Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Mar(k) as journalists….

with 2 comments

One of our duties at RUMNET is advocacy.  One of the ways we do this, is through publishing articles in our monthly newspaper called The Advocate (funny that).  We thought you might be interested in seeing an article that we will likely publish in the December edition.  One of the great things about our work with RUMNET is that we become involved in a myriad of development issues. 

CBE: An idea whose time has come.

 Universal basic education for all children is a fundamental Millennium Development Goal. Unfortunately, it is one which Ghana seems destined to fall far short of. Why is this the case when we are doing so well in other areas?

The sad reality is that 967,000 children country-wide are still out of school. That is, 28% of school age children are not receiving an education. This is unacceptable.

 In northern Ghana, where high levels of poverty, large families and a subsistence farming culture prevail, traditional public education is simply not an option for many children. Instead, children are required to assist in farming and household activities, to ensure the viability of their family’s livelihood. Also, in many rural communities formal schools do not exist, or the distance to the nearest school discourages disadvantaged children from attending. When your day begins at dawn with farming or household duties, which are necessary to ensure the livelihood of your family, what incentive, or indeed what hope, is there of you ever attending school? Yet perhaps surprisingly, the thirst for an education and an improved life is strong even for children subject to such hardship, as evidenced by the outstanding success of Complementary Basic Education (CBE) programmes being run by non-government aid organisations.

One such example, and indeed the pioneer in the field, is School-for-Life, which commenced in the Tamale region in 1995. According to Lis & Gunnar Brandt, who have been intimately involved in School-for-Life since its inception, the secret of success of CBE programmes is that the school structure adjusts to the needs and requirements of the children and their community. For example, classes are conducted in the afternoon when chores have been completed, and teaching is in the mother- tongue of the child. Some of the exceptional features of the School-for-Life model are:

  • It provides an alternative, structured education for children between the ages of 8 and 14 who are not attending formal school.
  • Classes are run from 2 pm to 5 pm, 5 days a week over a 9 month period. Remarkably, after just 9 months of tuition, students graduate with sufficient skills to enable them to enroll in the formal school system at Primary 4 or above and compete favorably with their peers with 3 or more years of formal education. Over 102,000 students in northern Ghana have benefited from School-for-Life programmes and two-thirds of them have subsequently transferred to the formal school system. No wonder the Ministry of Education described School-for-Life as “a role model for future changes in primary schools in Ghana”.
  • The teachers, or facilitators as they are known, are resident community members who volunteer for the task. The facilitators receive a modest allowance, with the community expected to provide food and lodging. In this way, community participation in school affairs, ownership and management is fostered.
  • The curriculum is functional and based upon the needs and core values of the community. Not only are the children taught basic literacy and numeracy, but lessons on malaria prevention, environmental health, sanitation, family planning and sustainable agriculture are also being given.
  • Class sizes are small, with never more than 25 students, and there is no prescribed uniform. What is particularly encouraging is School-for-Life’s success in attracting girls into the classroom – close to 50% of the students are female.
  • Each child has access to a text book and all primes/readers are in the local language. As Lis Brandt stated, “the mother tongue is the basic tool of thought; it is the language of your heart. Once a child is comfortable reading and writing in the mother tongue, they find the transition to literacy in another language easier”

Perhaps the best testament to the success of the School-for-Life programme is demonstrated by its impact not only on the child, but also on the family and community. An external impact assessment published by UNICEF in 2007 reported that School-for-Life learners who transitioned into the formal system were “more confident about learning, more determined to make it through the system and more concerned about the world around them”. At home, School-for-Life graduates “were able to assist their family with basic reading and writing tasks” and most encouragingly, “were sharing developmental messages of social change within families and communities”.

 On the evidence available, CBE clearly can make an important contribution to the education of disadvantaged children. But how sustainable are such programmes and where are they heading? Speaking with obvious pride on the achievements of School-for-Life and its students, Lis & Gunnar Brandt expressed concern that the programme is only addressing the needs of a small fraction of the 967,000 children who are currently not attending school. Although School-for-Life has secured funding from DANIDA, a Danish government development agency, for another 3 years, the long-term sustainability of the programme cannot be guaranteed. Interestingly, Gunnar pointed out that the cost of educating a child using the CBE approach is actually less than the cost in the public school system.  If the CBE approach were to be adopted, it would save the government money!

Given the government’s commitment to achieve universal primary education by 2015, it would seem logical to build on the success of CBE programmes such as School-for-Life and integrate this approach into the formal education system. In fact the Ghana Education Service has drafted a CBE policy but little progress has been made turning this into law.

 Expressing their frustration at the lack of progress, Grace Abudu, Idisu Iddi and Karim Mohammed, Officers of School-for-Life, explained that a meeting of officials from the Ministry of Education, the Government Education Service (GES) and NGO’s involved in CBE, first took place in January 2008. At this meeting, a commitment to expeditiously progress the integration of CBE into the formal education system was made. Since then, the draft policy prepared by GES has been forwarded to the Ministry of Education where it currently sits awaiting action.

Speculating on possible reasons for the delay, the School-for-Life officers noted that the principle of primary education being given in the mother-tongue, which works so effectively in their programme, has met some resistance from education officials. In fact, School-for-Life has a real concern that the current draft of the CBE policy states that English can be used alongside the local language “where appropriate”. Such watering down of the policy, which would allow English to be used instead of the mother-tongue, may reduce the effectiveness of CBE programmes.

According to School-for-Life, it is now time to integrate CBE into the Ghanaian education system. The GES is supportive and a draft policy is with the Ministry for Education. This policy needs to be debated, amended where necessary and passed into law as a matter of urgency. The nearly one million children who currently do not attend school need the Ministry of Education to act now!


Written by Mar(k)

November 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Work as Volunteers

2 Responses

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  1. Having some form of (appropriate) education is better than no education at all.


    December 1, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    • Good point, Tom. CBE seems to be really making a difference in Northern Ghana. There have even been some students who have gone onto university.

      Mar Knox

      December 2, 2009 at 11:16 am

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