Improving early grade reading in schools…USAID Ghana partnership for education

USAID Learning, is therefore an innovative nationwide series of activities with an agreement ceiling of a whopping $70,980,296.00 grant, in addition to a cost sharing of $7,907,700.00, totaling a staggering sum of $78,887,996.00.With this colossal amount it is expected that at least 2.8 million pupils across the country in all the 10 regions of Ghana will benefit.

USAID Learning, in brief, is aimed at providing the needed support for Ghana’s educational institutions through five years of its implementation while it improves, expands and sustains learning outcomes with emphasis on children in kindergarten up to grade three.

The major activity of USAID Learning is, therefore, to focus on improving literacy in reading performance of pupils in primary schools. Ability to read and understand is a necessary factor in laying a sound foundation for further learning in diverse fields of the academic ladder. USAID Learning will also initiate a pilot project to identify approaches to improve early grade mathematics solving skills.

In a nutshell, USAID Learning will enhance teaching and learning process at the lower levels of learning in schools. It will strengthen the systems as well as increase accountability and transparency which have been a stumbling block in efficient running of institutions in the country.

With all these objectives accomplished, one expects that the quality of education, particularly at the early grade levels, will gradually pick up and on the whole, raise the dwindling standards of education to the expected level.

Having addressed the challenges of reading and numeracy at the lower levels, USAID Learning will then continue to pave the way for solving another lifelong problem of education which has to do with English and Mathematics at the higher levels.

For a long time, English and Mathematics have remained a serious headache for most Ghanaian students and pupils at all levels of the educational pursuit. It will be recalled that in 1994, seven years after the inception of a New Education Reform Programme in 1987, poor performance of school pupils at age 12 led to setting up of another Education Review committee to re-examine the education system more critically.

At the time, only six per cent of pupils at grade six in public schools tested nationwide, scored 60 per cent and above in English. Even worse still, less than three per cent got 55 per cent and above in Mathematics.

This report showed that the problem of English and Mathematics have been an albatross around the necks of most children right from primary to the higher institutions in Ghana.

It is, therefore, heartwarming to know that, the USAID Ghana Partnership for Education Learning has numerous benefits for pupils of early grade children in particular and higher institutions in general. It also seeks to strengthen and support higher institutions entire education sector, involving human and institutional capacities to improve pedagogical excellence in early reading and solving mathematics problems.

For this reason, the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service will be at the centre of Learning activities to ensure efficient implementation process of every programme from inception to the finish.

At a just ended workshop to set the agenda for the USAID Ghana Partnership for Education: Learning,the Education Manager, Ms. Adama Jehanfo observed that learning calls for a bold, out-of-the box innovative ideas, ingenuity and strategies that are practical, feasible, contextualised and self-sustaining.

“Through USAID Learning, we are all being presented with opportunities to crystalise our individual and collective experiences, ideas and methodologies learned as teacher and child-centred approaches in a bid to upgrade our knowledge and skills in teaching reading to the children in schools,” she said.

According to Ms. Jehanfo, USAID Learning targets the strengthening and empowering of the education system, institutions and structures as well as personnel to effectively ensure that children are able to read and read well.

On her part, the Ag. Deputy Director-General, Ghana Education Service, Mrs. Elizabeth A. De-Souza, emphasised that there is a need for attitudinal change if implementation of the USAID Learning activity in the public schools should be successful.

Recounting her personal experience some years back, Mrs. De-Souza stated that she was able to turn round the fate of some pupils who could not read with the help of some committed and hardworking teachers to teach some children in the Junior High School to read within a year.

She, therefore, advised teachers to approach their duty with passion and commitment so that the huge foreign USAID grant will not go down the drain at the end of the implementation period. “Let’s all put our hands to the wheel and make the USAID Learning a big success,” Mrs. De-Souza added.

In the opinion of this writer and, of course, some officials of the Ministry of Education and GES, the time frame given for the implementation of USAID Learning activity appears to be too short. This writer and many others who share this view, wish to appeal for the extension of the duration from five to ten years.

The reasons are that firstly; the target beneficiaries of the USAID Learning activity are pupils in their early grade school. To make any meaningful impact assessment on the learning activity and to ensure its success or otherwise, it is important to allow a sufficient lapse of time.

Secondly, some important education reform initiatives in the post-colonial period ended abruptly without achieving their main objectives. To ensure continuity in the programmes being pursued, it will be better to ensure that USAID Learning starts producing good results before it is left alone.

Finally, by the time the first phase of the implementation period has elapsed, the implementers may have gained enough experience and improved knowledge and skills to stand on their own, with minimum or no supervision to forge ahead and succeed in the goal set for the future.

In view of the foregoing, it is strongly suggested that USAID Learning activity extends the time frame for a rewarding result in the education sector.

By Pius Y. Attise

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