ACES continues legacy of building educational capacity in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone school children watch a demonstration
Yeanoh Dumbuya, a Sierra Leone field extension worker, works with youth on sweet potato cultivation. Photo by University of Illinois' AgReach Program.
December 5, 2018

URBANA, Ill. – A team based in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois will help Sierra Leone enhance its institutions of higher education by supporting outcome-based education and developing a framework for quality control as part of a project funded by the United Kingdom (UK)’s Department for International Development (DFID).

After 11 years of devastating civil conflict (1991-2002), Sierra Leone, which sits on the coast of West Africa, continues to suffer from major gaps in infrastructure and social development across sectors, including education. Until now, the country has not had a post-war recovery plan for its higher education, which suffers from poor financing, limited staff and training opportunities, and general lack of effective systems for learning.

The overall objective of this new project, “Assuring Quality Higher Education in Sierra Leone (AQHEd-SL),” is to bring together higher education institutions across Sierra Leone to work together to improve the management and implementation of outcome-based education and to establish a National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

At the end of this project in 2021, students will be studying under NQF-accredited degree programs that conform to a new set of quality criteria. These students will be trained using best-practice pedagogical approaches and innovative curricula and, crucially, graduates will be equipped with skills and knowledge that employers value. The Sierra Leonean higher education institutions will have the expertise, tools, and systems to monitor and to continually improve. Employers will have a stake in the university’s courses and will continue to engage with their development and improvements. 

Using its existing network of private and public sectors in Sierra Leone, the interdisciplinary Illinois team will be able to provide valuable input towards the new protocols and frameworks and specifically will help NU and UniMak implement outcome-based education by providing a series of curriculum review workshops.

ACES will work within a consortium led by the University of Sierra Leone for the 3.5 year duration of the project. Additional members of the consortium include two other Sierra Leone universities, Njala University (NU) and the University of Makeni (UniMak); King’s College London, UK; and International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, UK; as well as national regulatory, professional, and educational agencies.

The Illinois team members include:

  • Paul McNamara, associate professor in agricultural and consumer economics and Illinois team lead
  • Hitomi Ho, ACES project coordinator
  • Amber Martin, Sierra Leone-based field coordinator
  • Mary Kalantzis, professor in College of Education
  • Bill Cope, professor in College of Education
  • Cheelan Bo-Linn, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning
  • Walter Hurley, professor emeritus in animal sciences
  • Richard Cooke, professor in agricultural and biological engineering

This new project will continue ACES’ longstanding partnership with NU, which dates back to the mid-1960s when Illinois faculty assisted with developing programs to build the country's agriculture production, including conducting soil surveys, developing plant varieties and livestock strains for local conditions, conducting livestock nutritional studies, and improving the quality of the country’s food supply.

More recently, in 2012, faculty at Illinois and NU developed a joint teaching program in agricultural business. Illinois has contributed teaching resources (three courses with faculty) to the joint program and has since launched a semester-long study abroad program in Sierra Leone at NU.

“This is an exciting project and one that demonstrates the growth and value of ACES’ work at NU and in Sierra Leone more broadly,” said Alex Winter-Nelson, director of the ACES Office of International Programs.