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

Björn Haßler
Björn Haßler