Happy International Women’s Day!

Across the globe today, women are celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day belongs to all women everywhere and is a chance to identify and honour women’s achievements, as well as help bring equality and positive change.

Gender-equitable education systems can help build prosperity for countries and close the skill gaps that continue to preserve pay gaps. Communication, negotiation, self-management and critical thinking are all life skills that through quality early educational development, can succeed in empowering both girls and boys for their futures.

Sadly, girls are still underrepresented in some subjects and many do not complete their education. Limited accessibility due to remote locations and poverty, to name a few, can cause difficulties for young girls going and staying in school. As we continue to pursue gender parity in education systems, the importance of quality early childhood education becomes more apparent. To encourage girls to stay in school and prosper we must first spark the passion for learning and encourage engagement from a young age where children are more receptive and responsive. Building a foundation without any gender norms and barriers in the education system is crucial as well as ensuring access to quality education.

As with all educational systems, strong foundations begin with the teachers themselves. Over the years Foundation First has helped to encourage and mentor teachers, focusing on teacher training and professional development, which then helps to provide them with the skills and knowledge to implement quality preschool education. Strong female mentorship goes a long way and for us to help engage girls in education we must first engage the teachers.

To celebrate International Women’s Day we interviewed Mrs Caroline Idun-Tawiah, the Headmistress of Good Shepherd Anglican Basic School. An advocate for the professionalisation of ECE teachers, she has participated in Foundation First’s workshops and is a great supporter of our work.

As a strong, passionate role model for young women and encompassing the bright hopes for future education in Ghana, we asked Mrs Caroline some questions to help celebrate International Women’s Day.

What does being a modern woman mean to you?
Who has inspired you?
What achievements are you proud of?
How does having quality pre-school education help support women’s careers for the future?
What are your hopes for the future
What advice would you give to young women thinking about their careers?
Who is a special woman in your life?

Foundation First goes to Liberia!

(from left to right) Programme & Partnership Manager Sabina Awortwe, CEO Godwin Agbavor and Support Officers Ruth Abakah & Bibi Kolevi
From Ghana to Liberia

Over the years Foundation First has worked closely with Edify Ghana, helping our sustainable projects and effective workshops reach their partner schools. Due to all our success with other schools, we were given the opportunity, by recommendation from Edify Ghana, to scale up our project to Liberia.

Working with Edify Liberia partner schools, we have been able to expand internationally and connect with more schools and teachers. Sabina Awortwe, who works and trains as a teacher, has been with Foundation First from the beginning and was part of the team that travelled to Liberia. She returned with positive feedback and an enthusiastic vision for our continued work in Liberia. Sharing her experience and observations demonstrates the potential of Foundation First’s reach and impact.

FF team members Sabina Awortwe & Godwin Agbavor with staff from the Well Hairston Institute
Sabina’s Observations

When visiting classrooms for the first time we observe how we can best provide support. It has been estimated that globally, 43% of children under five years old are not achieving their full potential (UNESCO Early childhood development). More than 90% of the 30 classrooms we visited during our trip to Liberia needed help to encourage early years growth and development in the classroom (Innovation for Poverty Action classroom fidelity checklist, 2019).

Our well-experienced team offers support by demonstrating methods for positive classroom behaviour management – placing learners into groups, using alternative seating arrangements, and creating exciting print-rich environments which can make all the difference to a young child’s engagement. 

Additionally, the use of outdoor space as an alternate learning environment provides real physiological, social, and academic benefits which help learners to engage better. A key study in California about the effects of outdoor areas as a learning environment for young children revealed that outdoor learning areas raised academic test scores by 27% (California Department of Education, 2015).

Teaching & Learning Methodology

It is undeniable that teachers play a critical role in the teaching and learning process for young children. With positive interactions, teachers can create environments that are more encouraging to learning and meet the developmental, emotional, and educational needs of the children.

During our visit, all the teachers were committed and passionate about their jobs. They were enthusiastic, with a desire to empower their students and give young learners the strongest start to education. 

