An Assessment Project on the “Literacy-on-the-Job” Needs of Young Adults in Sierra Leone

An Assessment Project on the “Literacy-on-the-Job” Needs of Young Adults in Sierra Leone

Amma Akrofi (Texas Tech University, USA) and Amy Parker (Western Oregon University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8668-7.ch001
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This chapter outlines and describes a sponsored needs assessment process wherein a small group of researchers from various disciplines designed an approach for the burgeoning population of youth in Sierra Leone to learn literacy skills in a practical, motivating and sustainable way- “literacy-on-the-job”. In order to create a responsive and aligned intervention, the authors used a participatory methodology to understand the values and needs of representatives situated in industrial, governmental, educational and community-based youth organizations. The voices and perspectives of individuals across various businesses, schools, civic offices, and social groups were woven together to create a portrait of the complex landscape where young adults, in particular, are struggling to achieve and survive. Recommendations for a process of full implementation of the” literacy-on-the- job model” in both Sierra Leone and nations with similar landscapes are provided.
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“A majority of the youth lack basic education knowledge. . . [and] are traumatized,” (the Administrator of the Community Affairs Division at Sierra Rutile Limited, Sierra Leone).



The United Nations is focusing on the struggle to improve quality of life through education and healthcare for the burgeoning world population. As the population in sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow, true systemic intervention must happen with Africa’s youth because one of the greatest risks to the continent’s stability and corporate investments is when young adults are not adequately educated to participate in gainful employment. As often happens, governments and industry collaborate to invest in the advancement of their youth. In particular, some industries operating in nations whose resources are being harvested for a world market and whose populations are young and disadvantaged identify ways of addressing their corporate responsibility roles. Not only does this fulfill an inherent interest of the industry; it begins to address a complex, multi-faceted, problem that affects regional stability and democratic participation.

Sierra Leone represents one nation in Sub-Saharan Africa where government and industry are making some strides in addressing these issues. According to the World Bank, before the recent outbreak of Ebola in that country, Sierra Leone had a projected 4% economic growth based on its iron ore export earnings. Furthermore, Sierra Leone was one of the nations in the West African sub-region whose governments had “implemented new legislation for youth-friendly initiatives that aim to provide an environment conducive to youth development, employment and empowerment (World Bank Group--IBRD/IDA, 2014). The purpose of the initiatives is to address the youth unemployment challenge which, at the current rate of 60%, is among the highest in the West African subregion.

The post-conflict struggles of young adults in Sierra Leone and the government’s determination and requests to international entities for assistance to rebuild the economy were first brought to the attention of a team of researchers at Texas Tech University by Melonie Kastman, a philanthropic filmmaker. Team members had expertise in the following areas: foreign relations, developmental literacy, special education/rehabilitation, educational technologies, higher education, and nutrition, hospitality, and retailing. With our combined transdisciplinary expertise and working with Sierra Leonean partners in a participatory action research approach (Pain, Whitman, & Miledge, 2014), we envisioned that our curriculum’s efficacy would be evaluated through outcome data on student literacy gains, job performance, employer perspective on the program’s feasibility, and mentor and young adult perspectives. The team designed a four-year, five-phase intervention project that sought to provide participatory learning to young adults through internships in literacy and technical/vocational skills in Sierra Leone (see Table 1).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Young Adults: Synonymous with “youth” which, according to the Sierra Leone national youth policy, refers to individuals whose ages range from 18 to 35 years.

English-as-a-Second Language: A linguistic setting where individuals who already have spoken language proficiency in their indigenous languages (for example, Temne, Mende, and Krio) prior to formal schooling start learning spoken and written English as a school subject upon entering school. Midway through their schooling, English becomes the dominant language for learning all other content areas. After graduation, both spoken and written English are used for work in the formal sectors of the economy.

Sierra Leone: The Republic of Sierra Leone is located on the Atlantic coast of the West African sub-region. It has two neighboring countries: Guinea in the north-east and Liberia in the south-east. Freetown, its largest city as well as its capital, is located near the third largest natural harbor in the world, the Sierra Leone Harbor, Although English is the official language, Krio, Temne, and Mende are also widely spoken in the country.

Participatory Action Research (PAR): A methodology of research that is based on intensive and strategic engagement with members of a community to define and address a shared set of challenges- drawing from the resources, values, strengths and innovations of the community to work towards a common set of goals.

Post-Conflict Country: A country that has achieved a peaceful resolution to a protracted civil war and where governmental, non-governmental, and international institutions attempt to assist in stabilizing the political, economic, military, and social structures through a host of reconstruction projects.

Untrained Unqualified Teachers (UUT): High school graduates with no teacher certification. Such graduates are hired by school authorities to teach in elementary schools. The UUT phenomenon persists in Sierra Leone because of an acute shortage of certified teachers.

Youth-Friendly Initiatives: Programs or projects that promote the interest, participation, and well-being of the youth.

Literacy-on-the-Job Model: A dual-skills training model that simultaneously provides literacy and vocational skills training. Employees are provided with in-service training to enable them hone in their technical and workplace linguistic skills. In turn, the employees offer mentorship in the two skills to interns and volunteer apprentices. Mobile technologies, social media, and radio are woven into the intervention model as a means of learning and expressing emergent literacy skills and reinforcing participating businesses, educators, and youth.

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