Implications of the new ‘Smart Buys’ report

Last week, the FCDO–World Bank released the ‘Smart Buys’ report. To us (Godwin and Julia), as two educational development practitioners with decades of experience behind us, the report is preaching to the choir. It outlines the results of an analysis by a panel of global education experts into the evidence for the most cost-effective ways of improving learning in low- and middle-income countries. The report confirms our views and experience from Ghana and elsewhere.

This is a timely report because, if cost-effectiveness was crucial before COVID-19, it is obviously even more crucial now. At Foundation First, we welcome the report for three main reasons: 

  1. It endorses cost-effective educational interventions in early childhood education and pre-primary education in Ghana, especially as these are our raison d’etre; 
  2. It encourages us to continue following evidence-based approaches in our work; and 
  3. It gives us confidence due to the distinguished panel that created it.

What are the key conclusions of the report? And where does Foundation First fit in?

In the report, the panel has grouped educational interventions and categories of interventions into four tiers to reflect how cost-effective each of them is at improving learning and how strong the evidence for this is. The top-tier ‘great buys’ are highly cost-effective interventions, one of which matches our practice of providing information to parents on the benefits of quality early childhood and pre-primary education.

The second-tier ‘good buys’ are interventions for which there is good evidence of cost-effectiveness. Notably, just providing support to pre-primary education is considered a ‘good buy’, strongly suggesting that it should be a priority area for investment for governments and donors. Of course, this relies on organisations like Foundation First supporting preschools to make sure that children’s classroom experience enhances the stimulation and social-emotional support that the lucky ones amongst them are already experiencing in their homes and that the children attend school regularly. We know from experience that adding a basic level of support for pre-primary education can be transformational for kindergarten teachers, school leaders and government officials.

The third-tier ‘promising’ buys are interventions where evidence of their cost-effectiveness is for the most part, as yet, limited. This tier includes interventions in early childhood development i.e. the equivalent of nursery education, which is our focus, along with kindergarten education.

How does Foundation First stack up?

We are pleased to report that, while our interventions are well represented in the higher tiers in the ways that we have outlined above, none of them is represented amongst the lowest-tier ‘bad buys’. Interventions recorded as ‘bad buys’ are those for which there is strong, repeated evidence that they either have not worked or are not cost-effective. They involve initiatives such as providing generic, untargeted in-service teacher training that is divorced from the precise context in which the beneficiaries of the training are working. This would be anathema to us!

Bad buys also include initiatives such as providing items, e.g. textbooks and computer hardware, without providing accompanying measures to ensure that the intended beneficiaries of these items are enabled to use them. This would also be anathema to us!

What does this mean for us?

A major goal for us going forward is to work more closely with Ghana’s Social Welfare Department, Ghana Education Service and other partners to vigorously pursue the smartest-buy interventions in order to overcome the learning crisis in early childhood and pre-primary education in Ghana. As a trusted partner that is already practising much of what is preached in the ‘Smart Buys’ report, we hope to precipitate a wider change across the sector.

Another goal that the report spurs us on to pursue even more vigorously is our engagement with countrywide discussions around which initiatives it would be preferable to prioritise at the early childhood and preschool levels. We’re also keen to gain more and better evidence about the relative effectiveness of these initiatives in a variety of contexts in order to better deliver on future national calls for concerted action.

What do you think about the conclusions of the report and the so-called ‘smart buys’? Are you, like us, sold on the idea? Or do you have a different framework you’d recommend? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

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Foundation First’s Bibi Kolevi receives Ghana’s 2019 best kindergarten teacher award

Last year, Bibi Kolevi, one of Foundation First’s longest serving teacher support and development officers, received Ghana’s best kindergarten teacher of the year award in recognition of her consistently exemplary practice as a kindergarten teacher and her outstanding work as a kindergarten teacher educator.

It was noted by the judges of the award that Bibi uses a highly successful child-centred, activity-based approach, where learning takes place in both her classroom and outdoors. Her classroom is an inviting place where children engage in a variety of stimulating activities in different learning areas, including reading, shopping and construction centres, and follow clear routines and rules throughout the school day. 