Supporting teachers with professional practice and skills, and sharing the importance of professional knowledge, values and attitudes help us to better equip them to deliver quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) pedagogy in their classrooms.

Model pre-school classroom set-up demonstration
Foundation First’s work

Liberia has a structured curriculum for the ECD level which is organised in themes. However, teachers require additional knowledge and a deeper understanding of how to deliver the various aspects of the required curriculum. We provide a solution by breaking the themes into teachable units that directly address the encouragement of early years’ growth and development.

In Ghana and now Liberia, one of Foundation First’s core principles has always been helping those who need it most. With our accredited teacher support and development programme, we can deliver what preschools need to make a change and help those who need it the most.

Soon to come and in collaboration with Edify Liberia, we will be planning our next visit to help provide in-classroom support services, as part of our successful classroom management training program. Our journey with Liberia has just begun and our hope of reaching further communities to help bring quality pre-school education to every classroom is another step closer.

Feedback from teachers in Liberia

Meet an Intern

An Introduction to our Intern Taylor Carlson

Meet Taylor Carlson, a student in her fourth and final year of studying for a Bachelors in Business Administration at the University of Florida. Taylor joined Foundation First as an intern and as her time comes to an end she reflects on her time with us.

With prior experience volunteering and working with NGOs, Taylor joined Foundation First bringing a different perspective and valuable experience in marketing through her work for Project Canis, where she works as a Marketing Coordinator.

Internships with NGOs have become popular amongst students as it provides important skill-building opportunities, hands-on learning experience, and the opportunity to contribute to the beneficial work that charities do. Interning with NGOs provides the opportunity to work on important projects that help contribute to society and societal issues, whilst working with people from different backgrounds is another benefit making it a great place to meet new people.

The great thing about interning or volunteering is that it is a chance to use your existing skills to make a contribution to society. NGOs always need additional help and support but what is offered in return is a chance to learn and develop skills.

Interning for 2 months, Taylor’s time with us is short but shows the importance of internships to anyone who is interested in working with nonprofits. She has helped us launch our Christmas Fundraiser and has been working closely with our social media and marketing team to share & exchange knowledge and skills. Helping to contribute to a charity that gains something special from every internship and volunteer.

Volunteering and internships can open doors to new people and new experiences, helping people who want to help, get together to make a difference.

Meet a Volunteer

Meet one of our volunteers, Harriet Delali Deku. Dela joined the Foundation First (FF) Ghana team in February 2021 and is planning to stay with us until she decides to leave. 

My views on volunteering:

Volunteering is the act of giving your time and service to a cause without payment. It can be done for a variety of reasons. Some volunteer to pass government classes, some volunteer to give back near the holidays, and some just do it for the sake of doing it, without reason. For me, volunteering is a way of life. It was how I grew up, and it defines me. My goal in life is to inspire others to give back in any way they can, not because they have to, but because they want to.

My background and my volunteer role within FF:

I am a tertiary educator in the field of educational psychology, with over seven years’ experience of volunteering in different aspects both with local and international organizations. Currently, I am responsible for managing FF’s social media accounts and I am part of the newsletter team. I have a keen interest in developmentally appropriate practices in the early childhood education classroom and have expertise in understanding how children learn.

Group photo of, from left, Fidelis, Araba, Sabina, Godwin, Brou, Stephens, Dela & Wada

A taste of how I’ve developed through volunteering with FF:

I was glad to join an FF training-of-master-trainers workshop as it has helped me learn more about FF’s processes and procedures and prepare for my journey towards becoming an FF master trainer. The workshop included the following topics: Ghana National Teachers’ Standards, best practices in early childhood learning, and how to set up a contemporary model classroom. I learned, unlearned, and relearned many things and I notably gained from the workshop. 

My personal recommendation to anyone wondering about volunteering: 

My personal recommendation to you is to join a club or group that does community service. In addition, or alternatively, find a worthwhile charity that you would like to help, then call them and ask them what they need help with. You could get your friends involved and make it even more fun. For me, I love knowing I can do something, and that we as a generation have control over something. Volunteering does so much for the community, but it does so much for you as an individual as well. 

