As the Ebola crisis entered a state of emergency in Sierra Leone, the British Council office in Freetown was literally at the centre of operations.
Blood testing was being run from the auditorium, the burial team were working at full stretch in the seminar room, and infected people were frequently dropped off at the office steps.
With schools closed, teachers at home, and amidst a growing crisis, how can you continue to deliver and ensure a quality education for all?
Under the most challenging of circumstances, the British Council managed to maintain its schools service and provide a professional lifeline in times of extreme hardship.
Working with a small team of dedicated partners on the ground, Michael Dennis, Programmes Manager at British Council Sierra Leone, led the operations to expand its programme of English teaching by radio to cover all of the core subjects:
‘Communities would have a big radio and the children would gather around to listen, although they were encouraged not to touch each other to prevent the spread of infection.’
The Connecting Classrooms programme also continued to operate with success during the outbreak. Connecting Classrooms equips teachers to deliver the 21st century learning skills (also known as core skills) young people need in today’s world. During the crisis, Michael and his team of facilitators were able to find a way to run training workshops for teachers remotely.
Teachers themselves also stepped in to provide vital, on-going support. Through Connecting Classrooms, a group of schools in Sierra Leone had forged working partnerships with a network of schools from Hull in the UK. Teachers from Hull designed lesson plans for the teachers in Sierra Leone to deliver by radio and also through house visits. The house visits were particularly effective as communities struggled to afford radio batteries as the crisis ensued.
In November 2015, to everyone’s great relief, Sierra Leone was eventually given the all clear and communities began to rebuild.
With the education system no longer under threat, Connecting Classrooms in particular is now building on the huge social capital it amassed when it provided an educational lifeline during the crisis.
The number of schools involved with the programme in Sierra Leone has since grown from just six to 250.The Minister of Education’s presence at a Connecting Classrooms partnerships conference in February also showed how highly valued the programme is and is further validation of the power of education to offer hope for a country now beginning again to flex its wings.