Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A much easier way to win the battle for gender equality

The next steps to reduce gender inequalities must create ‘experiences’ for a new generation supportive of a more equal world.
EducAid Boys and girls working together to clear a stream at Mathele Bana

‘You mould your earth when it’s wet’ goes a Sierra Leonean adage, and I have never agreed with it more when it comes to gender equality. The side effects of gender inequality are at the stem of many problems we face. However, we spend billions in tick-box interventions doing piecemeal activities to change attitudes.  We comfortably sit and watch our boys and girls grow into their parents. Gender inequalities are present in every corner of the world. Even in countries where most progress has occurred, being a woman is still very tough. 

Gender inequalities are sustained and strengthened by our thoughts and actions, which are heavily moulded by our childhood experiences in home and in school. Therefore, the school and the home must be our work stations in the fight for equality. The best possible impact must centre on policies that create pro-equality childhood experiences through targeting the home and the school. Adjustments in our workplaces should be complementary.

When we raise our children without significant experiences of female leadership and learning to be supportive in an atmosphere of gender equality, we shouldn’t be surprised that men dominate leadership roles across the world while women stay in the shadows. Go to the remotest villages in Sierra Leone and you will find that people are sufficiently sensitized about gender equality and how to achieve it, but even those who seem to know the concepts and even those who preach equality often find it very difficult to apply it in their daily lives. This is due to the dissonance felt by adults who were raised to think and act in gender-biased ways. We must focus our resources on interventions that create opportunities which provide successful experiences of an equal world. Sensitization is the first step, experiences are what influence attitudes. Experiences that simulate a more equal world for our boys and girls to grow up into can successfully be established in schools through many approaches.

In schools we should:

1.       Clear the access barrier, including interventions that target and support girls to access school, stay there, and ensure dropouts have an alternative path to be reintegrated into the normal school system.

2.       Initiate programmes to promote shared and gender sensitive leadership in schools. This includes un-gendering household chores and responsibilities traditionally done by only one sex, having equal numbers of boy and girl prefects, student council members, peer mediators, head boys and girls and mechanisms to effectively engage them. Strategies to ensure girls don’t sit back and allow the boys to take charge must be developed.

3.       Undertake interventions to promote gender sensitive methodologies in classrooms, including engaging girls in all activities, and motivating them to set and achieve learning goals.

4.       Set up and effectively run girl-only clubs (and occasional classes) to develop their self-esteem and learn free of competition with boys.

5.       Set up and effectively run boy-only clubs where boys develop pro-equality attitudes and identify their own unconscious biases.

6.       Train, deploy and support strong female role model teachers in schools to champion equality.

Alongside we should provide:

1.       Systems for qualified women to have easier access to jobs and leadership roles.

2.       Incentives like promotions, career development, bonuses and in-service interventions to promote and develop active female leadership.

3.       More female voices in the media, as those in leadership roles can go a long way to changing perceptions about women’s abilities.

4.       Parents and communities are sensitized through local media and face-to-face interventions on pro-gender equality parenting and living.

I am urging NGOs and Governments to make a sharp shift from tick-box Interventions, to focusing instead on creating experiences in schools (and homes and workplaces) that promote a more equal world. The next step can only be achieved by modelling programmes and interventions around simulating a more equal world for young children to grow into. Let’s not stand by and watch that window of opportunity to create a more equal world close right before our eyes.

Let’s mould our earth when it’s wet.

Let’s support the generation that will bring equality when they are young.

p.s. EducAid Sierra Leone, a small education-focused organisation, running schools and improving the quality of teaching and learning in Sierra Leone. Through its teacher training programmes EducAid has established strong systems across its schools (and in its partner schools) aiming to simulate a more equal world for its students to grow up in. Visit to learn more about EducAid's work in education.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Alusine Barrie - my journey so far as a lifelong learner

My journey so far as a lifelong learner

My photo
Alusine Barrie
“We are all born lifelong learners, it all depends on how it’s developed and how some of us take advantage of it in our lives.” – Clara Sancho

It is only recently that I realized through my quest as an educator that I have sufficiently developed myself as a lifelong learner. I see this as synonymous to the concept of growth mindset. I saw a likely source of this being my step father who lived with us and would always bring children’s story books and would read with us in bed until we fell asleep. He was always ready to answer my numerous (and often bizarre) questions. In him and my mother (who was uneducated but had great tolerance for questions) I found a safe place to develop my budding curiosity.