Painting Bibiani Children’s Library

Sabina Blog no.1

Introduction to the blog series

Sabina Awortwe

Sabina Awortwe, our Partnership and Programme Manager, has written a series of thought-provoking pieces on the contemporary ECE scene in Ghana. Here is the first of these. It’s a myth-buster, outlining Sabina’s views on the damage to young children’s foundational learning caused by pervading myths and misconceptions about early childhood education.

About Sabina

Sabina is a preschool teacher educator with over three years’ experience of delivering Foundation First’s practical teacher development and support work and managing our partnerships and programmes. Sabina has a particular interest and expertise in educational frameworks and in the foundations of best practice early childhood education. In her role with FF, she has worked on a range of teacher education partnership initiatives with other national and international NGOs.

Some common misconceptions about early childhood education in Ghana: How Foundation First is addressing the issues

Early childhood education (ECE) is a programme for children from two to eight years old, which aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, academic and psychomotor skills that lay a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.

In Ghana, prior to the government setting ECE as a priority in 2012 through its Programme to Scale-Up Quality Kindergarten Education in Ghana, there had been limited awareness about the unique nature of programmes for young children.   However, despite the increased awareness in recent years, many myths and misconceptions about working in ECE persist.

Learners at Queen Elizabeth II Kindergarten (KG), Sekondi with their facilitator, Araba Brakwah-Amoah

Misconception #1: ECE is ‘day care’ and ECE professionals are ‘babysitters’

Some parents take the view that ECE professionals simply play all day and babysit children. This misconception has resulted in children failing to benefit from an educational experience that could assist their development and learning experiences for years to come. A well-trained early learning teacher has deep knowledge of how children develop physically, emotionally, socially and academically and they use this knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment and to individualise instruction for each child to ensure appropriate support at each stage in their development.

This is why Foundation First (FF) believes that effective early learning facilitators are far from babysitters and that effective ECE is far from day care. FF is helping to erase these myths/misconceptions by empowering ECE teachers with appropriate scientific and educational background knowledge and providing them with best practice curriculum-related teaching and learning experiences.

Other learners at Queen Elizabeth II KG with their facilitator, Joana Boamah

Misconception #2: Early childhood education forces children to start studying too early

Many Ghanaians think that this early stage in life is meant simply for kids to be free from learning and enjoy being young. To Foundation First, this is a complete myth. In our experience, children learn each and every day and they learn and take in more information at a younger age than they do when older. So early education is basically taking advantage of this early years period. Furthermore, research has proven that early years education helps, rather than harms, children’s academic future (Heckman, 2006; Barnett, 2011; and European Commission, 2014).

Our brain only gets built once and research has also proven that brain building is especially critical between the ages of two and seven (Sriram, 2020). That is why our FF training approach uses information from neuroscience and the foundations of early years learning to guide preschool teachers to expose young children to varied, stimulating experiences within calm, friendly environments. Our approach also emphasises the need for children to acquire executive function skills, including critical thinking, making connections, taking on challenges, and being self-directed and engaged learners.

And another group of Queen Elizabeth II KG learners with their facilitator, Ekua Sarfowaa

Misconception #3: Early childhood education is a waste of government spending

FF thinks the opposite: that the government and society will benefit more from spending on early years education than on any other stage of education.  Currently, many children are failing to achieve their potential in life and this can be looked at in terms of economic loss, such as human capital loss, so spending more on ECE would have economic benefits such as human capital gains (Dickens, Sawhill and Tebbs, 2006). Furthermore, investment in ECE reduces the chances of young children failing to properly develop key metacognitive skills, such as questioning and reflecting, as these skills “contribute significantly to [young children’s] learning and success” (Escolano-Perez, Herrero-Nivela and Anguera, 2019).

