Investing in Education: Textbooks

This INVESTING IN EDUCATION series of blog posts will follow a set of charitable initiatives to help rural Ghanaian children attend and excel at school, removing some of the barriers that may keep them in a cycle of poverty. I want to extent a high level of thanks to everyone who contributed funds and time to make these activities happen.

From IBIS:

“So the name of the school we will visit is Yipala Junior High School. This is the school that went from having 0% passing the BECE to being the best in the district. The BECE is the exam you have to pass in order to be accepted to Senior High School.What really amazes me about this community is the way all of the community came together to fix the problem. It is completely unheard of that parents, teachers and students collaborate into fixing the problems. The normal reaction is a mud fight where blame is shifted around. So Yipala is really a sunshine story which we will be able to use to demonstrate to other communities that change is possible. If you look at the overall numbers of Ghana and BECE only 46% passed the BECE in 2012. This means that less than half of the students are able to qualify to go to Senior High.”

Yipala is located in the Northern Region of Ghana, in Sawla-Tuna-Kalba district. It is a small village, adjacent to the main Wa road. The school includes classes from KG to Primary to Junior High. It is making remarkable advances but still has many hurdles to overcome.

On the day I accompanied IBIS — a Danish-based NGO working towards developing education — we headed to this small town for a meeting. There was headmasters, teachers, parents, community leaders. Basically, everyone you need to come together to actually improve a school.

The meeting was one of the most interactive and informative ones I’ve ever attended. All participants were allowed to speak and more importantly, encouraged to voice their opinion. The thing I was hoping to learn was what the school truly needed to improve.

The JHS, in particular, has made remarkable changes in only one year. 2011 saw zero of 28 applicants pass the BECE exam. This means that those kids will only be able to go into trade work — mechanic, tailor, shop owner — if lucky. Some may repeat JHS Form 3 in hopes of a second chance, but more likely they will never attend school again.

The following year, 2012, saw 14 or 16 students pass the BECE and be given the chance to attend Senior High School. (There is no SHS in Yipala, so they would have to journey to a larger community that has one.) This means the possibility of higher education, higher job prospects, and a higher standard of living. Although you might guess from the numbers — 28 applicants down to 16 — that the school didn’t send everyone it could, only those most likely to pass. In any case, they reached a 50% pass rate, up from absolute zero. Regardless of sending all or just a few, most schools can only reach a success rate of 30%, at most. Yipala JHS is excelling

Other topics brought up in the meeting include:

  • Literacy rate of children in Primary School (P1 to P6) is around 10%, regardless of class. Nearly all kids grow up in non-English speaking families. They are exposed to English in P1 to P3, but have there local language as the primary mode of communication. When they reach P4, English is the sole method of instruction, meaning a steep learning curve for many. Few children do the required readings at home, preferring to watch TV, meaning pressure from parents to be engaged in their children’s school work is needed.
  • Children moving to the gold mining areas of Bole district (5 hours away) during their break from school and not returning. Some go by their own choice, others are sent by parents. Girls have the worst of it, usually falling into prostitution. It was noted that the community was told that these mining town were upset with the influx of children. Not because they are worried for the children’s safety, but because they charge less for sex and therefore are hurting the business of adult prostitutes. The shock value of this revelation was not as high as one would think.
  • Use of phones in the classroom. These are taken from parents and cause major distractions in class.
  • Poorly designed Primary and JHS classroom blocks. Rather than being tall structures with open windows for easy air movement (critical during the scorching Harmattan season), they are low lying with art-deco blocks, allowing for the most minimal of air flow. The possibility of removing these blocks was brought up.
  • Money, to be awarded to teachers for their excellent performance, has not been given yet.
  • 100+ children in Kindergarden. 1 teacher. KG 1 has more than 70 children and KG 2 has more than 30 kids. Parents are dropping off kids at very early ages, treating the school like a daycare. The is no actually GES (Ghana Education Service) classroom for KG, so they are currently using an abandoned church adjacent to the other classroom blocks.

All of these issues were noted and would be reported to the local government and their DCE, the man who usually helps push community grievances forward.

After the meeting concluded, we went on a tour of the KG/church building to assess the situation.

We had concluded after 1:00 pm — the time when kids go home — so we missed the feat of trying to house all the young, energetic children into such a small space, but one’s imagination could do an adequate job. 

The first thing we encountered was an overwhelming stench of urine.

There are two openings on either side. No doors, so goats are free to enter in the night time, urinating and dedicating without restriction.

The floors are bare, only dirt. Blackboards at the front and read, both falling apart. Seats made from concrete, crumbling, used for KG 1. A few desks in the back, used for KG 2.

Some small windows allowed for a minimal level of natural light to enter. The most concerning part of this building was the structural integrity  made worse by children routinely hanging from the window shutters.

It will be a miracle if this place stays standing for long. One hates to think about that very real possibility of the walls or roof collapsing on a group of innocent, little kids. It was abandoned for a reason.

The one women tasked with controlling so many children with so few resources is truly a remarkable person. She deserves constant recognition.

Returning back to the JHS success story again. They had noted two items to better equip themselves for success.

  1. Mobile blackboards. These would allow them to take classes outdoors and in the shade during Harmattan.
  2. Textbooks. Currently they only have a small assortment of outdated textbooks. Only enough for the teachers.

We had theorized before coming to Yipala that textbooks might help them continue their level of success, as well as reward them for their hard work. There are four key subjects in JHS: Math, English, Applied Science, and Social Studies. Each class averages 24 students across Form 1 to 3. Each textbook — part of the Aki-Ola Series — covers all three forms. So the English teacher, for example, would take his set of books from one class to another. My hope is to provide enough books for every two children. This has the added benefit of children working together and possibly helping each other through any challenges.

As for the blackboards, these can built quite simply. All you need is some plywood and black paint. Use chalk to write and you’re done. IBIS also noted that there are funds available to complete such work, so I will try my best to inform them of this.

All in all, it was an informative day. If I ever come back to Ghana and the Northern Region, I hope to visit this school and some of the scholars, to see how each has grown. 

My next mission is to track down these books, purchase as many as I can, and reward the school for all its hard work. I’m sure they will be pleased to see what hard work can lead to.

Stay tuned for the result.

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