|© UNICEF Ghana/2011/Logan|
|Mumin and Amama Abdullai are learning to read and write in the School For Life program in Tampion, Ghana.|
By Madeleine Logan
TAMPION, Ghana, 6 January 2012 – Amama Abdullai was the first girl in her family to walk into a classroom, sit at a wooden bench and learn the alphabet.
It had been unthinkable just two months ago – before the 9-year-old started attending ‘School for Life’ in Tampion, northern Ghana.
Helping those left behind
School for Life is an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children between 8 and 14 years old. Students attend three-hour classes five days a week over the course of nine months. In that period, they learn the equivalent of the first three years of primary school and are prepared to enter fourth grade.
Before the program started in her village, Amama had lost hope that she would ever enter a classroom. “I always asked my father for permission, but he said to wait. I felt like the waiting would never end,” she said.
Many of the children in the program had been kept out of school so they could help support their families – hawking goods at markets, labouring on farms or rearing cattle. Now, flexible class times and condensed lessons are enabling these children to both learn and earn.
With UNICEF support, School for Life is restarting in Savelugu-Nanton District this year after being discontinued in 2008 due to lack of funds. This year, 750 children will be educated in the district, and UNICEF plans to scale up the program between 2012 and 2016.
Community schools its vulnerable children
School for Life has an excellent track record in the deprived areas of northern Ghana. Between 1998 and 2006, it educated more than 85,000 children. Close to 90 per cent of these students graduated from the program, and almost 70 per cent transitioned to the formal education system.
“We’ve seen children who wouldn’t have otherwise seen the four walls of the classroom becoming teachers and nurses,” said program supervisor Malik Salifu.
The program’s success comes largely from the fact that it is owned by the community.
“The community has to find a facilitator who we train to teach the class, enrol 25 children in the program, and find a place for the lessons to take place,” said co-ordinator Ibrahim Issahaku.“They elect a committee who takes turns to go to the classes every day to check if all the children are attending and the facilitator is there. The community also chooses the five days a week they want classes to be held – it doesn’t have to run Monday to Friday.”
New approach to teaching
‘A School for Life' lesson is unlike any other in Ghana. The students are taught to read, write and count in their mother tongue. The cane is banned. And children are taught using song, art and storytelling.
The program is based on research indicating that giving students a strong foundation in their first language improves their ability to read and write in their second language. Evaluations have found that graduates quickly caught up to, and in many cases surpassed, their peers who had only been schooled in English.
In addition, students get comparatively more attention from educators. “We only have 25 students in each class, which is small compared to many rural schools,” Mr. Issahaku said.
For children like Amama, it is a chance to excel. Every night, she sits under a light bulb in her family’s compound, reading and working toward a brighter future.
“I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she said.