Furthermore, children who receive a solid foundation of quality ECE are more likely to live a healthy life (e.g. in terms of oral hygiene, hand washing, caring for their bodies, and being aware of nutritious foods), more likely to avoid negative lifestyles that can endanger their lives, more likely to continue their education when they finish high school, more likely to graduate from college, more likely to obtain highly skilled jobs that pay well, and less likely to get involved in criminal activity.

The scientific evidence is very clear as to what we should be doing in the ECE sector and how we should be doing it, as well as why doing it would lead to better outcomes and a better society for all. We, at Foundation First, will continue to promote this scientific evidence in our mission to undermine prevailing myths and misconceptions about ECE.

References:

Barnett, W.S. (2011). Effectiveness of Early Educational Intervention. Science, 333, 975-978.

Dickens, W.T., Sawhill, I. and Tebbs, J. (2006). The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth. Policy Brief #153 The Brookings Institution. 

Escolano-Pérez, E., Herrero-Nivela, M.R. and Anguera, M.T. (2019). Preschool Metacognitive Skill Assessment in Order to Promote Educational Sensitive Response From Mixed-Methods Approach: Complementarity of Data Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. (https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01298).

European Commission (2014). Proposal for Key Principles of a Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care. Report of the Working Group on Early Childhood Education and Care under the auspices of the European Commission, Brussels.

Heckman, J.J. (2006). Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children. Science, 312(5782), 1900-1902 (doi:10.1126/science.1128898).

Sriram, R. (2020). Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much for Brain Development. George Lucas Educational Foundation: Edutopia. (https://www.edutopia.org/article/why-ages-2-7-matter-so-much-brain-development).

Meet a teacher and trainee master trainer for Foundation First

Anita the teacher

Anita is a kindergarten teacher at Sarkis Foundation School in Takoradi, where she has been teaching for the last three years. She is a dedicated teacher whose goal is to become a master trainer for Foundation First. To get there, she aims to do a good deal of learning and practising and she’s glad that she has the opportunity to be mentored by our most experienced master trainers, such as Bibi Kolevi

Anita in her classroom

Anita the reflective practitioner

At the end of April 2021, Anita accompanied Bibi and other members of the Foundation First (FF) teacher development and support team when they delivered a workshop in Akyem Oda, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, for staff of Edify Ghana partner schools. Anita’s observations and participation at the workshop have since led her to develop and change some of her own teaching practices. For example, she has been working recently on improving her classroom questioning techniques and providing a greater range of activities to help the children in her class to think critically.

Anita the trainee master trainer

Not only the April workshop, but also a recent workshop delivered by FF’s master trainers for master trainees has helped Anita move forward in her journey towards becoming an FF master trainer. This workshop explored important topics, such as the foundations of best practices in early childhood learning and Ghana’s national teaching standards, and it gave the trainees an opportunity to practise delivering training in a safe and supportive environment. Anita told us she greatly benefited from the workshop and she suggested that the master trainers start periodically coaching and testing her and her fellow trainees on all Foundation First’s early years content.

Anita (in the centre) amongst FF master trainers and trainees at the FF training and coaching workshop

BEST OF LUCK ON YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT JOURNEY ANITA!

JICA visit Foundation First Headquarters in Takoradi

We were delighted to welcome Tuuli Gaamuo Fidelis (Programme Officer, JICA) and Wada Yoshinari (Volunteer Coordinator, JICA) to our office this month. 

The purpose of the visit was for us to expand our knowledge about the contribution that JICA volunteers, known as Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs), have for more than forty years been making to various sectors in Ghana, including education, and for us to share Foundation First’s strategy, approach, progress and challenges. We also talked with Wada and Fidelis about the possibility of us hosting a JOCV computer instructor to help us with developing a database, online teacher training programmes, and updating our website.

Group photo of, from left, Fidelis, Araba, Sabina, Godwin, Brou, Stephens, Dela & Wada

Seven members of the Foundation First team were able to brief Fidelis and Wada about different aspects of our work, especially in relation to how we work with teachers and the wider community. Our two volunteers, Stephens and Dela, talked positively about their experiences of volunteering with us. They praised our induction process, the way we plan our programmes and activities, and our team work. They spoke of how our team work leads to effectiveness in what we do and enables everyone to learn from each other.

