On Saturday, June 22nd, 2024, Freetown City Council Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr held an enlightening and inspiring 3.5-hour session with 354 headteachers, deputy headteachers, and senior teachers from the 118 schools participating in the Pawa project for Gender Responsive Schooling.

This initiative is a key component of the broader School Leaders Support Program, a collaborative effort between Freetown City Council, EducAid, and Rising Academy, which has been active in over 420 primary and junior secondary schools since 2019.

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr expressed her gratitude to the school leaders for their support in hosting the He4She day on May 18th, which focused on gender equality and empowerment. “A key objective of this morning’s engagement was to thank the school leaders for hosting the 18th May He4She day in their schools. Meeting with the school leaders in 10 groups of about 30 each, it was inspiring to hear stories of the impact that the event had on fathers and father figures who attended. I also heard how that interaction with fathers or father figures inspired many of the girls,” she stated.

During the session, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr also addressed a growing concern among the school leaders: the issue of pupil absenteeism after exams, particularly in the last term and the initial weeks of the first term. This absenteeism, attributed to various factors including children being encouraged to engage in trading activities, was highlighted as having a detrimental effect on learning outcomes. Pupils missing out on completing their syllabi and losing crucial teacher contact time was a significant concern.

To tackle this issue, the mayor and school leaders spent considerable time brainstorming potential solutions. “We spent a considerable time brainstorming solutions and I am pleased that we have agreed on a few interventions to discourage absenteeism,” Aki-Sawyerr noted. One such intervention includes the creation of a reporting mechanism between the schools and the Freetown City Council (FCC). This mechanism aims to enforce the Freetown City Council Employment of Children Bylaws, 2010, to dissuade parents and guardians from keeping pupils away from school for commercial gain.

Other incentives to keep pupils in school were discussed and are set to be developed in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr shared a message to parents and guardians, reminding them of the importance of regular school attendance for their children’s educational success.

The session highlighted the collective commitment of the Freetown City Council, school leaders, and community stakeholders to foster a supportive and responsive educational environment. The ongoing collaboration aims to ensure that every child in Freetown has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive academically and personally.

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s engagement underscores the significance of community involvement in addressing educational challenges and promoting gender-responsive schooling. The efforts of the Pawa project and the School Leaders Support Program continue to make substantial strides towards improving the educational landscape in Freetown.