Thursday, July 28, 2016

Barriers to Education for Girls in Northern Ghana

International Service believes in a “rights based approach to development, working with local partners to support and empower women, people living with a disability, young people, families and people living with HIV/AIDS.” The partner project that I worked with in Ghana, Create Change, aimed to empower girls in rural communities near Tamale and support them through education so that they could access quality education up to a university level and enjoy many of the rights and experiences that we in the UK take for granted. The ICS programme gave me the opportunity to contribute to sustainable development in three local communities (Dungu, Damankuyili and Wayamba) by conducting baseline data collection about the barriers that families and teachers in these communities face in accessing and delivering quality education to all children and the particular challenges that girls face. The other main aspect of our placement was to raise awareness of the importance of education in these communities through radio campaigns and community sensitisations.

Kathryn and participants of a baseline data research
project on children not in school
 It is widely acknowledged that education underpins the development process and it is one of the core building blocks to economic, political and social growth. Education relieves poverty and encourages the growth of both formal (falls within taxation and other regulatory regimes and are recorded in public records and accounts) and informal economies. Literacy and numeracy skills allow self-employed people such as farmers to raise income and there is a positive stigma attached to having an education. When we spoke to parents in three communities who had not been educated, many of them told us that they wanted their children to go to school so that they would not ‘be cheated’ in the future. Also, an overwhelming majority of the parents when asked about their ambitions for their children stated that they wanted them to become nurses, doctors, and teachers – jobs within the formal economy.  This aim to jump to careers within the formal economy is a positive shift. These types of jobs offer a regular and regulated income and the taxation will give the government more money to reinvest into its economy. It also demonstrated that parents understand the importance of education in securing what are seen as ‘good jobs’ and this ambition will hopefully mean that they will try their hardest to keep their children in education.

Despite the fact that members of the communities we visited understood and appreciated the importance of education, there are still huge barriers that need to be overcome if the children in these communities are to fully have their right to education. The main barriers fall under financial difficulties. Although in Ghana, basic education is free, there are still financial obligations to putting your child through an education:

Student making a football net out of pure water sachets
  • Uniform 
  • Exercise books
  • Text books
  • Management Committee (SMC) fees
  • Parent Teacher Association (PTA) fees
  • Additional Levies

There are high levels of unemployment in the communities which meant that parents were not always able to support all of their children through education and these costs are necessary for their children to receive a quality education.

Girls often face additional challenges in these communities when trying to access quality education, however, they were not all challenges that I was expecting. One barrier which I was taught at University to be a huge restriction was the lack of access to safe and private toilet facilities. Where schools do not have adequate toilet facilities girls are more likely to miss school during menstruation because they do not feel comfortable with a lack of sanitary facilities. Our project partner - Create Change – has made massive steps to preventing this from being a barrier to education by providing toilets and hygiene facilities in the schools that they work with but this is still a barrier in other communities and countries that needs addressing. However, there were some unexpected barriers that girls face that are specific to communities in Ghana. During data collection it became clear that it is common for girls to be married off in an attempt to avoid family shame when they get pregnant outside of marriage or even the risk of promiscuity. This results in many young girls being taken out of school either because they are now housewives or to participate in a practice was called Kayaye. This is the process of a woman leaving her rural setting to move to a bigger city such as Accra and Kumasi, to compete in small trade and porting. None of the volunteers from the UK were aware of this as a barrier to education however the Ghanaian volunteers were able to explain to us that girls will participate in this practice to earn money to buy things in preparation for marriage – such as kitchen items. This hinders their ability to access education because they see Kayaye as a means to earn money but they are unaware that if they stayed in education they could have better paid jobs in better living and working conditions.

International Service ICS volunteers working with Create Change 

This blog has only highlighted a few of the issues that members of communities in Northern Ghana face when accessing quality education, and there is much more that needs to be done to hit global targets regarding quality education such as the Sustainable Development Goals. However my experience volunteering with International Service and working with stakeholders in these communities has shown me that there is a positive attitude towards education and there is a commitment to education that was amazing to see. Students often arrived early to school to attend ‘silence hours’ to complete homework and they have ambitions to complete Senior High School and enter into professional careers. With the right resources I’m convinced that Create Change in partnership with International Service can make a massive change and I encourage everyone reading this to check out the Create Change blog to see what the current cohort of volunteers there are doing now.

Kathryn Bell, recently returned International Service ICS volunteer in Tamale, Ghana 

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