Sierra Leone is a small country on the West Coast of Africa. Wedged in-between Guinea and Liberia, it has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons (dry and rainy). Sierra Leone has a diverse environment ranging from savanna to rain forests. It also has rated some of the best beaches in the world and is rich in natural resources (like: iron, bauxite, gold, diamonds, etc).
Sierra Leone is a constitutional democracy with an elected president. The current president Ernest B. Koroma was peacefully re-elected in 2012. The government is seated in Freetown, the capital city. Freetown is located in the Western Area district and is the biggest city of the country. It has a population of an estimated 1.3 million residents and is the business center of the country.
Sierra Leone was named in 1462 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, who named it Serra Leoa, meaning “Lioness Mountains”. In later years, Sierra Leone became an important center of the transatlantic slave trade, until Freetown was established in 1792 by the Sierra Leone Company. The city then became a home for former slaves (therefore, the name Freetown). In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony. In 1961, Sierra Leone gained its independence and successive governments led up to a civil war. The war raged from 1991 until 2002 and was especially known in the rest of the world for the brutal practice of amputations. Today, Sierra Leone is still ranked as one of the poorest nations on earth with the worst life expectancy in the world (47 average age expectancy according to WHO 2011).
However, since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone has begun rebuilding and the economy has shown a steady growth ever since.
The population of Sierra Leone is roughly estimated around 6 million people (different organisations give different numbers). The population consists of 16 different ethnic groups. The two main groups are the Temne and the Mende. The most widely spoken language is Krio (although it is not the official language, it is spoken throughout most of Sierra Leone). The official language is English, which is spoken in government institutions and businesses.
Sierra Leone is considered mainly a Muslim country (about 60%). Christians make up about 30% and about 10% follow a more indigenous belief system. However, religion in Sierra Leone is often considered a rather fluid notion and therefore it is not uncommon to meet Christians who also support Islam and vice versa. Many also incorporate the traditional believes within Christianity and Islam. Sierra Leone does not experience religious tensions. Most people respect the religion of the other and mixed religious views within marriages and families are common.
Sierra Leone’s population is very young at average, with an estimated 41.7% under 15 and a further 30% between the ages of 15-35 years old. Most people live in rural areas, but with an urbanization trend of 3%, the country is becoming more urban. As a result, the city services are under a lot of pressure.
Education in Sierra Leone is obligatory for all children and officially “free of charge”. The education norm is to receive at least six years at primary level and three years in junior secondary education. But a shortage of schools and teachers, and a general lack of resources have made this implementation extremely hard.
Two-thirds of the adult population in Sierra Leone is illiterate. During the civil war, 1,270 primary schools were destroyed, and as a result, in 2001, 67% of all school-aged children were out of school. Since then, the country has made some big steps and the situation has improved significantly. Between 2001 and 2005, primary school enrolment has doubled and since the end of the war many schools have been reconstructed. Although the number of children in primary education has greatly increased since the end of the civil war, in 2010, there were still over 281,100 school-aged children not in primary school (UNESCO). The current education numbers on Sierra Leone are hard to find but the rate of completion of children in primary education was only 64% during 2004/2005. The rate of educational completion of girls is even lower, partly due to cultural beliefs in some areas of Sierra Leone where education for girls is not supported.
The quality level of schooling is poor in all aspects. Teachers are ill equipped with resources and they often do not possess appropriate teaching skills. As a result, the education level of students is far below the level of their western peers. This is one of the main reasons for the high unemployment rate among Sierra Leonean youth.
Sierra Leone’s tertiary education system is not in a much better condition. The polytechnic institutions are supposed to provide the technical and vocational education as well as training programmes. However, they have not been able to effectively help young people find and keep a job. Often due to the lack of quality education, but also due to the high fees which students have to pay for their courses. A lot of youths find themselves without actual practical skills.
Skilled labour is highly valued and in demand by employers. There is especially a high demand for well-trained and mid-level professions, like teachers, electricians, technicians and computer programmers. But unfortunately, for most young people the combination of the poor quality of their education, the lack of social skills, parental or environmental encouragement and critical thinking, result in long-term unemployment.
The unemployment rates are high in Sierra Leone, with an average of 70% of the youth (15-35 years old) being unemployed or underemployed. An estimated 800.000 youths were searching for jobs in 2012. Especially in the urban areas young people struggle to find meaningful employment. Young people in the cities are three times more likely to be unemployed than their rural peers.
In 2011, Sierra Leone society still reflects great gender-biased inequality with only 13.2% of parliamentary seats being occupied by women and only 9.5% of adult women having accessed secondary or higher education, compared to 20% of men (UNDP). Only 10% of youth between 20-30 are active on the labour market. 50% of youth are illiterate and/or unskilled. For this group, it is especially hard to find a job, and enjoy a sustainable life and income. Often these youths turn to the streets and try to sell or trade something to make a living. Some engage in a life of crime and/or prostitution, leading to a number of problems within the country, like teen pregnancies and a rise in crime. A decade after the end of civil war, the UN has said that mass youth unemployment poses a great threat to the country’s peace and stability.
Within this gap, Schooling for Life is going to make a difference. With the “Skills for a Successful Future” programme, Schooling for Life wants to deliver well-trained young people to the labour market of Sierra Leone. Schooling for Life will improve vocational capabilities and stimulate critical thinking with the ultimate goal to equip a young person to become a productive member of society. Therewith, assisting with the reconstruction and development of the country.
Republic of Sierra Leone
|Vernacular languages||• Temne
|Ethnic groups||• 35% Temne
• 31% Mende
• 8% Limba
• 5% Kono
• 2% Krio (Creole)
• 2% Mandingo
• 2% Loko
• 15% Others
|Presidential constitutional republic
Ernest Bai Koroma (APC)
– from the United Kingdom
|27 April 1961|
– 2012 estimate
– Per capita