General

EDP Trust in Ghana – free education for impoverished young people

By Denise
Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Laura
of EDP Trust, a UK charity running a
secondary school for impoverished youngsters in Southern Ghana. Would like to
thank Laura for her detailed answers and the photos she sent us.


What are the main social issues in
Ghana?

Ghana is a peaceful and culturally
rich nation with a bright future. As the first African nation to gain
independence in 1957 Ghana is, in many respects, a trailblazer. Despite this,
poverty, illiteracy, economic stability and health remain issues which
successive governments and international agencies seek to address. In line
with the Millennium Development Goals promoting universal primary schooling,
Ghana has made significant progress in the provision of primary level
education. However, although a step in the right direction, this often results
in classes being overcrowded and under resourced. Primary schooling is free in
Ghana although many students cannot afford the associated costs, such as
transport to school, food, uniform and exam fees, but senior high schools
charge fees for pupils from 14 onwards. The incidental costs increase as
students progress through their education and families struggle to pay, in
particular those with multiple children. The high costs associated with
secondary education put it out of reach for most of the population. The
poverty-trap effect is especially evident with young people who have not fully
acquired the skills and knowledge they need to attain jobs after their Junior
High School education, yet cannot afford to further their studies. A key issue
which the school seeks to address is the imbalance between the requirements of
the labour market and the syllabus currently taught in the educational system.
 
