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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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. 

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.

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.