BERF Skills and School Leavers in the Sierra Leone Labour Market October 2017

DFID commissioned a scoping study in Sierra Leone, under BERF, to provide insight into the experiences and challenges that school leavers in Sierra Leone face when they enter the labour market. A review of literature and stakeholder interviews supplemented the main data collection exercise, which was a survey of 250 students from two schools in Freetown who took the Basic Education Certificate Examination or the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination  exam in either 2011/12 or 2014/15.

The main findings from the study are that:

  • A significant proportion of students do not continue in education following the Basic Certificate: they leave school.
    • Percent of Basic Education cohort who do not continue in education

2011/12 Cohort

2014/15 Cohort



Fail Pass




47% 53%




53% 38%


  • A significant proportion of students do not continue in education following the Secondary Education Certificate: they leave school.
    • Percent of Secondary Education cohort who do not continue in education

2011/12 Cohort

2014/15 Cohort



Fail Pass




67% 25%




50% 47%


Failing either exam clearly does not close the door to additional education. Over both cohorts, 50 percent of boys and 35 percent of girls who failed the Basic Education Certificate continued in education, while 32 percent of men and 22 percent of women who failed the Secondary Certificate continued in education.

The Secondary Certificate of Education results influence post-Senior Secondary School educational activities. Those who passed opted predominately to pursue a university degree, while those who failed favoured the polytechnic, technical or vocational college.

Very few of the respondents, even the older ones, are working. Overall, only 7 respondents (3 percent) reported that they were working.

A significant proportion of those who are not in either education or work, are not looking for work. Overall, of the 143 respondents who were neither in education nor in work, 70 percent reported that they were not looking for work.

Young people’s views about how well their education prepared them for getting a job are mixed. Respondents from the Government Rokel Secondary School were much more likely to strongly agree or agree with the statement “The formal education that I received prepared me well for getting a job” (86 percent) than respondents from Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School (22 percent).

Views about how education might be improved to better prepare young people to get work were also mixed. Respondents from Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School put relatively less weight on basic skills, and more on a more practical orientation and communication and interpersonal skills compared to students from Government Rokel Secondary School.

These findings lead to five main conclusions:

  1. Many students, including many who pass the Basic Education Certificate, do not continue their education beyond Junior Secondary School (JSS).
  2. Young people in Sierra Leone are highly motivated to pursue further studies and to add to their educational qualifications, and many will not let a disappointing exam result stand in their way.
  3. Students who pass the Basic or Secondary Certificate are more likely to continue their education.
  4. Gender effects are seen throughout the study findings.
  5. The school-to-work transition is neither simple, nor easily identified, or quick.

The study highlights the fact that far too little is known about young people’s pathways between school, further education and work, and the role that the Basic and Secondary Certificate, and other aspects of teaching and learning quality, play in these pathways. Without a better understanding of these pathways it will be impossible to move from common sense interventions to knowledge and evidence-based interventions.

The key recommendation from the study are:

  1. DFID-Sierra Leone and other partners interested in the links between education and employment should continue to work along the lines of the Secondary Education Improvement Programme to increase the pass rates in basic and secondary education examinations, and the numbers of students who successfully transition from junior to secondary school and from secondary school to tertiary study and employment.
  2. Investment should be mode in knowledge and evidence generation activities that address these questions:

What stops students who pass the Basic Certificate from continuing to Senior Secondary School?

Why are girls less likely than boys to continue in education after Basic and Secondary Certificate?

Why are many young people seemingly neither working nor looking for work, and what does this tell us about the links between education and employment?

What does the university-to-work transition look like for different groups of young people in different contexts?


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