I transferred to Freetown in 2009 and was given ample access to numerous school resources (especially the internet) and an environment where I felt safe to learn many different things. I was very excited being an arts student as I loved literature, history and politics but I was also very much interested in many other subjects. Often, I would find myself in the library poring over all sorts of books - especially science. I could choose the subjects and topics I wanted to concentrate on. I would find myself in the computer room asking questions on internet explorer. It was quite addictive and I even started teaching myself French and other online diploma courses while in senior school. I graduated as an arts student and then studied maths in a higher teachers’ training course.

Reflecting back on my life for this blog’s theme made me agree with Clara (also a lifelong learner and a great friend) who told me ‘I believe we are all born lifelong learners, it all depends on how it’s developed and how some of us take advantage of it in our lives’. Traits like creativity, intelligence, curiosity etc. are innate, we often unlearn them as we grow older through society’s rules and dogmas. We have both been lucky to be born to parents who fostered our childhood curiosities and found schools that helped to develop this wonderful attitude.

Developing myself as a lifelong learner has given great value to my life both personally and professionally – especially in my work as a teacher trainer in EducAid. One develops a much wider perspective over issues and it becomes easier to take multiple perspectives into consideration simultaneously. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for me, is the cascading nature of lifelong learning. For instance, I easily dared to learn Spanish and found it much easier to master the linguistic structures because I had spent time before learning the structures of French – which are similar in many ways. I am confident to want to study economics and computer programming (which both require a healthy dose of mathematical reasoning) because I have developed the prerequisite skills before.

One important characteristic shown by most lifelong learners is that they would have a big goal but take multiple paths to achieving that goal, and don’t mind taking another path if their current circumstances make it difficult to achieve initially. A colleague A.A Kamara, has always modelled himself as a lifelong learner and had this to say: it makes my point well: “I wanted to become a lawyer but looking at my age and the amount of money involved, I realized that it will be very difficult for me to achieve my goal of serving my fellow Sierra Leoneans in this way. So now, I am building my efforts in educational institutions where I can use the skills I have gathered as a teacher to help others.” As we see, for lifelong learners failure in one path is just an opportunity to continue into another path.

In conclusion: ‘we are all born lifelong learners’ and that it is never too late to awaken that innate blessing. Never stifle a child’s curiosity. Encourage children to ask questions. Give them many opportunities to learn and help them find answers to their most bizarre curiosities. That way, they may grow to become strong lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning is a journey; this is mine so far….

Monday, 22 May 2017

Politics and poor education in a social media wave. How can we get our youth to contribute more meaningfully in the politics of their country?

Politics and poor education in a social media wave. How can we get our youth to contribute more meaningfully in the politics of their country?

My country Sierra Leone is undeniably a beautiful country with great potential to lift its people from poverty and make a happy home where all its people can achieve their greatest potential. Our cultural diversity is unparalleled, our lands swell up to the brim with natural treasures, and our population is vastly made up of young people ripe with untapped potential. All these give our country many opportunities. But these opportunities are shadowed by many challenges that move our country backward. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges holding back our country is the poor quality of education that leaves our young people unemployed, poor and vulnerable to almost anything – especially bad politics in which their choice is so crucial.

Comments from a group of my friends teaching in schools here in Port Loko (the town I grew up) summarized the situation of young people and politics. “Young people are very vulnerable, Mr. Barrie.” Mr. Sesay (a secondary school teacher) had to say “Every 5 years we see politicians come around making promises just to disappear after they have been elected”, he moved on to say. “The problem is that young people in this of our country are uneducated and cannot think critically and question the words and moves of these politicians.” Then Mr. Jalloh (a head teacher) interjected, “what leads to all of this is poor education. Imagine you and me, because we are educated and know fully the consequences of our choices, it is very difficult for any politician to fool us”.