Bibi was recognized for having taken on a variety of roles over the years at her school, Amenano Model Kindergarten and Primary School in the Western Region of Ghana. Due to being an active member of Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), Bibi was elected to be the local GNAT Basic School Coordinator. At her school, Bibi has spearheaded the purchase of graduation gowns, initiated a reading club, written and directed dramas and developed a poem for the school. She has also been Chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee and has been Cultural Coordinator and Graduation Coordinator. 

Bibi has built up extensive teacher educator experience during her almost ten-year career and today she is a highly valued support and development officer for Foundation First Ghana. She has also been selected by her district education directorate to train fellow KG teachers, focusing on how to deliver Ghana’s new 2019 standards-based KG curriculum.

In all these roles, Bibi has made an outstanding contribution to preschool education by training, supporting and developing teachers, headteachers and Ghana Education Service (GES) officers in many districts across Ghana.

Bibi has been an exemplary mentor and coach for trainee teachers, practising teachers, head teachers and fellow teacher educators. She has also inspired countless parents and community members and is respected for delivering talks about sanitation and health to them and for helping them to understand the importance of education. As an inspirational early childhood advocate who is passionate  about children, she routeinly visits churches, mosques and other congregations to communicate the importance of early childhood education. 

Bibi, on receiving her award, said “I am inspired greatly by this award and even more motivated to serve as an exemplary role model to the teaching profession.” Godwin and Julia, Foundation First’s founders, thanked Bibi for all her efforts, summarising her as “irreplaceable as a trusted ambassador for Foundation First and for the importance of early childhood education, and as an inspiration to both young kindergarten teachers finishing their training and seasoned professionals learning new methods.”    

A big thank you to Prince Andrew School on Saint Helena Island!

In July 2020 kids in Year 9E at Prince Andrew Community Secondary School on Saint Helena Island raised £181.15 for Foundation First. In deciding how to raise money for us, the kids got together in their house groups and each group came up with their own strategy. The four houses at Prince Andrew School (Cavendish, Dutton, Jenkins and Mundens) are named after prominent people in the island’s history.

Cavendish House decided to make and sell prawn crackers; Dutton decided to make and sell pop corn, cakes and hot chocolate, as well as to sell canned drinks, Jenkins chose to make and sell brownies, whilst Mundens went for a ‘guess how many sweets are in the jar’ strategy. Items and ingredients were generously donated by the kids themselves, their relatives and teachers.

This fundraising initiative took place during lunch hours over the middle two weeks of July and was advertised via posters and word of mouth. Cavendish sold their prawn crackers in a classroom, Dutton and Jenkins combined forces to sell theirs in both a classroom and busy central hallway and Mundens went around the school asking other kids to guess the number of sweets in their jar.

Cavendish House raised £21, Dutton and Jenkins (combined) raised £112, Mundens raised £27 and £21.15 was donated by various people. Many thanks to everyone who provided donations.

We decided to spend £150 of their generous donation on two sets of wooden blocks for children to play with at the construction centre in the two kindergarten classrooms of a school that we support in a marginalized community. The remaining £31.15 will be spent on 45 sheets of manila card, 10 packets of crayons and some glue for children to get creative with in the school’s nursery classroom.

Announcement: Foundation First enters into partnership with Pencils of Promise

Pencils of Promise Logo

Foundation First is currently providing technical support to Pencils of Promise in consolidating its teacher support programme through a reference manual for teachers that is aligned with the new standards-based curriculum. As well as supporting teachers with innovative resources, PoP builds safe schools and supports students with health programming in order to increase educational outcomes. Our partnership’s joint goal is to improve literacy outcomes in public schools across underserved communities by improving the quality of literacy teaching and learning in public primary schools in the Volta, Oti and Eastern regions of Ghana. The work is geared towards equipping teachers with the skills and opportunity to fully engage learners through fun and entertaining games and activities, which develop their social, emotional skills as well as their cognitive and physical development.