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Sierra Leone’s dreadlocked minister of education drives radical inclusion

Moinina David Sengeh, basic and upper secondary education minister in Sierra Leone is changing the narrative and under his watch one of the most progressive pieces of legislation has been passed to drive inclusive and quality education in the 8.42 million people strong West African country.
Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone Basic and Upper Secondary Education
Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone Basic and Upper Secondary Education, Day one as minister; Photo Credit: Sierra Network
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Sierra Leone’s dreadlocked minister of basic and upper secondary education is leading a quiet revolution in the 8.42 million people West African country with the passage of an education law that protects pregnant girls, parent learners, learners on the autism spectrum and those with unseen disabilities.

Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s chief innovation officer and minister of basic and secondary education shared this on his LinkedIn handle, Monday.

The law has also abolished corporal punishment and legalised a youth advisory group, which relies heavily on data.

This is part of Sengeh’s radical inclusion agenda and campaign. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest education exclusion rates according UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report, with 20 per cent of primary school age children and almost 60 per cent of upper secondary school age youth not in school.

“As I sat in the well of Parliament and hearing members of the Parliament from both sides debate and make this law even better, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotions of pride, joy, gratitude, hope, love, et cetera all of it,” Sengeh said. “Who would’ve thought that a dreadlocked guy with a technical background would be given the privilege to lead the country’s flagship project responsible for 22 per cent of the national budget?”

Sengeh is Sierra Leone’s first-ever chief innovation officer. He was a research scientist at IBM Research Africa, Nairobi. David was born and raised in Sierra Leone, and received his doctor of philosophy (PhD) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  (MIT) Media Lab, where his research in the biomechatronics group focused on the design of comfortable prosthetic sockets and wearable interfaces. He is the president and co-founder of the international NGO Global Minimum (GMin).

Seven years ago, Sengeh shared the vision of a radically inclusive and innovative education for Sierra Leone with President Julius Maada Bio. This was over two years before Bio became President. The passage of this new education law gives life to the vision.

“Who would’ve thought that the entire country will now be behind the President in ensuring that his vision of Free Quality School Education stays for a very very long time? Who would’ve thought that Sierra Leone can be a benchmark for education again when we are still in the middle of our reforms?” Sengeh asked.

In Parliament, the 36-year-old said he kept thinking about his message to his children or even to himself three years ago. He said once one’s vision is clear, and one has set their mind to it, keep going. There are lots of detractors, naysayers, negative critics as there are supporters, believers, and positive critics. They all make the world go round.

“But at the end, it’s you who has to do it. So go out there every day and get it done with the best team you can find! We will now make the modifications recommended and quickly get into implementation. All I have to say is thank you Lord. Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, all I have to say is thank you Lord,” Sengeh stated.

Over 8,000 men, women, and children in Sierra Leone lost limbs due to a civil war that lasted 11 years. Sengeh claimed in his TED Talk that watching people who couldn’t use their prostheses while he was growing up in Sierra Leone inspired his foray into biomechatronics engineering at the MIT Media Lab.

In 2014, Sengeh made the list Forbes 30 under 30 in consumer technology. He made list on the strength of the fact that he took up the task of creating the ideal fit for each prosthetic socket. At the time, he was a PhD candidate at MIT’s Media Lab. In addition, he founded Innovate Salone, an organisation dedicated to encouraging innovation in his nation, and Lebone Solutions Inc., a business that received $200,000 from the World Bank to create microbial fuel cells in Africa.


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