How do you identify and select the
communities where you intervene?
We could have set up a free school
anywhere in the country, and found any number of promising students who were
unable to afford a secondary education, but with only sufficient 
resources to fund one school, EDP Trust settled on a conurbation just 50 miles
west of the capital, Accra. The aim is to create a centre of excellence which
can serve as a model for others. Our students are selected on the basis
that they are genuinely needy, but also bright and desperate to learn. The
comprehensive selection process is managed by the team on the ground in Ghana,
and involves liaising with school staff, home visits and entry examinations in
Maths,  
English and Science. The process begins in January, entrance
exams are held  between March and July and the admissions list is
published between August and September. The process is extremely thorough to
ensure that the school is targeting the neediest in the local community who do
not have the means to pay for education at another institution.
The process works as follows:
1- If a student has the requisite
grades from Junior High School but has been out of school for one to three
years (any longer and they find it difficult to readjust to studying), we can
assume that this is because their family cannot afford the costs of Senior
High, therefore they are automatically  invited to sit the entrance exam.
The student is also required to attend a formal interview and complete a
poverty assessment form.
2- If a student is still attending
Junior High School they are required to complete an application form. After
this they will have to pass an interview, write an essay and fill in a poverty
assessment form.  A home visit will also be arranged; these take place at
any point of the process. Once teaching and EDP staff have established that the
candidate is genuinely deserving, they are invited to sit an entrance exam.
We aim to recruit equal numbers of
female and male students with good average scores in the Junior High School
exams, who perform well in the AWSHS entrance exams.
What are the factors that can lead to
a lack of access to education? Is child labour a major issue?
Gender disparity in education is an
ongoing issue in Ghana. In seeking to explain this trend, research has
suggested that poor families are more inclined to use their limited resources
to educate their sons rather than their daughters. In addition, girls are
more likely to be withdrawn from school to assist with household chores and
agricultural labour.  Lack of funds to buy sanitary protection can also
mean that girls may absent themselves from school two or three days a month. 
AWSHS works with local organisations such as the Kairos Ladies Network to
empower female students, and to help address these barriers to education. Some
of our female graduates were fortunate to secure support from CAMFED, enabling
them to go on to university. Ruth Tawiah
 is one such
example, currently studying economics at university- she is a regular visitor
to the school and inspires the current students to expand their horizons
post-graduation. Strong female role models change attitudes and encourage our
students to aim higher.
Many of our
students face further barriers to fully realising, or ‘accessing’
their learning potential. Both girls and boys are likely to have to work and
support their families on evenings and during the weekend, limiting the possibility
for private study Some do not have the means to buy a health insurance card,
meaning their health has been neglected. Others come from such poor families
that they may not have eaten prior to coming to school, which seriously affects
their concentration. There are students who have to walk for miles because they
cannot afford transport, who are exhausted before they even arrive at the
school. AWSHS strives to ensure a healthy learning environment for all
students and to support those whose education is being impacted by
factors beyond their control.
Through the hardship fund, AWSHS
can reach out to the neediest pupils with free school meals, a place in one of
the school hostels, help with medication or other essentials. The Welfare
and Guidance Counsellor and the teaching staff are trained
to recognise signs of stress in students, and offer support. 
What makes the Awutu-Winton School
different?
Awutu-Winton Senior High School is
funded by a UK charity, and is also set up as a not-for-profit organisation in
Ghana, and it charges no fees whatsoever; moreover the associated costs are
kept as low as possible: for example the uniform is a simple white shirt and
black skirt/trousers, which most families can manage to source.  The
Awutu-Winton School ethos is to provide a holistic education- students are not
only enrolled in academic courses, culminating in the national  WASSCE
examinations, but they are able to participate in a range of extra-curricular
activities such as cadets, business club, music, drama and many sporting
activities. They benefit from numerous opportunities including school
trips, sports competitions, employer presentations and talent shows. In these
informal spaces our students not only gain confidence and enjoy being young people,
but can develop skills and interests that might lead them to their future
career.  The teacher-pupil ratio is comparable to that in UK high-schools,
with classes less than half the average size in Ghana, enabling more student
participation and less learning by rote.
Student welfare is a primary concern:
staff at the school and the EDP team runs initiatives such as Welfare Week to
promote healthy life choices, and to discuss issues which affect
teenagers. Our students have access to facilities such as the IT lab and
the newly refurbished home economics lab. The Valerie Dix Hall doubles as an
exam area but also a performance space for our talented musicians and dancers.
Our school environment and ethos foster a positive and healthy environment for
learning and encouraging students to reach their potential. 
Do you cooperate with local
authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
AWSHS benefits from strong
relationships with local authorities and government departments in Ghana, and
EDP Trust has a strong base of supporters in the UK who regularly
participate in challenge events such as marathons and sponsored bike rides, to
raise funds for the school. Numerous charitable trusts have also responded to
appeals, all contributing significantly to the continuing development of the
school.
A recent partnership with the British
and Foreign Schools Society has seen AWSHS benefit from a very generous grant
to improve literacy. This will involve a comprehensive training programme with
teaching staff, and interaction with students in a long-term project aimed at
improving standards. 
Through a partnership with the Ghana
Education Service, the majority of teachers at AWSHS are now provided by the
government. This ensures that funds raised by EDP can be channelled into
infrastructure projects to further develop the school, as well as maintenance
of the existing facilities and support of ancillary staff.
The students regularly benefit from
interactions with local NGO’s and social enterprises. One of these is the Kairos
Ladies Network who regularly engage with students at the school- their focus is
on empowering young girls to make meaningful contributions to their
communities. AWSHS students have benefited from coding workshops, business
talks and farm visits through their interactions with the Kairos Network.
EDP is also associated with
Pill-Brook Aquatics, a fish farm on Lake Volta.  Several AWSHS graduates
have gained employment at the farm, and current students have the opportunity
to participate in internships. These activities expose our students to the
world of employment, and encourage them to consider what career direction they
might take after graduating.

A fairly recent development at the
school is the donation of a swimming pool by the Princess Charlene of Monaco
Foundation as part of its ‘Learn to Swim’  Programme. The school is
situated only 15 km from the sea, and aquaculture and fishing are significant
industries in Ghana; however many of our students had never seen the sea, and
very few of them could swim. Now, after a very short time, nearly every student
has learnt to swim, including the girls, although the take-up has been
slower.   This not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but also opens
up other potential career paths.