In School and Actively Learning; the Star Schools Story
There is a looming education crisis in low and middle-income countries, if steps are not taken to salvage the situation. This is happening at a time when education is at the top of the development discourse with a lot of investment going into the sector through interventions by successive Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in the country. The focus over the years, however, has dwelled on efforts to reduce the existing infrastructural deficit, especially as it has emerged that resources have not kept pace with the rapid increase in enrolment. This has been to the detriment of the quality of pedagogy in the classroom. It has emerged that teaching and learning outcomes are not being achieved subsequent to bringing children and teachers together in a classroom.
“In Ghana and Malawi, more than four-fifths of students at the end of grade two were unable to read a single familiar word such as ‘the’ or ‘cat’.” According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018, more time is allocated to lecturing, leaving limited time for practical work or problem-solving, and only a third of total instructional time was used in Ethiopia, Ghana and Guatemala. The report further stated that “across seven African countries, one in five teachers was absent from school on the day of an unannounced visit by survey teams” (p. 9-10).
In developing countries, the quality of teachers can matter even more than in developed countries, where education systems are more robust and ensure the best output. A 2017 UNESCO report indicates that, two-thirds of the children who are not learning are actually in school. Adding that of the 387 million primary-age children unable to read proficiently, 262 million are in classrooms and about 137 million adolescents of lower secondary age who are in classrooms are unable to meet minimum proficiency levels in reading.
The STAR Schools Strategy
Savana Signatures, an NGO working to improve the quality of education in Ghana, has identified five key elements in ensuring quality education. With technical support from Edukans, Savana Signatures is implementing the STAR Schools strategy to contribute to the improvement of quality education delivery in 20 schools in Ghana.
The thesis of the STAR School model is that a good school is one that adequately addresses key indicators in five domains; safe learning environment, good supervision of the learning process, well trained and motivated teachers, well organised school management and involvement of parents and the community.
Recent data points to the fact that more children are in school but are not learning, due to factors ranging from poverty – which hinders children in rural areas from concentrating in class, to the method of pedagogy in the classroom and coupled with the quality and or absence of teachers in the classroom. To address this specific challenge Savana Signatures with Edukans introduced the Basic Education Quality Improvement Programme (BEQUIP), an active teaching and learning programme used to promote child-centred pedagogy in schools.
Savana Signatures through BEQUIP has equipped teachers, and other GES officials with knowledge and skills in active teaching and learning methodologies to shift the focus of pedagogy from a teacher-centred approach to learner focused teaching and learning strategies where the learner takes the centre stage.
Theodore Lanyo Nowaso, a beneficiary of the BEQUIP training at the Bethel Methodist JHS in the Hohoe Municipality, said that, “since we introduced our children to this teaching and learning method, we have seen that their involvement in the lesson delivery is very massive, they say that the small group discussions, where we give them assignments to do in small groups, have been very interesting.” He also added that the introduction of mind mapping as a technique to revise lessons has increased the level of engagement and students’ knowledge retention ability.
Circuit Supervisors, District Training Officers and other GES officers were also beneficiaries of the BEQUIP training to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the concepts, allowing them to measure the performance of teachers and provide support to ensure the curriculum is appropriately delivered.
The Hohoe Central Circuit Supervisor, Rita Eglegbe, expressed her gratitude to Savana Signatures for the transformative training. She explained how she employed the concept of clinical supervision saying, “I observe and take notes as the teachers deliver their lessons and when the lesson is over, I sit the teachers down and ask them what they were doing right during the lesson and what they could do better if given another opportunity, afterward, I share my observations with them, encourage and guide them to identify the best way to deliver their lessons.” Rita admitted that prior to the BEQUIP trainings, supervision was an antagonistic exercise which usually led to hostility between the supervisors and teachers.
Selected tutors of EP College of Education in the Ho Municipality, St. Francis College of Education in the Hohoe Municipality, Gambaga College of Education in the East Mamprusi Municipality and Bagabaga College of Education in the Tamale Metropolis were also trained on BEQUIP to ensure the skills and techniques are transferred onto the teacher trainees. This is a sure way of progressively increasing the number of teachers with the active teaching and learning skills to ensure that more children in the classroom are actually learning and will come out with higher levels of proficiency in reading and numeracy.
According to Nat Adinyera, Head of Department of the Vocational Skills Department of the EP College of Education in Amedzofe, “when we went out on supervision, we observed that some of the trainees have already started using these skills in their teaching practice and the pupils are very interested in participating in the lessons, so we are confident that the result will be very beneficial to the educational system.”
For education to truly play the functional role of building skills and expertise for the human capital needs of the Ghanaian economy, it will need a lot of commitment from Government, relevant State Institutions, Civil Society and other relevant stakeholders in the education sector to comprehensively reassess the curricula to reflect the changing global trajectory vis a vis the local needs and available opportunities. There is the need to deploy innovative strategies to increase the quality of education in the classroom to ensure that our schools are actually doing what they have been setup to do.
Key in achieving this is to ensure Colleges of Education are properly resourced to produce well qualified teachers with the skills to implement proper teaching and learning in classrooms using child-centred methodologies and employing activity based learning to add more value to the learner. The role of supervision and effective school management are as well crucial to the improvement of quality lesson delivery, as effective supervision has been proven to lead to the attainment of higher educational outcomes.
To sustain and build on the gains made by the Savana Signatures, GES needs to lead the effort to adopt and implement the STAR School model in all schools in Ghana.
For education to be complete the learner has to attain a standardized level of proficiency which can best be attained by the adoption of a learner-centred method of teaching and learning in schools.