Brou, left, receiving from Fidelis a calendar and JICA Ghana newsletter 

At the end of their visit, Wada and Fidelis told us that one thing that had appealed to them from the moment of entering our office were our prominently positioned posters declaring: “I am a learner, you are a learner, we are ALL learners”. During their stay, they had been able to see our team spirit shining through – and Fidelis said he was even tempted to apply to volunteer with us!

Final blog on our partnership work in Koforidua and Greater Accra

As part of a blog series about our kindergarten teacher support and development work in Koforidua and Greater Accra in partnership with Edify Ghana, this blog talks about our final visits to the schools involved.

Read the other blogs in the series here:

The challenge of transforming classrooms in the COVID–19 era

Foundation First Team Members Apply Their Unique Skills for the Benefit of Teachers and Children

Follow-up visits 

Five to six weeks after the successful delivery of our workshops in mid February 2021, a joint Foundation First / Ghana Edify team visited the schools that had participated in the workshops. The visits were aimed mainly at discovering the impact of the workshops by observing subsequent changes in the schools’ kindergarten classrooms. The observers did also engage in coaching teachers in areas they were uncertain about or struggling with.

Our master trainer, Ruth (right), coaching a kindergarten teacher

What the visits revealed

We discovered that the workshops had considerable impact because all the classrooms visited had improved in a number of ways. Naturally, some classrooms had improved more than others and we also discovered that teachers’ use of some teaching and learning approaches had improved more than others.

We were pleased to see that children engaging in self-registration was the approach where the greatest improvement was found between our pre- and post-workshop visits. Similarly, teachers putting children into groups, using story maps and having classroom rules displayed visibly were all very significant and encouraging improvements.

Children creating name cards to be used with self-registration charts

Some of the approaches where the least progress had been made did not greatly concern us because the lack of progress was a reflection of the fact that many teachers had been using the approaches before the workshops. One of these was praising children for positive behaviour because, although more teachers were doing this more often after the workshops, it had been in evidence before. Similarly, daily story sharing was occurring a bit more after the workshops, more classrooms were inviting places for children to spend their time in, and there were more forms of printed material (e.g. charts, labels, maps etc.) for children to interact with than previously.

Child using a weather tally chart

Looking forward

While the results were encouraging and revealed that many teachers had successfully adopted new teaching and learning approaches as a result of the workshops, we feel that further support and encouragement will be needed to enable them to improve even more. This will enable a full transformation of their classrooms and will be to the full benefit of the children in their care.

Foundation First Team Members Apply Their Unique Skills for the Benefit of Teachers and Children

While delivering two classroom management-focused workshops for Edify partner schools in late February, the five-person Foundation First team were struck by the huge impact the workshops were having on the participants. Upon reflection, they realised that a major contributor to this was that each of them was delivering sessions in the areas where they particularly excel. This high impact shouldn’t actually surprise us because, as we all know, excellent workshop delivery leads to thorough understanding and enthusiastic take-up on the part of participants. 

The areas in which the team displayed their expertise 

1. Starting with Araba Brakah-Amoah, she excelled in these workshops in modelling how to carry out story sharing effectively. She did this through applying a combination of technical and affective skills, such as varying her voice and throwing herself into the storyline. Teachers were spellbound and are now anxious to have the same effect on the children they teach.

Araba, in story sharing garb, discovering the counting abilities of her “audience”

2. Bibi Kolevi’s expertise lay in linking teaching and learning resources to specific parts of Ghana’s 2019 kindergarten curriculum, which teachers are still becoming accustomed to. She made sure teachers knew precisely how to make resources, how to use them, when to use them, and how they match the government’s daily plan for kindergarten education. 

Bibi (centre) sharing her curriculum expertise with a group of participants

3. Ruth Abakah was our specialist in matching classroom wall displays to the curriculum. She helped teachers to see the specific value and use of each display and how it enriches the learning environment. This means that now the teachers have put their new displays on their classroom walls, the children are both enjoying them and learning from them.