In 2013, the World Bank supported my country and landed the submarine fibre optic cables in Freetown drastically reducing the costs and speeds (relatively) to connect to the internet. Everywhere you turn nowadays, young people have smart phones, are connected to the internet, to WhatsApp and Facebook, Viber etc. And this change is sweeping into the very remotest parts our country.

Social media has since become the biggest news outlet and largest platform for young people to connect with each other and participate in the politics of our country. In a random day I would receive over a hundred messages ranging from news, political advertising, jokes, motivational quotes, to reasons why an idea/movement/change is a western attack on African culture, the best sex positions to try in bed etc. Nowadays it is easy to be in a discussion/argument with a young person and hearing evidence based on something someone shared/said/wrote in a WhatsApp/Facebook post. This should be empowering! This is the first time in the history of our country that young people with so much access to getting and sharing so much information at such low costs!

However, there is a problem.

Young people have all this access to this flood of information. But, how capable are young people in this country to really filter this massive clutter of information and make good use of it in the day-to-day decisions they make? Take politics for example. If young people in our schools are not taught to think critically, to question, to judge sensibly, to use sound logic and reasoning to come to conclusions about matters of personal and national importance then their decisions and judgements will be in the hands of anyone who can sway them in any direction. Young people need more than just access to information and the ability to share it to greater masses. Young people urgently need an education that teaches them how to think critically, to apply logic in a way that will help them engage sensibly in the politics of our country. This way our country can reap the real fruits of this technological wave hitting our shores. 

We all know that young people are rallied by politicians of all shapes and colours, and that young people’s decision in the ballot box can make or break this country; so we must be serious about equipping them with the tool s (and that is critical thinking education) necessary for them to fulfil their great potential in rowing this country forward to prosperity.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Action for climate change begins here!

Action for climate change begins here!

Farm lands destroyed by bush fires
Climate change is not a problem of science versus corporations. It is a problem of our society, its morals, and its priorities. Turning words into action starts with this mindset.

I won’t talk here about the huge data available on climate change. Anyways, if you’re really curious to see for yourself, check out the links at the bottom of the page.

Skeptics of our climate change problem may try to distract us with their bad rap. Well, tell them that while we may not be here in the year 2098 to see side effects of our action to put climate change under control, we may also not be here to see the side effects of our inaction. Therefore, for our own sake and for our children's sake (whose lives will be affected by our actions or inactions of today), we are choosing to do the right thing. Experience has taught us that taking bold steps to control these situations is the right thing to do.

Turning words into action first requires us to take care of these so-called skeptics whose rap distracts us from the real damage taking place right in our eyes, discouraging any serious action to salvage this situation. In the case of developing countries (where little action has been taking place) we must actively mobilize schools, communities, NGOs, Governments etc. to strive for constant awareness and action. While the actions proposed here may already be popular in other countries, in developing countries like mine climate change is yet to be seen as a major concern needing proactive action - hence very modest actions have been taken.  Nevertheless, my country has recently suffered the harsh  effects of climate change when flooding hit Freetown. See link:

Schools and local communities can:

·         Teach young people and children how to care for and respect the environment.

·         Teach critical thinking that guards us from the influx of false truths so present in our society today. See blog post by Miriam Mason-Sesay:

·         Enforce local bye laws that bring people to account for their actions on the environment.

NGOs can:

·         Support and initiate education programmes on themes of climate change and the respectful exploitation of the environment.

·         Design interventions that give local communities alternative (more sustainable) ways of earning income to reduce dependence on unhealthy exploitation of resources. E.g. Training local communities on sustainable agriculture (with seeds, tools and on-going support) to reduce dependence on charcoal burning as a main source of income.

·         Lobby in governments and communities to ensure proactive action on climate change.

