FREETOWN, Sierra Leone—An SOS Children’s Villages high school placed first among all schools in West Africa for a regional college-entrance exam, according to results released two weeks ago by the West African Examinations Council.
One of the students at the school, which is called the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International School in Freetown, recorded the highest score in Sierra Leone.
“I’m so excited. I could not control the tears. It almost seemed impossible,” said Tamba Joshua Yarjah, 19. “My dream was to score the highest in the country. Today, my dream is a reality.”
There were 39 students at the SOS school who took the test. All of them passed. Their success, however, was not easily had.
All schools in Sierra Leone were shut down for nine months during the height of the Ebola outbreak in 2014. After schools reopened in April 2015, students had only one month until they sat for the exam, which is similar to the SAT or ACT in the United States.
“I was devastated when schools closed down, but then I realized the break was a chance to better prepare myself for the exams,” Tamba said. “I knew that the exams would not be postponed, so I challenged myself that no matter what, I would never stop studying.”
Had the Ebola outbreak not forced schools to close for nine months, teachers at the SOS schools would have used the time to prepare their students for the important exam. Instead, the faculty organized distance-learning opportunities for the students. Learning materials were sent to their homes once every two weeks. The government also offered lessons on TV and the radio.
“This helped the students stay focused,” said Thomas Allie, the principal of the SOS school. “Some teachers also volunteered to give extra classes. The students and their parents welcomed the idea, and we worked together to prepare the students for the exams.”
In 2010, the SOS school in Freetown placed first in the country for its students’ performance on the exam. However, this marks the first time that the school placed first in the region. Other English-speaking countries that offer the exam include Gambia, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana.