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Outlook of primary education: Need for intervention

BY: Daniel Kwame Ampofo Adjei
Some of the beneficiary visually-impaired students learning together
Some of the beneficiary visually-impaired students learning together

Ghana has made substantial progress in advancing children’s access to basic education over the past decade.

The number of primary schools and overall enrolment at the kindergarten and primary levels have increased by more than 100 per cent, with gender parity being achieved at all levels of pre-tertiary education.

The country has a nearly 100 per cent primary school completion rate, while access to education has improved, providing quality instruction remains a challenge and many children fail to acquire basic literacy skills at the end of primary school.

The 2013 Early Grade Reading Assessment/Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGRA/EGMA) Findings Report showed that of the pupils assessed per language, only the top 2% of Ghanaian children in primary two or fewer, could read with fluency and comprehension.

Learning programme

A non-governmental organisation working in the education sector, FHI 360, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ghana Education Service (GES), and affiliated educational institutions, implemented the Ghana Partnership for Education – Learning Programme, that has bolstered the feats in the sector.


The nine-year programme, which started in December 2014 with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), used local Ghanaian languages for instruction, using a phonics-based approach, to improve reading performance for early grade pupils in public primary schools.

Subsequently, the programme was extended under the National Reading Radio Programme (NRRP), which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Significant improvement

“Our benchmark showed that reading was very low, but after we introduced the learning programme, subsequent assessment, and data we have gathered indicates that there has been significant improvement in the reading abilities of our learners – the ability to decode sounds, and to use those sounds to form words, form sentences and be able to read for comprehension,” the Deputy Director-General of GES in charge of Quality and Access, Dr Kwabena B. Tandoh, said.

Key interventions

The programme enhanced the capacities of teachers, head teachers, administrators, and circuit supervisors to improve the quality of reading instruction in the classroom.

Over 51,000 teachers, head teachers and curriculum leads received high-quality instructional materials and training in innovative reading instruction methodology.

Again, the programme, in collaboration with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA), developed and validated context relevant teaching and learning materials in English and Ghanaian languages, including teacher guides, pupils’ books, supplementary readers, and classroom materials as well as alphabet charts, aligned to the GES curriculum.

That notwithstanding, the programme supported the government to assess primary grade students’ basic literacy and numeracy skills; as well as a teacher rationalisation study, to assess the processes used for deploying and managing teaching personnel.

The intervention also included an upgrading the Ministry of Education’s management information system.

Impact

More than 7,200 schools in 100 districts benefited from the early grade reading programme (EGRP) throughout all regions in the country with over 707,843 Kindergarten two and primary one and two pupils benefiting from the programme.

Over 700,000 children in kindergarten, first, second, third, and fourth grades in 7,200 public primary schools have benefited from the USAID-supported phonics-based approach to reading in 11 local languages and English.

After two years of EGR programme implementation, over 700,000 primary grade students were evaluated for basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The programme substantially improved pupils’ reading skills in both English and Ghanaian language of instruction.

The programme’s impact on reading skills, regardless of language, were larger than 12 comparable programmes included in the World Bank’s systematic review that measures two-year impacts with primary one and two pupils.

Again, the programme significantly reduced the number of pupils scoring zero on literacy assessments as the proportion of primary one pupils, who could not read a single word in the Ghanaian language of instruction, decreased by 38 percentage points.

What is more, the programme influenced a 15 to 45 per cent increase in the use of specific, programme-aligned phonics methods, such as clapping words or syllables, blending letter sounds or syllables into words, and segmenting or separating words into syllables.

The EGR programme pupils were substantially more likely to read and to enjoy reading because of the programme.

The programme increased the chances that a primary one and two pupil read in the previous day by 50 and 90 per cent, respectively.

Education Management Information System

The programme supported the ministry to upgrade its education management information system for school supervision data collection and management.

The learning programme has also improved accountability structures within the basic education system.

It also adopted a fidelity of implementation system that monitors lessons in 11 local languages and the English Language, using tablets and real-time data to improve teaching and learning in schools.

Capacity Building

The programme has also built capacity to measure learning outcomes and utilise data to improve school management.

This helps the education officials to better assess reading and math achievement; and informs policy and management decisions using real-time sector data.

The programme has also built capacity along the virtual or electronic learning production value chain by training voice actors, script actors and training of GES staff as radio teachers, among others.

The only public broadcaster in Ghana, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, also received some capacity support in the telecast of virtual education.

Instructional materials

The interventions implemented under the EGR programme led to a substantial improvement in the availability of materials in the Ghanaian language of instruction.

An evaluation of the programme brought up the two most common predictors of performance at the school level to be the existence of sufficient learning materials as well as full implementation fidelity to the programme.

Both factors were associated with a 10.2 and 13.4 increase in letter sounds per minute for primary one pupils.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The advent of COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted the education system in the country, which halted in-person learning from March 2020 to January 2021.

The programme in response, supported 4.5 million students in remote learning under the National Radio Reading programme.

Five million English literacy instructional materials were produced and distributed to 1.6 million children to facilitate virtual learning.

Appreciation

The Country Director of FHI 360, Ghana and Chief of Party: USAID Partnership for Education: Learning, Dr Mama Laryea, said a major driver of the success had been strategic partnerships.

“We are grateful to USAID for the funding. We acknowledge the Ministry of Education; National Teaching Council; National Council for Curriculum Assessment; National Schools Inspectorates Authority; and the Ghana Education Service. They are the reason that we are here,” she stated.

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