·         Work closely with local authorities to promote awareness and action to control and reverse the effects of climate change.

Governments can:

·         Support local communities and NGOs with their goodwill, necessary policies, supervisory mechanisms and their expertise to promote preservation of our environment

·         Set up strict policies and legal frameworks that ensure persons or corporations respect the environment.

·         Work with (and learn from) other countries in taking urgent action.

·         Hold to account other governments and corporations whose actions endanger our environment.

You also can:

·         Treat nature and the environment with respect and care

·         Teach children and others how to care for the environment

·         Educate yourself on climate change and its effects

·         Consume sustainably

·         Engage in discussions and actions to promote respectful use of the earth’s resources

Our advancements so far in science and technology stand insufficient to tackle our current climate change issues. And while we don’t know how much our next generations’ science and technology may have advanced in the future, it is better to treat this issue as a threat to us and the future of mankind. Let’s start making a change!

Links for the tastes of the curious:

Monday, 14 November 2016

Education is a human right; not a privilege.

Education is a human right; not a privilege.

Learning in EducAid Sierra Leone

It is a good thing actually I never knew at the time that Education is a right for me and other children of Sierra Leone who struggled (and are still struggling) to get an education. In my experience now as a young man, I have learned that education, like all rights, are there to uphold the freedom, respect, and dignity of every human and to treat everyone with fairness. And, I have also learned that my government, to whom I pay my taxes, has a responsibility in upholding and promoting the right of every Sierra Leonean to get an education. Seeing this month’s theme took me down memory lane.

I am specifically remembering the events which took place in my life about nine (9) years ago, forging the new path I was going to walk on. I was then in my first year of junior school and had just promoted to year two when all hell let loose on my mother. Years earlier, my father passed away in the rebel war, leaving my widowed mother with eight children in total. My mother was uneducated, and every day the pressures of paying rent, taking care of us, and sending us to school grew at exponential rates, after some time making it impossible for us to continue school. Our mother broke down to tears, as there was no one to turn to for help. Every few days, one of us, would be asked out of school for not having paid the ever numerous school fees the school requested. I was brilliant, and loved going to school; my teachers said I had a camera brain. But school had become a very difficult place for me to develop my camera brain.

Soon, my elder brother (very bright) dropped out of school, then my elder sister followed and got married instead to a man the age of our father. Mom couldn’t hold on anymore. The curtains were drawing down on our dreams. Our dreams of getting an education; my dream of becoming a doctor, and my twin sister becoming a lawyer flew too far for us to reach – we acquiesced. I learned the lesson, perhaps unconsciously, that education (as is the case with many rights I now know I had in law) is a privilege for those children born of ‘means’. It was a tough lesson for those of us born to poverty, but one well learned.

My hopes of getting educated were kissing the hand of death when I met EducAid. EducAid is a small organisation which provides education to underprivileged young people in Sierra Leone. It had a school open in my hometown of Port Loko. I spoke with my mother, who was in tears, this time of joy, that we can finally continue our education. What was even more relieving was that EducAid schools don’t require uniforms and you can come to school even in bare feet! What have uniforms, and shoes got to do with learning anyway?! I have been in EducAid for the past 9 years now. I attended secondary school free, went to college free. Since 2012, I have been volunteering and working in EducAid where I have the opportunity of helping underprivileged Sierra Leoneans to get an education by teaching, heading schools and leading teacher trainings where we strive to reach thousands more Sierra Leonean children with better learning.

Reflecting on my experience now, a light shines on the sheer magnitude of this problem. There were friends of mine at that time (and so many children right now) who faced a similar fate but did not have the helping hand with which they would have reached their dreams of an education. Many of them are now living in the streets of this country doing odd jobs, and becoming a burden to our society in many direct and indirect ways. Our society (their inaction), our government (their silence), and the rest of the world (their indifference) are violating a fundamental human right which continues to hold our country, and countries like ours in humiliating poverty.

