In 2013, Create Change started a pilot project: "Girls-Led Reading Clubs" which has been one of Create Change's most successful impacts and has significantly contributed to our belief in the huge impact girls and young women can have when they are empowered to create change. Watch a video about the program below:
THE CHALLENGE WITH RURAL EDUCATION
In Northern Ghana, as in many rural areas in developing countries, children do not receive quality education. While the global community is heavily focused on enrollment rates and school building, at Create Change, we have become aware that the real thing holding back development in rural areas is the quality of education that primary students are receiving. This poor quality educationaffects attendance rates, communities' attitudes to education, and the fact that no one in these communities, even if it has high primary school enrollment rates with a proper school building intact, ends up learning enough to be empowered with the necessary skills and knowledge to climb out of poverty.
Through research and ample time in the field, we have been able to boil down the reasons for poor quality education in rural communities to a few:
1. UNMOTIVATED TEACHERS
Most teachers are unmotivated to do their jobs, especially when placed in a rural community that has no water or electricity. It isn't uncommon when you visit a primary school in Northern Ghana, to see teachers sitting chatting under trees while kids play a game of soccer- everyday, all day.
2. UNMOTIVATED SUPERVISORS
The teachers' supervisors are unmotivated, again especially when assigned to rural communities. While they are supposed to visit the field regulalry to ensure that teaching and learning takes place, when it comes to a rural community, they are simply to lazy to make the trip to hold teachers accountable. Teachers go unsupervised, and with no accountability, no teaching takes place, despite possibly impressive student enrollment rates.
3. HARSH TEACHING METHODS
The standard teaching methods used in Ghana instill fear in children causing them to dislike and lose interest in school. Often children are caned when they don't know the answer, and are yelled at for having things like an unclean uniform, even if the community is suffering from water challenges.
4. LACK OF RELATIONSHIPS
Many teachers fail to form relationshisp with parents and students, who often have no idea as to why school is important, or what should be expected from a primary school. Teachers often do nothing to intervene when their students don't come to class for weeks or drop out completely. Parents are rarely informed about how their child is doing in school, or how their child's education will be impacted if he or she does not attend school regularly.
5. NO EVALUATION TOOLS
In all of Ghana, and in fact globally, there is no standard literacy test. Students in rural communities who have not learned anything all year will progress to the next grade. You will often see students in Grade 6 who do not even recognize the alphabet. Until Junior High School, there is no way of rating the performance of a school or the quality of education that students are receiving.
OUR GIRLS' LED LITERACY CLUBS
To change this situation, Create Change piloted a program 'Girls-Led Reading Clubs', which has produced staggering results.
Starting with 4 recent high school graduates and 3 rural primary schools, reading clubs take place 1 to 2 times at a week at each participating rural primary school between 2 and 4pm. Our high school graduates are given training on how to make teaching and learning fun, and how to create positive relationships with students.
With the traditional culture of teaching leaving children feeling alienated from school and terrified of their teachers, our high school graduates are trained bring a fun-loving approach to teaching, ensuring that kids enjoy going to school, that they understand why education is important, and that they are celebrated when their reading and writing skills are improved.
Initially, the average literacy rates at the 3 schools we started with was only 15%. After one year of 'Girls-Led Reading Clubs', the literacy rates for participating students improved from 15% to 57%. In the second year of the program, literacy rates for reading club students increased again, where over 82% of enrolled students could read and write for their grade level. The impact on literacy of this program is unprecedent, and shows that young women, who are caring and committed, can completely change the future of children in an entire community.
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
Looking forward we still have a lot of work to do with "Girls-Led Reading Clubs". We are training new high school graduates, as our first group are moving on to university degrees with the hopes of becoming community leaders one day after having been so affected by the impact they were able to make on so many kids. We also want to increase the number of kids that participate in our reading clubs. Currently about 50% of the student body are attending, and we want to increase this number to at least 75%.
We are also looking forward to expanding our reading clubs to as many communities as possible. Not only does the program completely reshape the quality of education being received in a community, but it empowers girls to become leaders.
We hope with our continued success, we will be able to begin participating in the global conversation around education: that if we really care about reducing poverty, than our focus should not be on buildings and enrollment rates, but rather on literacy rates and what kids are learning by being in school, and whether or not their education is actually helping them to climb out of poverty.
If 100% of kids are enrolled in school that takes place in a fancy school building, but no one can read or write, what are we accomplishing?