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Girls staying in school against the odds

By Lucy Taylor


Girl in a school in Ghana | VSO ©VSO

Girls are staying in school longer, and doing better, thanks to VSO's TENI programme

Across Ghana, thousands of girls face pressures that keep them away from school.  Less than half continue their education beyond primary school. 

Three girls explain what their education means to them - and the battles they are fighting to get it.

Getting a quality education in rural Ghana can be a tall order. Schools don’t have enough teachers, textbooks or even desks. This affects all children.

But girls also face extra pressures that keep them away from school. These include domestic work, farm labour, childcare and early marriage. Stigma means that girls with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged.

Teacher with a big class in Ghana | VSO VSO/Ben Langdon

Schools in northern Ghana don't have enough teachers, books or resources

VSO’s work in the north of Ghana- a deprived and isolated area - has improved the attendance and performance of girls and children with disabilities. More girls are finishing primary school, with many more going on to take their education to the next level at junior high. 

Girl power

We know that the longer girls stay in education, the less likely they are to grow up to live in poverty. After just 5 years of our Tackling Education Needs Inclusively (TENI) programme, the average rate of girls completing primary school increased by 6.5%.

Now, 94% of girls who complete their primary education in our project schools now go on to attend Junior High (compared to 72% of all pupils in those schools before the project began).

For the girls and young women behind the figures, improved educational chances could have a huge impact on their lives. Meet Rita, Abiba and Maciana.

Rita, 17

School girl in Ghana VSO/Faye Goldman

Rita says that domestic responsibilities interfere with her studies and performance at school.

Rita Antanaa is a motivated student at Tampaala Junior High School. She dreams of following in her late father's footsteps by becoming a doctor.

But the domestic responsibilities she shoulders as a girl limit her chances.

“The best thing about school is that I meet friends and we interact and play, which I don’t get to do while at home” says Rita.

“School relieves me of my work at home. There, I have to perform the normal chores of every girl on a daily basis – fetching water, cooking, washing bowls and farming if it is the rainy season.”

Rita was 10 when both of her parents died. She moved with her siblings to live with her aunt. Like many girls living with extended family, she is expected to complete a long list of domestic tasks.

"School relieves me of my work at home."

“We usually eat after 8pm after which I wash bowls and sometimes read before I sleep. I like to read but because of the chores, I become tired after eating.

“I feel my performance is reducing. Even though our teachers teach us well, it is very difficult for me to improve because I don’t get the time to learn at home.”

Abiba, 17

Abiba schoolgirl in Ghana | VSO VSO/Faye Goldman

Abiba's teacher has improved her to learn in spite of a visual impairment after being trained by VSO.

Abiba Alhassan, from Bugiya in Northern Ghana, used to struggle to read without pain because of an eye injury.

But since VSO trained her teacher and he applied what he had learnt to Abiba’s classes, her reading has improved. She has now passed important exams to move from Primary to Junior High School.

Abiba’s teacher, Seidu Alhassan, helped her to adapt and continue to learn in spite of her impairment.

Seidu says, “[The training] made a lot of difference because of a lot of us did not know how to handle some of the special cases.”

“I provided Abiba with proper counselling and encouraged her to do better in class despite her challenge.”

"It has changed school for me and it is better."

“I am doing better. I take my learning seriously,” says Abiba. She wants to work in medicine, inspired by the doctors who treated her eye.

“The teachers always encourage me to learn hard. Whenever my teacher is going to write on the board he will ask me to come closer so that I can see well.

"It has changed school for me and it is better.”

Maciana, 18

Maciana girl in Ghana Junior High school uniform | VSO VSO/Faye Goldman

Maciana is the vice president of the girls' club at her school that's helped her to improve her grades and confidence

Maciana Nobalanaa often felt guilty about leaving work behind at home to come to school – knowing that money was always tight.

But after attending a girls’ club, organised as part of the TENI project, she gained the confidence and motivation to put her education first.

“School helps me learn new things, understand myself and other people,” says Maciana.

“But the worst thing about school is the fact that I have to leave work at home and come to school, while my uncle who takes care of me will have to hire labour and use the small money for our upkeep to pay them.”

“School helps me learn new things, understand myself and other people.”

“Usually in the rainy season I wouldn’t attend school because I have to help my uncle in the farm. But the girls’ club makes me more motivated to come to school and learn.

“I am improving because the club teaches me a lot and my teachers now teach better.”

Maciana is now Vice President of the club and leads sessions that help other girls to do the same.

About the project

VSO Ghana has been implementing the Tackling Education Needs Inclusively (TENI) project since 2009.

It aims to improve the quality of education for marginalised children in Northern Ghana, including girls and children with disabilities, by improving teaching standards and community attitudes.

Gender inequality is trapping people poverty. This International Women’s Day, find out how VSO projects are tackling inequalities that girls and women face at every stage of life.

Volunteer opportunities - we're currently recruiting inclusive education specialists with a gender and/or disability focus for roles in various countries. Please see the job advert and apply.

Could you help support girls like Rita, Abiba and Maciana by making a donation?

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