Learning in EducAid Sierra Leone
I want my government and the whole world to know that in my country, and in many other parts of the world, right now, my story is being replayed. There are millions of children around the world at this moment who are being denied the right to true freedom and the capacity to lead a dignified life. Education, as I have come to know it, is the breath that frees the human mind, and capacitates one to lead a dignified life - let us make it a right, and not a privilege for those of means. For in this seed (education) I believe, each and every one of us shall reap the fruits of a more peaceful and prosperous society.  

America votes Donald Trump and Britain voted Brexit, so what?

America votes Donald Trump and Britain voted Brexit, so what?
This is an interesting topic and I will try to make my contribution from an African angle.
America has elected Donald Trump, a businessman with no experience and knowledge in governance, and not very long ago Britain voted to leave the European Union "on what many believe to be xenophobic grounds". What does this mean for Africa? To understand what this means for Africa we have to understand some key factors that motivated these decisions which both sent huge shock waves throughout the world.

Every country has the right to choose their leadership, and the path they want their country to take. However, this decision of choosing the leadership and path a country takes has a lot to say about the people of that country. This can be especially so when it has to do with countries like the United States of America and Britain, whose actions forged a new path for Africa, left an indelible mark on the continent, and whose pervasive social and economic influence still hold great prominence on Africa.

America and Britain are among the richest nations in the world. But I would like to remind you all that the wealth you are sitting on today, and guarding so selfishly was created at the expense of Africa´s growth. While I do not wish for us to dwell on the past and use it as an excuse for not standing up for one self, we must not forget that the deep scars and pervasive ugliness inflicted by Colonialism and the slave trade, which directly fuelled the economic prosperity of both America and Britain, still haunt Africa and the people of African descent.

The wealth brought by the slave trade to Europe provided the capital, and resources that financed and facilitated the industrial revolution that is the cornerstone of the immense wealth possessed by these countries. Interestingly, America and Britain were at the very centre of this trade. While white people had the opportunity to go to school and wander into the new realms of science and technology, the people of Africa were held in darkness that perpetuates to modern times.
 I just cannot believe that America can shamelessly look straight into the eyes of history and choose to vote for a president whose “only response to black Americans is violence and moral degradation”.

Before Trump, the American people gave hope to the world when they choose to elect Barack Obama. It showed the willingness of the American people to break down the trammels of our ugly history and strengthened the position of America as the land of the free, home of the brave. It is thus a shame and a great contradiction that the land of the free and home of the brave decides to vote in favour of a protectionist America, an America intolerant to Muslims, and an America that views immigrants as rapists etc. How pitiful! I cannot help but be awed by the very forgetfulness of Americans that all the wealth and greatness of America was created by African slaves on the plantation farms, and in the large scale export of Africa´s natural resources from which Africa benefitted nothing more than a broken society.

Let us not lose hope entirely. I still believe that not all Americans are blinded enough to support a protectionist America that forgets its historical social responsibility to the world. Donald Trump´s election and the Brexit say a lot about how strongly the drive for more wealth has washed out our society´s moral fibre, but these are errors the American and British people, and perhaps the rest of the world, must do all they can to correct. You cannot take everything from the world and turn around to say they should take care of their mess; the mess Britain and America created in the first place . Americans and Britons, do not forget that you owe the world a historical social responsibility. You paused, broke and reshaped the course of history to create the immense wealth you enjoy today. Instead of gravitating towards protectionist tendencies, let us all work together to break the ugly face of our collective past. Lets be human!
This is a food for thought.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

We cannot afford to distrust our leadership!

