By Madeleine Logan
SAMOA, Ghana, 6 August 2012: The situation at Samoa School in Ghana has been steadily declining over the years. In 10 years, only one student had passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), the nation-wide final exam for Junior Secondary School. The school recorded a 100% fail rate from 2000 to 2009.
|© UNICEF Ghana/2012|
|Headmaster Mohammed Yakubu with students (from left) Bator Abdul Razak, Basullor Maridiyyah, Bening Abdul and Jygirira Fredaus.|
Teachers rarely went to work and if they did, they were rarely inside the classroom. One staff member was caught using pupils to harvest peanuts on his farm during class time. Some days the only reason students came to class was the free lunch provided by the school feeding program.
In Ghana, basic education was declared compulsory, free and universal in 2005, which led to a rapid expansion in enrolment. But school improvements, favorable teacher student ratios and the number of trained teachers did not keep pace with the expansion, causing decline and low academic achievement in many schools.
Samoa School’s decline was identified in a joint UNICEF and Ghana Education Service monitoring visit in 2009. The team found classrooms filled with students but no teachers. The poor school environment and high failure rate led the team to hire new headmaster Mohammed Yakubu in 2010, in hopes of reversing the school’s decline.
Despite only teaching for five years, Mr. Yakubu’s passion for education made him an ideal fit for the position. He is “a native” of Samoa (both his parents were born in the village). When he took over the leadership of the school, he felt a personal connection to his 540 students which went beyond that of a teacher. He rarely sits in his office, preferring to be in the classroom. A recent lesson he gave on English grammar was remarkable – students sat forward in their wooden chairs, eagerly raising their hands.
New chapter for school
Mr. Yakubu knew his first major challenge was going to be the school’s teacher shortage. There were only three qualified teachers stretched between the kindergarten, primary and junior secondary schools. Volunteers filled some of the gaps, but five out of the eleven classes did not have a teacher at all. Mr. Yakubu set out to find graduates to instruct every year level.
“I went to the village to talk to any Senior School graduates to convince them to come and help out. Three of them became community volunteers,” he said. “Five other volunteers came through the National Youth Employment Program. Some are now teaching like professionals.”
The volunteers helped fill the shortage, but they lacked skills. So Mr. Yakubu organised in-service trainings which would teach his inexperienced staff the basics of pedagogy, how to structure lessons and write report cards.
The year before Mr. Yakubu started at the school, one student passed the BECE – the first in a decade. He was determined that more would follow, but found that after years of educational neglect his students lacked even basic knowledge. He organised extra classes for final-year students, three days a week from 3.30pm to 6pm. Five out of fourteen pupils passed at the end of his first year. The extra teaching continued and now Mr. Yakubu dedicates every Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoons to additional English and science lessons.
“In two or three years I want to produce a 100 per cent pass rate to Senior School,” he said. “If I can do anything at all, that is what will make me happy.”
Students and community embrace improvements
Student morale was boosted by the BECE results. Before Mr Yakubu’s arrival, head boy Bening Abdul Samed and his peers had assumed that they would not graduate Junior Secondary School: “I felt I would fail. Everybody else had failed. But we now have hope and we can feel proud of our school.”
“Mohammed’s work at the school is so important because it’s the only source of development in the village,” parent Abdullah Yahaya said.
Bening Abdul Samed embodies the new optimism at Samoa. “I now want to be a teacher, because it was a teacher who taught me to pass my exams,” he says. “I have been given knowledge and I want to share it with my brothers and sisters in my village.”
Things are not perfect at Samoa. Mr. Yakubu says he doesn’t have all the core books or a syllabus for every subject. But it’s improving, most notably through the students’ engagement and enthusiasm.