Back in schools and back to training

Our CEO, Dr Godwin Kojo Agbavor, reflects on recent visits to schools in Sekondi-Takoradi and highlights the forthcoming delivery of training in the Eastern Region and in Greater Accra, in partnership with Edify Ghana. 

On Monday 18th January, nursery, kindergarten and primary schools in Ghana reopened after an almost ten-month break. Our core team in Ghana (Sabina, Brou and myself) were anxious to get back into classrooms as soon as possible, but we waited a couple of days for staff and children to settle back into some sort of routine. Then, on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st January we visited the schools where our master trainers are practising teachers.

As our pool of master trainers now consists of lower primary teachers as well as our original pre-school teachers, we were able to see something of what is currently going on at all levels of schooling from nursery up to the third year of primary (i.e. in classrooms catering for children between the ages of two and nine). We saw firsthand how experiences are varying, as some of our master trainers teach in government schools while others teach in low-fee-paying private schools, and some teach in rural settings while others teach in urban settings. Our assessment is that all schools are striving, but that government and rural schools are in particular need of support to return to normal operations. 

We were pleased to discover that most previously enrolled children had returned to school (unlike, sadly, some of their older siblings, due to such things as pregnancy, travel or having prematurely become wage-earners through learning a trade during lockdown) and most children seemed happy to be back and learning with their teachers again. We also discovered that the schools had made a good effort to provide a safe environment. For example, veronica buckets were placed at various positions to encourage regular handwashing and some teachers were constantly reminding children to wash their hands. Apparently, the government had provided sufficient sanitisers and liquid soap to enable frequent hand washing. Teachers and many children in some of the schools were wearing face masks, but in other schools few children were wearing them. We were told this was because the government hadn’t provided them. We could see that, for the most part, children had been sensitised about the COVID protocols they were expected to follow and that (except for the youngest ones) they had some awareness of how to avoid contracting COVID and why they should do so.

Despite some positives, it was clear that the schools are facing many challenges as a result of being closed for so long. Generally speaking, children had forgotten much of the content of their previous learning as well as how best to go about the actual process of learning. At KG level, for instance, we were told that children who were previously able to write their names had now forgotten how to do so and that those who had been used to picking up and reading story books by themselves had forgotten about such things. However, the good news is that, in just three to four days, some of the teachers had started to see improvements. They did mention, however, that they needed to be extra patient with the children to achieve such improvements and we fear that many teachers may not have the same level of patience.

Unsurprisingly, we observed that both teachers and children (especially younger children) were having difficulty observing social distancing. This has got us thinking about how best we can help teachers with this issue. One thing we’ve realised is that social distancing complements the government’s insistence that outdoor learning is a critical part of the curriculum, especially at preschool level. We will also be helped in our promotion of outdoor learning by the fact that fresh air reduces transmission of COVID.

Some teachers told us that some of their teaching and learning resources were in a sorry state or had gone missing, so needed replacing. Unfortunately for one school, thieves had broken in and helped themselves to furniture, giving the head teacher and one of our master trainers a headache and lots of extra work. 

Something that Sabina, Brou and I were particularly conscious of was how teachers were still struggling to get their classrooms back to normal – or to a new normal. We couldn’t help reflecting that, faced with a similar scenario in the future, it would be better if the government stipulated that school staff should spend a week setting up their schools before the children returned. Some teachers told us that, for some time to come, they will have to put in a good deal of extra time at the end of the school day to make new resources. Our concern is for all those teachers that we have yet to work with – and the children in their care – who are not as committed as these teachers.

We met with the head teachers at the schools to find out how they are adjusting to the reopening of their schools and to reaffirm our relationship with them. They were very welcoming, were happy to talk to us, and wanted updates on Foundation First’s plans for 2021. We are delighted and grateful that they value the work of Foundation First and we appreciate the major part that their teachers, who are also our master trainers, play in our success. 

Next steps 

It was highly beneficial for us to discover some of the challenges the schools are facing, especially as in early February we are delivering classroom management training with our partner, Edify, in selected Edify schools in the Eastern Region of Ghana and in Greater Accra. In fact, six of us are spending this last week of January in one or the other of these two locations with our Edify partners to conduct a baseline analysis and needs analysis at the schools whose staff we will be delivering the training to in February. Our findings from our recent school visits helped prepare us for this baseline stage and will help us in preparing for the training stage in February.

I want to acknowledge here our fantastic and hard working partner schools and master trainers for opening up and sharing their challenges with us. Our first day of school visits began at the naval-base cluster of schools in Takoradi, where our master trainers Esther Boateman and Ami Shaidda teach. We moved onto the Queen Elizabeth II Early Childhood Learning Centre, where our colleague Araba Brakoa-Amoah teaches, and finally we went to Amenano District Kindergarten School, where our veteran master trainers Ruth Abakah and Bibi Kolevi teach. On our second day of visits, we went to Precious ELAN Preparatory School, where our colleague Rita Frimpong teaches, and Sarkis Foundation School, where Anita Aidoo teaches. FF will be doing all that we can to support these education champions in the coming months. 

Coping with coronavirus: Health education is vital in supporting Ghana’s current and long-term plans for basic education

Foundation First’s recent focus has been on how to maintain young children’s educational opportunities, both while schools have been closed and after they reopen. We have also initiated a health education programme to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Our view has always been that one of the functions of basic education is to promote health. We believe that, to keep healthy, a young child needs to develop their skills in interacting with others and their abilities such as reasoning and self-regulation, as well as developing skills in the national curriculum content areas. The coronavirus has thrown these needs into sharp relief and placed hygiene and health centre stage, especially for the least advantaged. Given that the World Health Organization and similar agencies prioritize hand washing in tackling coronavirus, it seems obvious to us to prioritize it with young children, in conjunction with developing their interaction and reasoning skills etc.

We are particularly concerned about young children living in remote and under-resourced localities. Along with their families and communities, these children were disadvantaged before COVID-19 came along, and now their disadvantage has increased. An illustration of this is that their more fortunate peers have access at present to technological home-schooling solutions (e.g. learning by TV, radio, SMS) while they do not.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the learning most needed at the moment by young children such as these involves developing their awareness and skills in relation to hygiene and health.

We are working with our partners to convey to underprivileged families with young children the message that frequent, thorough hand washing with soap and water is the main way of preventing coronavirus. 

We elaborate on what we mean by ‘thorough’ and we emphasize which daily activities must be preceded by hand washing if good hygiene is to be maintained. Other aspects of reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 (and, indeed, any illness) are also dealt with. These measures are aimed at improving the long-term health benefits of families as well as potentially saving lives in the short term.

Young children in Takoradi in the Western region of Ghana modelling hand washing for other children to learn from and giving poetic warnings of the dangers of coronavirus.