Chioma, we are keen to add some comments on two questions which people have raised: a) how do you know you can secure teachers’ full-hearted support and engagement? b) what have you learned /adapted as a result of participating in this Open Ideo challenge?
The best way to answer these together is to refer back to our experience map. Do you remember “Salamatu”, our volunteer teacher in a remote village? She is a real person, whom we actually met in the course of a training programme in December. Her colleagues had attended a centrally-organised workshop on phonics, but as a volunteer she had not been included. She hadn’t had a chance to try the new ideas out – even for her colleagues it had all gone too quickly, leaving them with a few misconceptions. Talking to her, we asked whether having some audio clips which she could receive on her phone would help. She was very enthusiastic and described how desperate she is to improve her skills, and also to be seen as useful and valuable to the children and their parents. She sees this kind of phone instruction as being perhaps the only way she will ever achieve those skills.
What we have learned from is this Open Ideo is right to focus on the person at the end of the chain – the volunteer teacher, who can then do great things for both the children and their parents.
From the perspective of schools and communities in Ghana, this project has the potential to interrupt a self perpetuating cycle which contributes to children leaving school unable to read. The cycle involves teachers and pupils as well as parents and their children. As has already been described, many schools particularly in rural and remote areas of Ghana, rely on the services of voluntary teachers (Senior High School graduates – at best – from the community) because attracting trained teachers to these areas has proven very difficult. Furthermore, teacher training at the Diploma level does not include specific guidance during that training in order to equip them with the skills to teach children in the Early Grades (P1 to P3). Reading is taught by memorisation, the teacher reads the children repeat. Some pupils are able to memorise the words so that if they meet them again they can remember and read them. Many pupils simply memorise the text, so that if they are asked to read it, they simply repeat what they have memorised in class; as one teacher remarked to me: “in this way, the children will see the word “ship” but say “boat” – they have learned the story, not how to recognise the sounds and the words”. What this means is that those pupils who manage to pass through the education system and themselves become teachers (or volunteer teachers) revert to this same mode of instruction, and so the cycle is constantly reproduced.
Research carried out by Helen Abadzi (Abadzi, H. (2006) Efficient Learning for the Poor: Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience, World Bank), indicates that people trained in a context that is too dissimilar to that in which they will have to apply the training, generally find it difficult to do so and will revert to familiar or comfortable methods – with regard to teachers, this results in teachers teaching the way they were taught. The fact that the phonics by phone teaching guides will be tried and tested in the context in which teachers will be expected to use them, and that the teachers will be able to follow carefully structured and scripted ideas at the pace and in the way that suits them, means that this training will not resemble so many others where teachers are presented with an “ideal” scenario, that is extremely difficult to support in poorly resourced schools.
With regard to community members and parents in particular, the project has two major advantages. The stated one is that parents will have the means to support children in the acquisition of skills required to become readers. Furthermore, they will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be literate. What “learning” really looks like. Many members of rural and remote communities I have interviewed over the last 4 years in Ghana are committed to the aim of educating their children, committed to supporting their community school (in many cases to the extent of supporting volunteer teachers with accommodation, food, money, etc), and committed to supporting in the management of the school. But when asked how they are able to ensure that their children are being taught well, they feel unqualified to judge. In drawing conclusions about the quality of teaching and learning in their community schools, they rely on observing if the teachers turn up and are in class. They look into their children’s books for ticks and good marks. Parents with a deeper understanding of how children learn to read, of how they can support their children to read, will not just be able to support their own children but also the teachers and other school children in their community.
Based on this evidence, I believe that unless the cycle of children growing up to be community members who feel unqualified to “own” their children’s education, or growing up to be teachers who perpetuate the same teaching strategies that were used with them, is broken, these communities will continue to suffer from the same poor learning outcomes: • on average fewer than 30% of pupils in rural areas achieve reading proficiency in National Education Assessment tests at P6 (NEA results 2013, GES, MoE)) • English pass rates for BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) vary, and are especially low for those in the most deprived regions – 43.8% pass rate in the Northern Region, 39.6% pass rate in the Upper East Region and 47.7% in the Upper West Region – as compared to the national average of 59% and the pass rate in the country’s capital – Greater Accra at 82.3% (BECE results for 2011/2012, EMIS database, GES, MoE)).