Ruth cheerily describing the use of the nearby wall displays

4. Sabina Awortwe was our expert in linking the ideas of educational philosophers on how young children learn to the classroom practices that Foundation First promotes. Sabina was also highly skilled in linking the values, attitudes, professional knowledge and professional practice that the government expects teachers to have with Ghana’s national curriculum.

Sabina (right) explaining how to play a board game

5. And last but not least, Dr Godwin Agbavor specialised in convincing teachers that they, along with all of us, have a lot to learn from neuroscience about how to create nurturing environments for young children. As the Foundation First team leader, Godwin also specialised in nurturing and supporting the rest of the team, thereby enabling them to individually and collectively deliver excellent teacher education workshops.

Godwin convincing participants of the importance of neuroscience

 The results

At the end of the two workshops, teachers were able to clearly outline their learning and how they were going to put it into practice. 

Our thank yous

Thank you from the rest of the Foundation First team to Araba, Bibi, Ruth, Sabina and Godwin for delivering these successful workshops.

Thank you too to the Edify Ghana team, especially Dorcas Aidoo and Florentine Ansah Asare, for the tremendous support you provided, thereby significantly contributing to the success. 

And thank you to Edify’s partner schools in Greater Accra and Koforidua for so wholeheartedly taking part in the workshops and for having already shared with the Edify Ghana team and with us plenty of evidence as to how you have put new ideas into practice.

The challenge of transforming classrooms in the COVID–19 era

A joint Foundation First and Edify team discover the extent of the current challenge of transforming classrooms during our recent baselining of Edify partner schools

As Ghana’s schools reopened after almost ten months of closure, Foundation First and Edify staff visited thirty schools to baseline their current performance. The data gathered will guide our training for the schools and help us provide them with bespoke assistance that is responsive to each school’s unique requirements. 

Here are the key findings on how COVID-19 has adversely affected these schools: 

  1. Most of them have had to combine Kindergarten (KG) 1 and KG 2 children in one classroom, which is far from ideal
  2. Re-enrolment of children has been slow-paced since they reopened 
  3. In many schools, the previous KG teachers have not returned since their reopening, and so new teachers have been hired/are being hired
  4. Most of these new teachers are senior school certificate holders, but they lack teaching qualifications

As Literacy Education Specialist, Adwoa Nyantekyiwaa, one of our Edify colleagues, put it, “The baseline activity offered us a wonderful opportunity to know the needs of the partner schools with regards to the kind of teacher support and development that should be given to the KG teachers.” Adwoa and the rest of the baselining team concluded that all schools visited are in dire need of our training and coaching support. The need is greater in the twenty schools we visited in Koforidua in the Eastern Region of Ghana than in the ten schools we visited in Greater Accra.

Foundation First’s role in supporting Edify Ghana 

This is the fourth time that we have joined forces with the Edify Ghana team to deliver their classroom management training (CMT) programme. The programme aims to transform the classroom management practices of kindergarten teachers and enable them to adopt activity-based methods of teaching in order to improve pupil learning. Having completed the baselining, we will be delivering the CMT for these schools later this month (February). After that, in mid March, we and our Edify partners will visit the schools to monitor and coach the teachers.

We are revising our plans for this round of training to take into account that, due to the effects of COVID–19, the results of the baseline differed markedly from the results of previous baselines. Edify’s COVID–19 Recovery Plan focuses on three aspects: their partner schools’ financial stability, the health and safety of their students and staff, and their pupils’ learning. In delivering this latest CMT programme, we will be supporting Edify Ghana with the second and third aspects of their Recovery Plan.

Next steps 

We are looking forward to Thursday 11 February when the training begins and we are confident that the schools are too. Bawa John, Headteacher of Christ Reminders Academy, told us, “My expectation about the upcoming training is that the participants will gain more knowledge about how to manage their classrooms effectively, especially during this Covid–19 era.”


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