Lessons from Sierra Leone: How to get girls back to school

School girls make their way to class in Freetown, Sierra Leone on April 12, 2022 [JOHN WESSELS/AFP]
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Mariamu* did not intend to give birth at school. She had discovered she was pregnant, aged 16, during Sierra Leone’s nine-month Ebola lockdown in 2014. Her boyfriend disappeared and she was consumed by shame and despair. She dropped out of school thinking her education was over.

Then, eight months into her pregnancy, her family received a visit from staff at a new “community learning centre” with a remit to enrol pregnant girls and teen mothers. The centre – one of hundreds set up in the wake of Ebola across Sierra Leone – was staffed by specially trained teachers who taught there after their regular classes, using accelerated learning approaches.

This means condensing the regular curriculum into a shorter time frame to help students catch up, focusing on the foundations of literacy and numeracy, alongside social and emotional learning. Mariamu was thrilled to be learning again.

One day in class, she started to feel cramps. The centre’s coordinator took her to her office. Before they could arrange transport to a health centre, her baby boy was born.

Just two weeks after giving birth, both mother and baby were back at the learning centre three days a week. Mariamu was given a space to breastfeed and the centre coordinator looked after her baby while she was in class.

Today, eight years later, Mariamu is in the second year of her college degree course, having reintegrated into formal school and completed her secondary education.

Source: Aljazeera