Understanding the barriers and enablers of effective Communities of Practice in Sierra Leone through a collaboration between Dubai Cares and Open Development and Education.

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Despite the challenges faced by many charitable organizations and the development sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by the long-term effects of this global crisis on economies around the world, Dubai Cares, a UAE-based global philanthropic organization and a leading global advocate for education transformation, stepped up to provide support in these critical times.

Open Development and Dubai Cares collaborated for the “Teach Me to Teach Them” program to address the challenges faced in the education sector by working with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission to design and test a low-cost and scalable model to support the professional development of the education workforce to address the challenges outlined below. In many low- and middle-income countries, the performance and capacity of civil servants presents a major policy challenge. In the education sector, governments have invested heavily in the professional development of teachers, so all learners can access quality instruction. However, these investments had an inconsistent impact on teaching and learning outcomes. As the impact of other interventions often depends on concurrent improvements in teaching, policymakers need to increase the return on investment in the education workforce to raise the efficiency of service delivery. 

In Sierra Leone, this challenge is particularly acute. In 2021, nearly two thirds of the education workforce had not received any professional development in the previous two years (⇡Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, 2021). In this context, the World Bank recently found that less than 10% of teachers are proficient in the content they are expected to teach (⇡World Bank, 2022).

How did we approach this work?

During this project, we aimed to generate real-time data on how and why our model did—or did not—work in practice. To this end, we turned to the discipline of implementation science.

“Implementation science examines what works, for whom, under what contextual circumstances, and whether interventions are scalable in equitable ways.” 

(⇡Building Evidence in Education Working Group, 2023: p.7)

In particular, we adopted a design-based implementation research methodology (⇡Bakker, 2018). First, we studied the global evidence base on teacher professional development to inform the initial design of our model. Then, we tested this model at increasing scales, where we gathered evidence to tailor the intervention to the needs and contextual realities of teachers in Sierra Leone.

What did the global evidence tell us?

At the beginning of the study, we worked with policymakers to review the global literature on teacher professional development. Here, we examined literature from low- and middle-income countries where available and evidence from high-income countries where relevant. 

In doing so, we identified the following characteristics that underpinned the success of high-impact teacher education programmes (⇡Allier-Gagneur et al., 2020).

  1. Encourage teachers to focus on their pupils’ learning
  2. Share effective practices with teachers using modelling
  3. Acknowledge and build on teachers’ existing knowledge, views, and experiences
  4. Focus on developing practical subject pedagogy rather than theoretical general pedagogy
  5. Empower teachers to become reflective practitioners and structure teacher education around practice-based cycles of trial and refinement
  6. Incorporate peer support
  7. Ensure teacher education programmes motivate teachers;
  8. Prioritise school-based teacher education
  9. Schedule regular, ongoing teacher education
  10. Provide supporting teaching and learning materials
  11. Ensure support from school leaders
  12. Create a coherent policy environment

Based on these findings, we developed a professional development model that combined school-based, peer-facilitated communities of practice with school-led lesson observations and coaching. The proposed model aimed to improve basic pedagogical and content knowledge in foundational literacy and mathematics.

What did we learn from this project?

For this project, we focused on the design and delivery of school-based, peer-facilitated communities of practice. Over the duration of our research, we observed the following trends.

  1. Regular communities of practice can provide a supportive environment for teachers, where they can share challenges, best practices and solutions
  2. School-based peer-facilitators play a pivotal role in facilitating an environment of peer learning and support
  3. School leader engagement is a key factor for successful implementation of communities of practice
  4. Time is one of the greatest barriers to effective communities of practice
  5. Materials can enable facilitators and teachers during the communities of practice, depending on the format and the medium through which the materials are provided
  6. The content for communities of practice can support peer-learning and well-being, for teachers and students.
  7. The difficult conditions that teachers work in are a significant barrier to effective communities of practice
  8. Improved coordination and alignment of teacher professional development at a national level could enable more teachers to benefit from structured professional development opportunities

Our methodology and learnings from this project contributed to the Building Evidence in Education (BE2) Guidance Note on Implementation Science (⇡Building Evidence in Education Working Group, 2023).

We are grateful to Dubai Cares for financially supporting and collaborating with us on this project.


Allier-Gagneur, Z., McBurnie, C., Chuang, R., & Haßler, B. (2020). Characteristics of effective teacher education in low- and middle-income countries: What are they and what role can EdTech play? EdTech Hub. 

Bakker, A. (2018). Design Research in Education: A Practical Guide for Early Career Researchers. Routledge.

