Now that stability is taking hold in Sierra Leone, prompting the repatriation of more and more refugees, the IRC is doing everything possible to ensure a smooth transition as refugee children and IRC-trained teachers return to Sierra Leone's schools.
The effort is not without hurdles. Although IRC schools in Guinea have been producing among the highest achievement levels in the region, children returning to Sierra Leone face the discouraging prospect of being placed in lower grade levels because of variations in curriculum and grading systems. Meanwhile, returning teachers, who received part or all of their training from the IRC in Guinea, cannot instruct in Sierra Leone without accreditation. So this well-trained cadre of teachers is not being put to use in a country desperate for qualified educators.
Julian Watson, the IRC's education coordinator in West Africa, is spearheading an innovative and unprecedented initiative to meet the needs of Sierra Leone's returning refugee children and to help rebuild the country's war-devastated education sector.
"We want these children and teachers to be able to go home and pick up where they left off," says Watson. "The international community talks a lot about this ideal, but the IRC is doing something about it."
Watson was able to persuade Sierra Leone's leading teacher training institution to study the IRC's curriculum in Guinea, point out differences, and help the IRC redesign its class content and grading system so that coursework at refugee schools in Guinea will be accepted in Sierra Leone.
Watson also negotiated with Sierra Leonean authorities a long-distance teacher training arrangement aimed at qualifying refugee teachers for instruction in Sierra Leone before they return home. Hosted by the IRC, official trainers are being dispatched to refugee camps in Guinea to conduct training workshops that vary in length according to the teachers' experience. So far, 30 IRC teachers have completed the pilot training program and are preparing to return home to begin instruction.
The IRC is also working in some of the most war-affected and underserved communities in Sierra Leone's Bo, Kenema, Kambia, Kono, Kailahun and Pujehun districts, providing support to 110 primary schools, 1,100 teachers and 45,000 returnee students. Assistance includes structural improvements, the supply of furniture and educational materials, water and sanitation services, feeding programs and continued teacher training.
"In this often terrible and changing world in which refugee and displaced children from this region live, the IRC is making education a stable part of their lives," says Watson.
Edward Bligh (New York, HQ) (212) 551-3114
Melissa Winkler (New York, HQ) (212)
Monica Gonzalez (New York, HQ) (212)