Big Society: Sandra Scantlebury in Ghana
Volunteer Sandra Scantlebury is working to get more girls into schools in the Upper West region of Ghana. Here she tells us why involving communities in education is such a crucial part of her work.
Involving the community is crucial for education in Ghana
There’s a wealth of challenges that face the development of education in Ghana, and the Government doesn’t have the funds to deal with them all. For this reason it’s important that the community rally round and do what they can to support the development of their local schools. Communities have been known to develop school farms so they can provide meals so children are more energised towards learning. Parents and teachers come together and pool funds to buy extra school furniture or provide manpower to build quarters. Education becomes collaboration between the school and the community, so everyone feels responsible. Often, when children see their parents’ involvement, they become more motivated.
Cultural barriers to children going to school
We also have a lot of cultural challenges, which means girls are not always able to go to school because of requirements in the home and the community. We need parents to understand that girls have a right to be educated and if they are they can make a contribution to the development of the whole of Ghana.
I network with a range of organisations and individuals – from district authorities to elected community leaders – who are in a position to help parents recognise the importance of education. We especially target mothers. Many mothers are illiterate because in their time they were not encouraged or expected to go to school, so before we can really get support for girls into education we need the mothers to recognise the importance of education so that they will then be the advocates within the home and within the wider community.
I have been working with the Nadowli Assembly Women’s Advocacy Group, a group of female leaders who have been elected by their community to represent them to the authorities. Because of their personal knowledge of the issues and the challenges that the girls face in education, we’re able to work together to design creative ways of tackling the issue of getting girls into school. They bring their cultural knowledge and experience of what’s appropriate in Ghana, while I develop their skills in networking and influencing, and effective proposal writing so that they can secure funding for their projects.
Recently I helped them secure funding from Barclays Africa for a project called GREAT, which stands for Girls Retention Enrolment and Transition Project. GREAT Project will enable the assembly women to address poor retention rates in school by providing the most deprived children with resources such as uniforms, books and bags, helping schools improve décor and resources, and improving the availability of mentoring and school club activities. For the most talented there will be an ambassador programme that will support girls to travel to Accra to see women role models, such as the president’s wife, and business and NGO leaders, who they can aspire to.
How it fits with other VSO efforts
VSO volunteers work in a range of ways in Ghana. We have teacher support officers who help teachers learn new skills and find simple ways of working with limited resources, for example using bottle tops as counters for children in school. Meanwhile, management support officers who work with education authorities make improvements in areas such as monitoring and evaluation, teacher management and school planning. My role fits in because I’m helping the community to recognise the importance of education, so collectively you have a holistic approach coming from all different angles to ultimately improve the quality of education for children.