Building Evidence in Education Working Group. (2023). Guidance Note on Using Implementation Research in Education. https://www.edu-links.org/sites/default/files/media/file/Guidance_Note_on_Using_Implementation_Research_in_Education.pdf

Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education. (2021). Sierra Leone National Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessment Baseline Study. https://mbsse.gov.sl/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Sierra-Leone-National-Early-Grade-Reading-and-Mathematics-Assessment-Baseline-Study.pdf

World Bank. (2022). Global Education Policy Dashboard. https://www.educationpolicydashboard.org/practice-sub-indicators/sle/6

Introducing the next iteration of our sensor box

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Björn Haßler and Bernhard Bablok

This blogpost was amended on 2024-02-02, correcting the power consumption to 380 nA. The blogpost previous stated an incorrect higher power consumption of 30 uA.

For our climate-resilience programme for schools in Tanzania, we are developing custom sensors to measure the impact of retrofits. The sensors measure potential reductions in temperature and noise in the classroom that we achieve through low-cost retrofits; such improvements are expected to have significant impact on learning. The first version of the custom sensor is already in use in Tanzania. Building on the insights of the initial sensor developments throughout 2023, we have now developed a new sensor. The development, as with the previous sensor, was led by Bernhard Bablok (https://github.com/bablokb/pcb-pico-datalogger).

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How to build an IoT device with low-power sleep

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At OpenDevEd, we’re committed to sharing our learning with the wider development community. This article is one such attempt. Learnings are often very focused insights, and are necessarily very specific. However, rather than trying to second guess what you, dear reader, may or may not find interesting, we share such posts nonetheless. If a post is too specific for your liking, you’ll no doubt move on to another one. It has taken the authors of this blog several hours to reach the insights here, and we feel it’s worth sharing. So, if you’re interested in microcontrollers and low-power sleep, read on.

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Benefits of using ISSB in school buildings

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Mauricia Nambatya (Haileybury Youth Trust)

Mauricia Nambatya is a Civil Engineer with an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge, and a First Class Honours BSc in Civil Engineering from Makerere University, Kampala. She advocates for climate-friendly building construction to reduce the use of fired bricks that have massively contributed to deforestation.

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Is indoor environmental quality in my school classroom safe?

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DOI: 10.53832/opendeved.1028

Pawel Wargocki (DTU SUSTAIN and Technical University of Denmark)

Prof. Pawel Warwocki is best known for his work demonstrating that poor indoor environmental quality affects work and learning. Recent research includes studies on emissions from humans and the performance of green buildings. He is a current member of DTU Sustain, one of Europe’s largest university departments specialising in environmental and resource engineering that focuses on developing new, environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies, methods, and solutions.

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Education and climate change – What retrofits could make classroom environments more conducive to learning?

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Reference: 10.53832/opendeved.1014

This blog relates to a presentation given by OpenDevEd at The Education and Development Forum in Oxford (UKFIET 2023), as part of the sub-theme “Conflict, crisis, climate, and migration”. Our presentation was part of the symposium called Climate, environment and education outcomes – Preliminary findings and practical experience from East and West Africa.

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IMPROVING TANZANIAN CLASSROOMS: Conducting surveys in Tanzanian Schools – Second pilot

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Funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Improving Learning Through Classroom Experience (ILCE) programme focuses on investigating whether modification of the built environment (temperature, light intensity, and acoustics) can positively impact the classroom experience to improve learning. 

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IMPROVING TANZANIAN CLASSROOMS: Trialling environmental sensors in Tanzanian Schools – First pilot

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Funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Improving Learning Through Classroom Experience (ILCE) programme focuses on investigating whether modification of the built environment (temperature, light intensity, and acoustics) can positively impact the classroom experience to improve learning. 

Continue reading “IMPROVING TANZANIAN CLASSROOMS: Trialling environmental sensors in Tanzanian Schools – First pilot”

The Importance of Climate-Friendly School Buildings in Africa

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The world is grappling with the effects of climate change, specifically global warming and biodiversity loss. Human life is greatly impacted by extreme weather events, and in Africa, warm and hot climates prevail all over the continent, with the northern part mostly arid and with high temperatures.

This blog considers the effect of climate change on school buildings and, subsequently, on learning. Implementing simple but creative solutions using design principles, local resources, and know-how can have a positive and significant impact. Read on to find out more. 

East Africa is characterised by an equatorial tropical climate which is considered moderate, with temperature and humidity levels comfortable most of the year compared to other areas with more extreme conditions. However, it is among the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change from a projected increase in hot days and heavy precipitation.

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School: A Second Home for the Children

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Nearly a third of the time in childhood and early teenage is spent in school classrooms. A school is a place to develop skills and abilities and create friendships. It is an environment for thriving social interactions that will be essential on their journey to adulthood. School should be a place where students learn, and have fun as well. School should not be a hindrance for children, because, in that space, they not only develop social, physical, and mental skills and abilities but also undergo physical changes. Therefore, no health risks should be at stake. 

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