World Access to Higher Education Day (26 November) is an opportunity to highlight how HE is contributing to global inequality as much as it is addressing it. The Open University’s project in Sierra Leone GATE – Girls’ Access to Education aims to increase the number of female educators in rural parts of the country.
The lack of female teachers in Sierra Leone makes it hard for girls to aspire to a career of their own. Only 27% of girls are still enrolled in school by secondary level. The Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) programme, funded with UK aid from the UK government, seeks to support marginalised girls and children with disabilities to reach their learning potential and transition from primary to secondary education and beyond.
As part of GATE, The Open University has designed an innovative pathway to the teaching profession for young women in rural areas. Working with rural communities, young women who have been unable to complete secondary schooling are selected to become Learning Assistants. Learning Assistants undertake a practical work placement in a local primary school and at the same time as studying/ engaging in distance learning programmes to become qualified teachers. Highly interactive study materials guide their subject study and participation in school.
The programme has already supported over 500 Learning Assistants and 476 completed their studies at the Teachers’ Colleges. A further 250 Learning Assistants started the programme in 2018. Learning Assistants have been shown to make a difference to the quality of rural schools and the experiences of children. They promote learning and aspiration, particularly with girl pupils.
“We used to be ashamed to talk in front of the kids,” one Student Teacher revealed, “but we are eloquent now” What a man can do, a woman can also do.”
The GATE project is implemented by the OU, in partnership with FAWE and Plan International, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and other Major Partners.