The Anthropology of Education Policy in Contemporary Sierra Leone

Based on fieldwork conducted in the northern Sierra Leonean city of Makeni, this project considers the ways in which education policy in present-day Sierra Leone has impacted on the specific context of a new teaching institution, and the community in which it is embedded (policy is defined here as activities, proposals or outcomes desired or resisted by members of human societies). The anthropology of policy has emerged as a sub-discipline over recent decades, and deals with policy as something produced by local cultural patterns and social institutions, which impact on its implementation. This contrasts with approaches to policy that view it as culturally ‘fungible’, i.e. as something that can be easily transferred across cultural boundaries.

This project has involved research in the Sierra Leonean city of Makeni, the capital of the Northern Province. This is a region of Sierra Leone which had historically been neglected in public provision of educational infrastructure. The vacuum created has been occupied by non-state actors, including the Roman Catholic Church, which has not only created a network of church schools, but has also sponsored the creation of Sierra Leone’s first private university. Among other things, this project examines the discourses which guide local attitudes to national education policy in this institution, and the ways in which its independent, internal policies are shaped by both local culture and the global doctrines of the church of which many of its key members are a part. Culturally-influenced policy actions occur, in this case, in a context in which Makeni and the northern province of Sierra Leone have seen strong drives towards post-civil war reconstruction, and the appearance of new economic dynamics driven by the entry of global biofuels and mining corporations.

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