“If you have education, you can escape poverty”
Ghana’s inclusive education policy, launched last year, is helping to ensure the schooling of disabled children and vulnerable girls remains at the top of the agenda. VSO ICS volunteers Raluca Moraru and Gifty Arthur talk about their time in Talensi district in northern Ghana working on projects making education accessible to all.
Although Ghana has earned a reputation in sub-Saharan Africa for its political stability and steady economic growth, progress in the field of education has been slow. An estimated 300,000 children still remain without an education.
Addressing the problems
In the last 12 months, inclusive education has been prioritised by the Ghanaian government in a push to improve access for girls and children with disabilities.
“In this area that’s struck with poverty, parents don’t see the importance of educating women, girls and children with disabilities,” said Raluca.
Now back from her placement, UK volunteer Raluca explained that securing schooling for Ghana’s most marginalised is key to lifting these groups out of poverty: “If they get an education, they can help support their family, understand how to reduce teenage pregnancy and mortality rates among young mothers.”
A change in attitudes
Recent interventions are creating a shift from viewing learners as recipients of education to active participants in their own schooling. This approach enriches the content of in-service training of teachers and creates more engagement with pupils.
“We’re really starting to see a change in teachers’ attitudes towards children with learning disabilities, and as a result the children are clearly feeling motivated to improve,” added Raluca, who helped to carry out the time-consuming task of screening children to identify support needs.
Last year the project identified and supported 837 vulnerable children with learning limitations in this part of north Ghana alone.
The launch in 2015 of Ghana’s inclusive education policy promised to bring all children – regardless of their circumstances – into school. Yet changing attitudes is no quick task, an issue further complicated by the fact that there are no measures in place to determine different learning needs.
“Traditionally girls get married and boys go to school. But when they’re in school, girls can do even better than boys. So what we’re doing is encouraging them, showing them what they can do for their nation,” Ghanaian volunteer Gifty explained.
“In our country, you have to be educated. We live in a computerised world and education is necessary because when you face poverty, there are a lot of things you already lack. By going to school, our children have a better fighting chance.
“When I came here, I spoke to some of the girls and their parents about why they should go to school and why it is really important in helping them achieve what they want to do in the future. It’s been really reassuring to see my words sink in and the girls now turn up to learn. It makes me feel proud.”
And it’s not just female students impacted by the programme. Through the Community Volunteer Teachers’ intervention, which recruits high school graduates with basic teaching skills, 70% of this year’s cohort of 60 volunteer teachers are women.
Education irrespective of circumstance
Commenting last year on the launch of the education reform, Thomas Otaah of the Special Education Division of the Ghana Education Service, said: “With the implementation of the policy, no headteacher or teacher can turn away a child from his or her school because that child has a disability.
“Every child has a right to education irrespective of individual physical emotional and intellectual difficulties or characteristics.”