Sierra Leone 8: The Upgrading of Bo Teacher’s College Project/4



The immediate objective of the primary school component of the project, the upgrading of the ten pilot primary schools, was largely achieved mainly through the efforts of the communities involved.  At two schools some classrooms were not constructed because insufficient materials were provided by the communities and at two sites wells could not be constructed because of the ground conditions but other water sources were available.  Ten and a half miles of road were improved and many culverts and an additional bridge were also constructed.

The project was therefore completed substantially as visualised in the project document with only a four month overrun on the original two year project duration.  This overrun was mainly due to the effect of the long rainy season on the construction programme not being built in to the original project design.

There was a substantial saving on the UNCDF budget of around US$360,000 which was mainly due to savings on the road improvement component, to careful design and supervision of the construction and to close monitoring of all aspects of expenditure.  The savings were utilised to construct eight teacher’s houses in a second phase of the project.

The cost of the primary school buildings was comparatively low at US$15 a square foot (US$162 a square metre) which included all labour and materials together with supervision, management and operational overheads such as the cost of international staff and vehicles.  This can be compared to the cost of the teacher’s houses which were built by a contractor of US$30 a square foot (US$324 a square metre) excluding administration and supervision costs.

The project proved therefore that, with careful management, self-help (with technical assistance) can deliver good school buildings at a substantially lower cost than that of using contractors.  The technical assistance costs are comparatively high but the rewards in terms of the reduction in total costs and in community and rural development would appear to justify these costs.


2-classroom unit with inset veranda


3-classroom unit with front veranda

Lessons learned

Construction of facilities by communities whether through ‘self-help’ or by using the community or school committees to implement and manage the construction can be very cost-effective and successful.  It can also have other advantages in that a sense of ownership and responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings can be instilled in the community if they are responsible for the construction.  There are however a number issues that have to be faced:

  • Great care must be taken in the selection of the communities to be involved. The communities must be fully informed of the amount of work and time that will be required of them and of the amount of materials that they will have to provide (if this is the case).  Only when this is fully understood and agreed to should the final selection of sites be made.
  • The scale of the development should be kept small and the buildings should not be complex in order that the communities are fully able to understand the project and provide adequate labour and materials to complete it.
  • The methods and materials to be used to construct the buildings should be simple to understand, appropriate for their use, locally available and familiar to both the communities and the artisans working on the project.
  • Factors such as the farming or fishing cycle, that will have an impact on the availability of labour, and the effect of a long rainy season on construction work, must be taken into account at the project planning stage and adequate time should be allowed for the completion of the project.
  • This analysis of the local economic cycle must also include an analysis of the gender division of labour, and the likely knock-on effects within and between families if family members are taken from their normal activities. The effect on different age groups may also be significant, if for example parents are forced to rely on the labour of their children to undertake daily routine activities.  This may have an impact on the existing schooling patterns, and for example, may result in girls being withdrawn from school for child-care or other domestic duties, or boys being withdrawn to take over some of their father’s farming activities.
  • If it is a self-help project, a system of incentive payments should be built into the project from the start to assist small communities in providing adequate labour. This should pay adequate attention to gender norms, and should ensure that men or women are not unduly advantaged compared to the other.  Household budgeting systems are often complex in many African farming communities and how these are structured needs to be understood prior to the development of any payment systems.
  • Sufficient time must be allowed in the initial stages of the project for the appointment of the management team, the preparation of documentation and the procurement of materials, equipment and transport.
  • Adequate transport must be provided for project staff and materials and particular provision must be made for the transport of bulky and heavy materials such as sand and aggregate to the site.
  • Adequate and secure stores must be available both at the project headquarters and at the construction sites for the storage of equipment, materials and possibly fuel.
  • Accurate records of payments and materials must be kept and equipment and materials carefully monitored in order to avoid misuse and theft and to keep a check on the cost of the project.
  • New materials, tools or techniques should only be introduced after careful consideration particularly if the construction period is short.
  • If cement-stabilised soil blocks are used, a continuous check must be kept on the characteristics of the soil being used during the manufacturing period in order to avoid any problems with shrinkage, etc.


D.E.C. Primary School, Bumpe


Typical classroom looking out to inset veranda

It must also be recognised that a great deal of technical assistance will be required if the buildings are going to be completed successfully.  The quality of the technical assistance and the consultants’ understanding of local customs, cultures and social norms must be ensured if this success is to be achieved.

Whether the buildings are actually built by the community or by local artisans managed by the community, appropriate supervision and management of the construction work will be essential if good quality buildings are to be ensured.  Although local artisans might well be able to construct the buildings, they might not be able to manage the work in a timely and cost-effective way.

Competent and professional full-time supervision and management of the building work will be essential throughout the construction period.  The supervisors will also need to exercise some financial control in order to ensure that the funds for construction are properly expended and accounted for.

The accountability of the supervisors must also be ensured in a manner accessible to the community and the supervisors and their accounts must be monitored independently.  In many countries corrupt practices by officials not only distort development efforts, they also create disillusionment within the communities they purport to support.  The undermining of school development initiatives because of inappropriate interventions and selection of favoured companies to provide certain technical inputs has been evident where suitable checks and systems are not in place.

The supervisors will have to pay particular attention to the construction of foundations, to any concrete works, to the roof and to finishing work.  The construction of wells and toilets will also require special attention.

It will also be a great help to communities if a simple and easily understandable construction manual, designed for non-literate communities and reflecting social norms, is prepared to assist them in the construction process and it will probably be necessary to carry out some training of the community and local artisans in improved construction techniques.


Using savings made on the project, eight teachers’ houses were constructed after the main project was finished.


One of the teachers’ houses constructed after the main project was completed showing the house with the kitchen at the rear and the VIP latrine and shower.  The houses were constructed by local contractors supervised by one of the UNVs.





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