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How a small school in Sierra Leone uses remote learning to offer high school

By Brian Roach

The American International School of Freetown in Sierra Leone (AISF) has 90 students between the ages of three and 19, seven teachers and a director—an all-encompassing administrative role that is common in small international schools in Africa.

AISF does not have a certified high school but does have 11 high school aged students who have no other options for an international education in town. So, our school has been offering them courses from VHS Learning in grade nine and grade ten. We provide onsite support as students take their courses online. It is a good option to prepare students who plan to move at the end of grade 10 to an in-person high school.

For grades 11 and 12, we enroll students into Massachusetts Mayflower Academy (MMA), an accredited online high school that uses the online provider’s courses. AISF still provides onsite support and resources to our students, but they will graduate with a diploma from MMA. For AISF students, this is a good option to graduate with an accredited American high school diploma in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

What grabbed my interest when considering the online courses was that the students were being asked to do big picture thinking and they were being asked meaningful questions. It is engaging, authentic learning. I had quite a group of ninth grade students, and they're in their second week of the courses. And they come in and they look at one of the essential questions for world history, which most of them were doing, and the question was, ‘What is the role of art and religion in society?’ We talked about what art does, and the kids were kind of able to tease that one out. Then, we pivoted to the second part. What's the role of religion in society? I thought it was a meaningful question. And it was a lead-in to the Renaissance. They were looking at the Renaissance Reformation, the art and religion of Renaissance.

Another benefit of these courses is the students are also able to have office hours with their teachers, which are not available through some other online options, only email. And perhaps even more importantly, they become part of a virtual classroom where they can meet classmates across the United States and around the world.

Having engaging learning is extremely important. Doing a full virtual course load is hard and motivation is sometimes challenging. Even if you have adults there physically supervising the students and asking them questions, it's tricky to keep that motivation and to keep the learning happening. The more engaging that it can be, the more human contact—virtual and otherwise—that a school can provide, the better it's going to be for the students and that’s what we found with our online partner.

For a school like the American International School of Freetown, it is important to look at where the students are planning to go next; both VHS Learning and Massachusetts Mayflower Academy are going to appeal to postsecondary schools that are broadly American in their character.

In my dream of dreams for a small school, I would have a blend. If our school became a little bit bigger, I would like to have a couple of high school teachers who could directly teach some of the courses, and then, flesh that out, because there's no way that a small school like ours is going to be able to have a physics teacher, a chemistry teacher, and a biology teacher. To actually create a blend, that would be my dream for a modest size international school, and I think it may be a dream that transcends our size as we become a bit larger in the future.

About the Author: Brian Roach serves as the director of the American International School of Freetown in Sierra Leone.

Read this article on eSchool News.