distance education programme to support the government's drive to provide free, quality education for all.