Friday, November 21, 2008

Poisoning Education

Imagine your son or your brother or yourself when you were just graduating grade 12. Now imagine that same person teaching your son or daughter elementary school. Don’t skim over those words. Imagine a grade 11 or grade 12 student, being responsible, for the education of your son or daughter when they are in elementary school.

Crazy? I know. Why am I asking you to imagine this scenario? Because that is the situation for 25% of the children in primary school, here in Saboba.

“They are poisoning the education system!” Isaac exclaims as he unveils the reality of the public education system in a rural district in Ghana. My pen hurriedly scribbles down notes as Isaac, the education department administrator in charge of statistics, and long term teacher for 18 years, breaks down the complexities of public education in Northern Ghana.

3 Problems:

Problem 1: Not enough teachers. A school that gets built and is not filled with a teacher and students is called a white elephant, and it’s the last thing you want in development. But right now there are simply not enough teachers in the pipeline to fill the growing demand for education. The national pupil teacher ratio is 35:1 for primary schools. Right now in one of the biggest primary schools in Saboba town, enrolment is approaching 900 hundred, and there are 11 teachers. That’s 81 kids per teacher.

The reason for this is two-fold. First off there are simply not enough people graduating teacher training colleges every year, to fill the growing need for education. Second, there is a constant outflow from the district, because teachers are using it only as a stepping ground to greener pastures. After 3 years service in a rural district, you are eligible to go back to school and upgrade. For those of you who have just finished your PDP program, think of whether or not at this point you would want to go live in a rural village without electricity or running water, potentially 45min away from the nearest town. The incentives just aren’t there to keep teachers at their posts for longer than the minimum service.

Problem 2: to solve problem one, supplementary untrained teachers have been sent into schools. Ghana has a program called National Youth Employment. This is an initiative aimed at curbing the unemployment rate, by providing high school drop outs, or graduates who were unable to continue onto a tertiary institution; with employment. They get paid pennies (70$ a month) but at least get employment and are not idle people loitering.

It is exactly these people that have been thrown into the education system to relieve the pressure (not to be deceived, the numbers quoted in problem 1 are with this “relieved pressure”). Some of the people who are accepted for youth employment have not even graduated middle school (equivalent of grade 8). They receive no initial training, and are put to teach young children the primary grades. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, in June you could drop out of grade 10, and in September be teaching primary school level 2.

Problem 3: Most of you have guessed it now, but the third problem is quality. The quality is unbelievably low. Isaac has just returned from a meeting where the education management was discussing with head teachers the low grades seen this past year in the middle schools, and to address it.

“Only 35% of students passed their finals” he sadly explains as my jaw hits the ground. “The reason is because they come in from primary school completely unprepared.”

He goes onto explain that the problem is so complex. First off those youth employment are paid closed to nothing, and often they don’t get paid for periods of up to 3 months. Think to yourself how motivated you would be to teach in the school when you haven’t collected your measly salary in 3 months. So alas, these teachers sometimes don’t show up for class, and often cut the days short. Also, those teachers that do complete formal training, only start off at 150$ a month, hardly something to write home about.

Why aren’t they monitored? The management is responsible for that, and they don’t receive any funds for monitoring teachers. The district is cut up into zones, and one person might have to monitor 15 to 25 schools, but there is no budget for fuel to get to the classrooms.

Now upon driving out in the district and to the rural communities you can see teachers riding their bikes to school around 10 or 11, and starting to ride home around 1 or 2. Why would a teacher for a rural school be cutting the day so short? Though accommodation is provided for a teacher when they are posted to a rural village, they often don’t want to stay where there is no electricity and no amenities. So they will commute to and from the main town, which in many cases can be up to 20km away.

If that’s not bad enough, this is just the surface. Everytime I think I am starting to figure it out, more issues become uncovered. To find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes, email me. Education has recently become a deep passion of mine, and I’d love to share with you some of the challenges faced here in Ghana.

The Ball is Rolling

Work is now moving faster than I can keep up with, which beats the slow pace of the Government in Ghana. How did such a scenario arise where I am working more than I can handle? Well once my work started to show some benefits, more people became excited, and so it has expanded and started to snowball.

As I said in my previous newsletter, I am working with decision makers and implementers, and in some cases some of the beneficiaries, to create evidence based decisions.

Take boreholes for example. What sort of factors do you need to consider when selecting a community for a water project? What factors are more important than the others? How do you prioritize all 281 communities when the water need is so much?

So I have captured that decision making process, and with my co-workers we have developed an excel file to store all that information and analyze it. I know that this may not excite some of you, because it sounds like we have just worked on a computer for a few weeks. But what this has done is it has created a more transparent, and unbiased way of considering which communities benefit from water projects.

What this can do is reduce the amount of political influence that interferes with development. When a sound, unbiased way of ranking communities is adopted, then favouritism is reduced (hopefully).

So now where I am at, is doing a similar thing with the education department so that schools can also be properly sited.

But siting infrastructure is only a means to so many great ends. Now that all of this data is stored and available to planners, government staff are now in a better position to truly strategize and develop the district. It is unbelievably difficult to know everything about the district at a given moment. But these tools store all this information, and can aid in providing planners with the exact needs of the district to guide development.

What makes me even more excited however, is community participation. The biggest factor used in deciding whether a community benefits from a borehole or not, is whether the community is ready and has shown ownership. The sad thing is that there are so many communities that don’t know about this process.

This is where part 2 of my work comes in. I am designing an evaluation/educational campaign to all the communities in the district. It will be put up for approval in 3 days. This evaluation will collect all the necessary information (community needs, community status), in order to fuel the government with the necessary evidence to make sound decisions in planning. It will actually provide the government with an exact picture of the district, which is something that is difficult to obtain and rarely done.

The second component will be to educate all these communities on this new transparent way of siting infrastructure. So now communities will know exactly how projects are sited in the district – which is something that few communities know. But more exciting than that, is that they will be told all the steps that they can make in order to better their chances to receive a project. The ball will be thrown in their court. They will have the knowledge, of what steps they must complete, and are thus put in the driver seat of their own development.

Lastly, on this district wide education campaign, the government will be the student also. After communities learn, and are given a chance to give feedback, on this new decision making process; they get a go at the government. Indeed, through a meeting and several interviews, the government will ask communities:

“How can we serve you better? What do you not like about us right now, and what can we do better?”

Then we will brainstorm with the communities, how both parties can reach the overall vision of a better Ghana.

That’s the short of things right now, but I also have other things that I am working on in my work. If you are at all curious about the details of my work just email me. I would love to discuss further. If you want a copy of the proposal I have prepared, or a copy of the tool we have created, just ask.