Learning Assistants in Sierra Leone: model, innovation, and impact

Chamberlain, Liz and Safford, Kimberly (2019). Learning Assistants in Sierra Leone: model, innovation, and impact. In: 9th Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning - Innovations for Quality Education and Lifelong Learning (PCF9), 09-13 Sep 2019, Edinburgh.

URL: http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/3389/P...


In Sierra Leone, where there are few female educators, over 500 formerly marginalised women are on track to become qualified primary school teachers in rural districts. As ‘Learning Assistants’, the young women follow a combined programme of tertiary college distance study and in-school work experience. Learning Assistants help teachers and children in village primary schools. At the same time, their distance studies guide them on child-friendly practice and subject knowledge.
We will present the LA programme model, its components and participants, its success factors and challenges. In the Global North, unqualified ‘classroom helpers’ or ‘teaching assistants’ are familiar faces in primary schools. This role and route into teaching, and its potential to support lifelong learning and employability, are innovative in the Global South.

We will compare data from March 2019 field research (interviews with Learning Assistants, their mentors, and school headteachers) to findings from field work undertaken in 2016-2017 with the same participants. In particular, we will examine classroom observation data that illustrate how Learning Assistants are taking steps towards effective pedagogies in highly challenging school and classroom contexts.

We will demonstrate how the LA programme is making a sustainable impact on individuals, schools and communities: women who were not in education or employment have gained meaningful work, and confidence and status as paraprofessional learners; male tutors and mentors are supporting female empowerment; headteachers value the support that Learning Assistants provide in large classrooms and note increasing attendance and enrolments; families believe children are safer in schools that have female staff.

We invite colleagues to consider the extent to which the LA programme offers a potential route into employment for young women and how increasing numbers of female teachers into the profession may impact on the quality of primary education.

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