Sunday, February 27, 2011

Radio EducAid

Don't think I can say it any better so....thank you for this letter that tells the story so well and thank you all that were involved in making this happen.  Fingers crossed the baton will not be dropped!

Dear Chris and Julia

This is just to say a big thank you to you both for all your advice and help with making radio at EducAid.

EducAid was hugely receptive to the radio idea. We all had loads of fun, and your technical advice on making radio with schools was completely apposite.

I should really let the schools’ programmes do the talking, but I can’t wait to send you that: the EducAid team tell me they will be putting them online shortly. But uploading an MP3 file requires biblical patience in Salone. I will bring home the MP3 files to share with you when I get home.

We were assigned small groups of students at schools in Rolal – a rural school a few miles outside Port Loko – and in Lumley, a jam-packed site in Western Freetown, with perhaps 500 students crammed on three floors. I didn’t managed to hold the groups to 5, but we ended up with about 12-15 on each site. All ages, and we found abilities from singing to interviewing, acting to technical editing.

The kids were hugely enthusiastic about all aspects of the process, from conceiving dramas and conducting debates, to recording gospel music and a traditional Temne greeting: the chief summons his people with his flutes. We had confident interviewers and proper continuity presenters. They learned lots about recording radio drama – making the sound convey the message (I almost had to tie them down with gaffer tape), performing to the mike, using sound effects, using different acoustics, maintaining silence. The experience that Lily and I had with your radio drama was invaluable.

Several staff and students took to Audacity software like ducks to water. If our levels and edits aren’t perfect, I hope you will see we broadly followed your advice about balancing and alternating music, drama, interviews, and the authoritative voice of continuity presenters.

I think Audacity was the factor which really validated the decision to stay with audio, and not go for video. It meant we got a much more deliberated product. Kids worked really hard and listened to their results reflectively. You can do this immediately on the mike, as well as later on the pc. The Lumley group took time to listen to their first drama “take”, and also to listen to the interviews. We picked out key words and re-record the drama with a much more powerful focus the next day, echoing and building on the words of the doctor and other interviewees. If they had stumbled around with a video camera, I don’t believe they would have had the opportunity to focus their product it nearly as sharply, let alone edit it without the time and resources to get to grips with a proper video editor like Avid. They barely believed me when I told them that it used to take Everyman 3 months to make a 50 minute TV documentary. But after the hours and hours they put in to make 14 minutes of radio – we worked till 10 and 11 many nights - I think they were getting the idea.

We had very little time – Salone has plenty of holidays. Effectively we had three working days in Rolal and two working days in Lumley before presenting the show to the school on the final day. In Lumley we ditched the idea of continuity and presentation, and opted instead for linking drama and interviews with loops of the soundtrack of a song / rap that some girls had devised with Mr Deen: “TB is a killer disease – hello – TB can be cured!”

All of this with a single plastic “Easy-speak” mike, a bit of free software, and any old PC – which the schools now have in plenty, even if you have to whack on the generator to use them. (We had to do some of the recording in various hot broom cupboards to minimise the generator noise). They managed to play the radio at assemblies in both schools through their big PAs.

This is a culture where children are too often seen and not heard. What a pleasure to be able to reverse that! Particularly with the young girls who demonstrated what one of them argued cogently in her school “One minute Debate”: women can do what men can do.

We could genuinely say at the end that several students had taken the first important step to careers in media if that is what they want. I told them that if you want to make radio or TV for the BBC, it doesn’t really matter what course you follow at school at college – but what’s on your showreel/memory stick/portfolio that counts. Well, these kids have made the first bit of their showreel, and I think you will agree they can be very proud of that.

When we left, a young teacher and EducAid alumnus, Jimiyke, was already forming a radio club, and students were eager to take the new technology out to the other EducAid schools. By the time we left, the Rolal programme was also to be heard coming out of various computers around the school, so perhaps we are fostering a small local virus of communication. Jimiyke is also a fan of movie maker on which he had been editing the school sports day, so hopes to build videos of the radio programmes with stills, for uploading to Youtube.

Richard Johnson

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to

Monday, February 14, 2011

ICT - now this is starting to move in the right direction

EducAid Lumley IT room in action.

Project work.

EducAid Rolal IT room in action.
A couple of months ago, EducAid received a good number of 2nd hand computers from a partner school in the UK.  The idea was to boost the ICT department and get computers into all schools for staff and students to get the basics and then to help as many as possible towards ICT specialisms.

It is great to see this plan being brought to reality under the management of Moses Tholley [ex-EducAid student who recently graduated from Fourah Bay College with an engineering degree] and his team.

This will make an extraordinary difference to the youngsters with whom we work, giving them access to a facility that, for 95% of the population, is beyond reach.
Ex-EducAid student, Moses, graduating from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.
Now he runs the ICT department for the whole EducAid programme.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Volunteering in EducAid

From time to time, people hear of EducAid's work and volunteer to come over and help out for a period. We have had a few youngsters nearing the end of their formal education and now a small number of teachers at the other end of their careers.

Pat Payton, retired as a chemistry teacher from a specialist dyslexia college in Devon and is now on her third visit.  She has done wonders in moving on the Women's Project literacy and numeracy teaching as well as doing significant work with the science department.

Ken Hall, my mentor from my NQT [Newly Qualified Teacher] days, has recently retired from Biology teaching in Hertfordshire and is doing his first stint in Sierra Leone at the moment.  We hope it will be the first of many! He has been working with Pat on teacher development and learning materials production within the science department but has been recruited my many other staff and students into helping out with plenty of other aspects of IT, science, exam preparation etc around the school.

Sean Higgins interrupted his career in South London and has been with EducAid on and off for the best part of 3 years.  He works on staff development mostly as well as a life skills programme that he has put in place for the senior students and is having an invaluable input to the production of thinking learning materials.

EducAid derives great benefits from all of these visits and we are extremely appreciative of the time, money and energy that all these folks are providing.  It has to be said, it would be hard to find terms and conditions equal to theirs: very hard work for long hours, hot and sweaty working environment, pay your own way and enjoy the additional benefits of an extremely limited diet of rice and more rice + spicy sauce and the frequent company of a wide variety of unwanted insect life.  They can however be sure that their efforts will not go in vain and that they are making a fantastic difference to the youngsters for whom they work.
Pat working with the Women's Project, supervising some phonics training.

Sean teaching Life Skills on a Saturday morning.

Ken supervising the 'Biologists'  club session.

The biologists watching a section of David Attenborough's 'Life' series in the library.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work in Sierra Leone, please go to