A country this beautiful deserves 'leadership' it can trust!
We cannot afford to distrust our leadership!
A country as beautiful as mine deserves a ‘leadership’ it can trust.
This month’s theme ‘distrust in leadership’ strikes close to my heart. The presence of trust and its absence thereof as one of those things that makes or breaks any relationship from personal ties to business relations may have been clich├ęd in the world of business, but one which still holds quite true. Where trust exists between people amazing things can happen. Even mountains can be moved with ease! On the flip side however, lasting success is a dream too far to grasp wherever trust fails to exist. As said quite often, nothing significant can be achieved where trust is missing. Even in the presence of overwhelming resources at the disposal of an organization.
My conception of this theme of distrust in leadership however goes beyond an organization, though not too far perhaps. Trust remains quite a milestone to be achieved by countries striving for progress and development. You see, this theme of distrust in leadership has helped me to finally make the connection with what Patrick Awuah, founder of Ashesi University once said that “the question of transformation in Africa is a question of leadership.” Now I have come to the conclusion that a nation must have trust in its leadership first before any dream of sustainable growth and development is pursued. What trust am I talking about? A nation must trust its leadership’s capacity in terms of its knowledge, its skills, and its sense of moral uprightness if real safety and growth shall be secured. Where trust fails however, the result can be catastrophic –as it was in the case with Ebola in my country not long ago.
The Ebola epidemic that struck my country not long ago is no news to anyone. But perhaps what many of us did not understand is that underneath the failed efforts to contain the disease at the outset was a huge mountain of distrust in the leadership itself. This was largely why almost 13,500 Sierra Leoneans contacted the dreadful virus, and nearly 4,000 lost their lives. Had there been trust in the leadership things would have been very different.
But wait, who are the leaders? I am talking about the doctors. I am talking about the nurses, the teachers, the media journalists, and the thousands more of Sierra Leoneans who stood at the waterfronts of the Ebola fight. These ‘leaders’ were the ones responsible for making the day-to-day decisions that held so much power over life and death during the very long months of the epidemic. In my opinion, it was this huge level of suspicion felt by the local communities towards the leadership; the doctors, the nurses, and the thousands more of emergency staff made up of Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life that made containing the virus almost impossible when the outbreak was youngest, and perhaps easiest to contain.
This distrust in our country’s leadership, illustrated by the Ebola epidemic, is quite founded. The pervasive nature of corruption in our country's way of life has left us very suspicious of authority. Even very honest intents can be judged with scornful eyes as this may just be yet another person trying to take their own piece. This same corruption is one of those factors that fueled the distrust that propelled our country into a decade-long civil war that claimed the lives of thousands of Sierra Leoneans. How this civil war devastated our country cannot be overstated. Yet, as recently as 2016 we are ranked among the top 10 most corrupt nations in the world! It should not surprise one then that we still have among the lowest life expectancy in the world, the highest number of children who die under the age of five, and we still rank among the lowest in the human development index. These all come as no surprise to a nation fraught with corruption.  
But Let us make no mistake. We have a way of tackling or starting to tackle this problem. It may be easier to solve than it may seem. It is our educational system that trains professionals that are unethical and grossly under skilled to handle matters of national development and security. If the school is where we train these leaders, it is therefore the best place to start our work of rebuilding trust in our leadership.  The first step is for us to go back to the drawing board and revitalize our educational system. All we need to do is to get serious about securing and channeling resources into rebuilding our nation by rebuilding an educational system that successfully trains a trustworthy leadership. Above all, it has been said that nations that succeed are serious about how they train their leaders. Let us do the same! Let's get serious about training our leaders!
You can support education that builds trust
But your are not in Sierra Leone, and probably not in education. What can you do to help build trust in leadership? The Ebola epidemic may be unique to Sierra Leone and its neighboring Guinea and Liberia, but instances of distrust in leadership exist all over the world. You can guide discussions whenever possible towards the importance of building trust in leadership as a key component of any succeeding nation, any succeeding organization, or business for that matter. You can also volunteer your effort and or resources towards supporting education that builds a stronger society.
On a final note, I believe you will agree with me that the process of building trust in leadership bends around how well we train our leaders with the knowledge, skills, and the moral firmness that build trust which is the cornerstone of all sustainable development and management of a country in a crisis. Had there been trust in our leadership, the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, and perhaps neighboring Guinea and Liberia may not have devastated our countries the way it did.
A country as beautiful as mine deserves leadership it can trust.
Thank you.