It turns out that so does everyone else:
I could come up with a comprehensive list of organizations to suit your school-building desires, but that would be an exercise in frustration and wasted internet credit. My favourite, though is this group. They built one kindergarten in the Volta Region of Ghana with carefully selected textiles and a unique, modern design that aims to “raise the bar on the designs of kindergarten facilities in Ghana…”. The whole thing only took one month to complete and even used locally-sourced management (from Accra) and materials. Success! Now, let’s start an organization and feel good about ourselves help children to have better futures in Africa.
Because, obviously African children don’t have bright futures due to the lack of physical structures required for schooling, right? I mean, what else could possibly prevent them from getting an education and being successful later in life?
In fact, for the past four years enrolment in Junior High School has increased steadily in the Northern Region (NR) in Ghana. On average, the increase has been about 8000 new students each year (R = 0.97).
So we definitely need to build new schools. Quick, call your friends and family, rally your school, call the textiles designer! We’ve got 8000 new students to prepare for and only a short time before they’ll be starting school. Thankfully we can whip up a state-of-the art, bar-raising school in only one month. If we get 53 teams organized across the country, we can singlehandedly ensure that all those new students will have schools for the next school year. And who knows how many future-changing NGOs we can get out of the operation!
It also turns out that the picture is a little more complicated than that.
The increase in enrolment in Junior High School (JHS) in the area has been far outpaced by the rate at which schools have been built and as a result, the ratio of students per classroom has been decreasing by 1.3 students each year (R = 0.82) since 2007. Additionally, the percentage of schools requiring major repairs has decreased by about 4.5% each year over the last four years (R = 0.91).
Fewf. Looks like all of the do-gooding that schoolbuilders have been up to has paid off. There’s no need to worry about those 8000 new students not having classrooms, since the amazing work they’ve done is already going at the pace it needs to in order to keep up with demand. Just continue with what you’re doing now, schoolbuilders, and Northern Ghana will be fine.
Actually, it seems as though construction of most of the 132 new JHSs in the NR in the past four years was managed by district offices with the help of School Management Committees (SMCs). And Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) raised most of the money for the major repairs required by existing schools.
But surely all of the schoolbuilding my Western colleagues have been up to has had some impact on education in the NR. To be honest, though, I don’t know what that impact has been and neither does the REO here. That’s because almost none of the wonderful schoolbuilders offering their services to Ghana talk to the Ghanaian government about their activities. When they do, the details are vague, incomplete, or incorrect. As a result, coordination of external activities by district offices is very, very challenging.
No matter, though. Those courageous schoolbuilders are doing their darnedest to tackle the biggest issue facing education right now! What’s the problem with a small lack of reporting, when the work they’re doing is so paramount to giving Ghanaian children bright futures?
Well, maybe access isn’t really the biggest issue. Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) is a measure of enrolment normalized to the population. In the NR, the GER currently sits at 70%. It is up by 10% since 2007. So, access to education is increasing and families are taking advantage of that increase.
Now, keep in mind that these numbers are based on census data that is ten years old with a 2.7% yearly projected population increase.
Take a look at this, though:
The Basic Education Certificate Exam (BECE) is a standardized test for all of West Africa that tests JHS students’ basic ability in Maths, English, and Integrated Science. If a student doesn’t pass the BECE, s/he will not go to Senior High School (SHS) and will not be eligible for university. Do not pass BECE, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
For the last four years, there has been little change in the BECE pass rate in the NR. The boys sit at an average of 47% passing and the girls sit at about 33% passing. That averages out to a pass rate of about 40% over the last four years and translates to about 51 000 students (29 000 boys, 22 000 girls) who have not had the opportunity to go to SHS. For those 51 000 students, JHS3 is the exit point from education for the rest of their lives. Talk about a leaky pipeline.
Imagine going into an exam with 9 of your classmates. You’ve studied hard, despite setbacks, and feel as ready as your teacher could make you feel (which is likely not all that ready—more on teachers in a later post). Unfortunately, only 4 of you will even pass that exam and none of you will really do well on it. The other 6 of you will lack the skills required to do anything productive with your basic education. In fact, it’s likely that those 6 are illiterate. Now consider that not only can you not read at age 15, but also that you’ve just wasted 9 years of your life learning things that cannot be useful to you in the future, when you could have been perfecting your maize growing skills and adding to your family’s livelihood.
But, hey, at least you had a school in which to do it. And the textiles were so nice for all of those 9 years.