Blog entry from Meddie Mayanja, CODE Program Manager
May 11, 2011
"Telling a students’ story, raising writers in Sierra Leone"
Students in 10 schools in Sierra Leone are taking writing to a new level. With support from Sentinel English Language Institute based in Freetown, students have organized clubs in which they write stories, receive peer review and teachers’ support to improve their work. Sentinel has published the first collection of students’ essays.
I met with the Director of Sentinel Institute, Jacqueline Leigh, to discuss her experiences with this initiative. Jackie told how students have been excited by the challenge of writing and peer reviewing their pieces. Through the editing process, students took turns reading their pieces aloud to the club members. “Students are very excited to see their essays published, this will also likely motivate them to continue on the path of reading and writing” observed Jackie.
Sentinel’s initiative has encountered a couple of challenges. Teachers’ skills in the teaching of reading in writing are generally weak in most Sierra Leone schools and students do not have access to books. For the most part, reading skills are very limited – a deficiency manifested by the limited vocabulary expressed in the essays the students write –copies of which I received during our discussion. “If students had access to a variety of reading materials it would have improved the project’s work” Jackie observed.
Sentinel is a member of the newly created steering committee for Le Wi Ol Lan (a Krio name for Opportunity Schools Project) and Books Sierra Leone. The goal of the two projects is to improve reading and writing skills among primary students in Kenema district – Eastern Sierra Leone. The projects will therefore train teachers in reading and writing instruction. Schools will also receive books that support classroom instructions and stimulate students’ interest to read. A number of books will be imported by November 2011 and at least eight titles will be written by local writers and illustrators. With Sentinel’s experience, students’ stories may also be published. This would really help the students’ effort to learn reading and writing.