Tuesday, October 20, 2015

School For Life @ 20: Achievements And Way Forward

Since its establishment in 1995, springing from cooperation on rural community development between the Northern Region based civil society organisation, Ghana Developing Communities Association (GDCA), and a Danish NGO, Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark (GV), School for Life has developed a model for complementary basic education (CBE), which has improved access to quality education at primary level.  

Initially, this model was implemented solely with DANIDA support. The intention was to give out of school children beyond school starting age an opportunity to attain basic literacy and numeracy in their mother tongue, combined with some basic skills and knowledge that is relevant to their families and communities. 

Following an impact assessment conducted in 2007, which showed significant impact at individual, family and community level, SfL expanded its scope through cooperation with major development partners in education such as USAID in 2004 (for components of the Education Quality for All - EQUALL project), DFID in 2008 (the Literacy for Life Change Project), UNICEF, and Innovations for Poverty Action and Community Based Organisations supported by IBIS and DFID again in 2012 under the Ghana CBE Programme.  

Through the various collaborations, SfL has provided CBE to over 200,000 children with over 85% integrating and continuing their education in the formal schools. So ahead of SfL’s 20th Anniversary ceremony scheduled to take place on October 21, 2015 in Tamale, Savannah News (SN) caught up with Abdul-Mumin Ahmed, Communications/Advocacy Officer of SfL for a one-on-one interview. Below are excerpts of the interview paraphrased for easy understanding. 

SN: What necessitated the School for Life Programme? 

Abdul-Mumin (AM): Following a seminar in 1989, that trained adults about farming and other activities which was meant to empower people to break the vicious cycle of poverty, it was also realized that children of school going age were not in school. This was so because, the children had to support their parents in farming activities, taking care of cattle, among other things. In trying to get these children to school, it was thought that taking them immediately to the formal school will mean that their parents will no longer get the support of the children in their work and may object to it. There was therefore the need for an innovative intervention that will provide education to the children while ensuring their availability to support the parents in farming and other activities. A concept paper entitled “the dilemma of education in the North” was written and the idea of a functional literacy class was explored which subsequently gave birth to School for Life. 

SN: How did School for Life start? 

AM: Following the birth of the idea, a working group made up of both Ghanaians and some partners from Denmark was set up within the GV-GDCA cooperation to scout for funding to start the programme. DANIDA was contacted for support on this. But since there was no immediate fund available to pursue the Programme, it was suggested that funds could be drawn from the sale of Christmas calendars in Denmark. This formed the first support for start of the SfL programme. Subsequently, DANIDA acquired funds and continued supporting the programme, ever since. 

SN: Why is the celebration of 20 years important to SfL? 

AM: Having been in the provision of this service to many deprived communities in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions for 20 years, SfL celebrates the 20th Anniversary in recognition of the singularly unique contribution it has made in the development of the CBE module and the thousands of students who have had the opportunity of getting education. Many of these students are now in tertiary institutions. But for the SfL CBE intervention, most of these people stood the risk of missing out on education. Beyond this recognition, the Anniversary celebration offers SfL and its partners the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of SfL and what can be done to ensure Governments commitment in respect of budgetary allocation to the implementation of the recently approved CBE Policy. 

SN: What are the outstanding achievements that School for Life is proud of? 

AM: In the last 20 years, SfL has provided access to education to 200,000 out-of-school children through CBE of which 85 percent continued their education in the formal schools. 247 facilitators have also been supported to further their studies in tertiary institutions and 3, 651 facilitators trained on the SfL methodology and at the same time being given a livelihood. 

Besides what I have already mentioned, SfL has translated learning materials into 14 Ghanaian languages (Dagbani, Likpakpaaln, Ncaam, Anufo, Ngbanyato, Dagaare, Gurene, Kasem, Kusaal, Birfo, Mampruli, Sissali, Ewe and Asante-twi), which now serves the basis for the nation-wide CBE implementation by government in partnership with Civil Society Organisations. 

We (SfL) have also provided quality assurance and capacity building support to other programmes and organisations, including: Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), IBIS-Ghana, CBE MU, APDO, District Directorate of Education for KEEA District, CBE Alliance members, among others. Also, 117 pavilions have been constructed in SfL project communities to serve as classrooms which were later upgraded into formal schools in those communities; 51 teachers’ quarters built in SfL operational districts; over 200 sets of classroom furniture provided to CBE learning centers; and over 51 schools established as a result of SfL’s collaborative advocacy work with some communities in Northern Ghana. 

SfL has also contributed in accelerating Ghana’s progress on MDG2 and Global Goal on Education for All (UNESCO, 2014:EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014 p.283) as well as ongoing collaboration with Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service on complementary education systems study, stakeholder review sessions on study report and sessions for review of the draft CBE Policy in Ghana.

SN: Celebrating 20 years of existence, where does SfL see itself in the next 5-10 years?

AM: SfL has developed a strategic plan spanning between 2013-2018, now focusing more on advocacy and networking. So, SfL sees itself as an organization more focused on networking and advocacy on contemporary and emerging educational issues and ensuring that Government budgets adequately for the running of the Ghana CBE Programme. SfL will also continue to work to maintain quality in the replication of its model by other organisations. It will also strengthen its Learning and Development Centre to keep serving as knowledge and intellect base for promoting quality education and modern and sophisticated pedagogies. In this connection, SfL will continue to run the Teacher Exchange Programme that encourages cross-fertilisation in pedagogical approaches between Ghana and Denmark. For three years running, six personnel from GES have been sent to Denmark to learn about other relevant approaches in pedagogy applied in the developed settings.  

SN: What message do you have for the Ghanaian public?

AM: Universal education for all children is a shared responsibility. Every Ghanaian should take interest in the Ghana CBE Programme and support enrollment of out-of-school children into school, so that we can together work towards achieving universal education for all. Sfl will also like to encourage the Government to make budgetary allocation, starting with the 2016 budget, for CBE nation-wide implementation.

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