What is School for Life?
role model for future changes in the primary schools of Ghana.
That is how the Ghana Ministry of
Education has described the Danish NGO supported programme in
Northern Ghana called School for Life. The programme manages to
reach out to several thousands of the many children, who are not in
school because their parents want them to work instead. In School
for Life, the children are taught for only three hours every
afternoon after they have finished working. Furthermore the children
are taught in their mother tongue and not English, which makes it
possible for them to learn to read and write very quickly: One third
are able to read fluently after the nine months that School for Life
lasts. The graduates can then enter the formal school system.
important characteristic of School for Life is that the children are
taught skills they can use at home, e.g. hygiene, health, farming
and protection of the environment. The teachers are local people
from the community (facilitators) who volunteer to do the work and
the local villagers have to raise part of the costs of starting a
local branch of the project. The School
for Life programme has lately extended its focus to cover service
delivery, mainstreaming and replication of the SfL approach and
strengthening of civil society. Advocacy and gender are
crosscutting issues. SfL works to support and enable Ghana
Education Service (GES) to carry out its obligation to ensure
Education for All as stated in the Dakar Declaration from 2000
and integrated by Government of Ghana in the fCUBE policy. SfL
currently operates in 8 out of the 13 districts of the Northern
Region of Ghana, making preparations to expand into two more
districts from July 2004.
School for Life is a very successful
product of evolving friendship and co-operation between Northern
Ghanaian community based organisations on the one part, and Ghanaian
and Danish development activists on the other. The Ghanaian
development activists are organised under an umbrella organisation
called Ghanaian Danish Communities Association or GDCA whereas their
Danish counterparts are members of a Danish NGO The Ghana
Friendship Groups in Denmark or GV. Together they run three
programmes, Ghanaian Danish Communities Programme (GDCP), School for
Life (SfL) and Community Life Improvement Programme (CLIP).
Founded in 1979, the Ghana
Friendshipgroups in Denmark (GV) have always emphasized the importance of not just sending
money and other kind of assistance to developing countries, but of
involving the local Danish population in fund raising activities,
mutual visits and cultural exchanges, and of establishing a close
cooperation with the local communities in Ghana - thus creating a
broadly based involvement and personal ties of friendship that last
for years. Furthermore project committees are sparring partners to
the programmes in Ghana and carry out monitoring, consultancy, and
give professional guidance to the policy-discussions and daily
running of the programmes.
Ghanaian Danish Communities Association (GDCA)
was established in 1986 in connection with the first
friendship-programme, GDCP. As the years have gone by, it has become
an important development agent in the Northern Region to promote
community based development, to build community capacity, to
initiate and support participatory education, and to advocate for
priority to be given to the deprived north in these matters.
Every year the
main Danish television programme for children donates the surplus
from the sale of the Christmas-calendars to a project helping
children in a developing country. In
1994, the School for Life Project in Ghana was chosen based on an
initiative by members of GDCA and GV, supported by the Dagbon
then started in 1995 in two of the most deprived districts of the
Northern Region, Yendi and Gusheigu-Karaga districts. The programme has over the years developed in content
and expanded its operations to cover 5 districts from 1997 and 8
districts from 1999.
Till now, the
programme has been solely funded by the Danish International
Development Agency - Danida. However, GV and GDCA will continuously
identify and team up with agencies operating with similar objectives
to create more synergy in the educational activities. Moreover given
the success of the educational model and the interest in replicating
it into the rest of the Northern Ghana and indeed other parts of the
country, the partners have explicitly sought a framework that allows
for growth beyond Danida funding.
3 A deprived and neglected
SfL currently operates in 8
districts of the Northern Region. The districts are Yendi,
Gusheigu-Karaga, Zabzugu-Tatale, Savelugu-Nanton, Tamale Rural,
Saboba-Chereponi, Tolon-Kumbungu and Nanumba. From July 2004 SfL
covers 10 out of the 13 administrative districts adding East Gonja
and West Mamprusi districts.
the area of the Northern Region accounts for almost one third of
Ghana, it is inhabited by only 10% of its population representing a
population density of less than 25 people per square kilometre. Two
major language groups dominate the population.
Mole-Dagbani language group comprises the people of Dagbon, Mamprusi
and Nanun, which occupy the eastern half of the region. The Gonjas
are part of the larger Guan speaking group, which occurs throughout
Ghana, and dominates the western and south-eastern part of the
Northern Region. In addition to these major ethnic groups and
intermingled with them are twelve other important groups including
Konkombas, Chekosis, Basares, Nchumuras, and Nawuris. The
majority of the inhabitants in the programme area are Moslems and
traditional animists, with a minority being Christians.
of the inhabitants in the programme area are subsistence or nearly
subsistence farmers and animal herders with a few involved in petty
trading and fishing. There is very little industrialisation outside
of Tamale, the regional capital.
Northern Region is deprived. It is placed at the bottom of all
development league tables; literacy, school enrolment, maternal and
infant survival, per capita income, access to potable water, female
participation in education etc. etc. The Region also lacks
infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals, water works etc.). Even
though it is a major food producing area, and potentially Ghanas
breadbasket, nutrition levels are low due largely to poverty, lack
of knowledge and official neglect. Inhabitants experience food
shortages whenever rains fail, due to poor inventory and market
Marginalized in educational
Generally because of the colonial legacy, political neglect and
relative to the rapidly growing population, the educational system
of the Northern Region suffers from low capacity of building and
equipment, under-staffing, poor maintenance, very poor attendance
and low teacher and management motivation.
The region has the lowest literacy rate in the whole country.
National statistics indicate that the literacy rate among adults is
under five per cent and less than 40 % of children up to 14 years
attend school, leaving about 61 % of children out of school, the
majority of whom are girls .
This means that the vast majority of children in the Northern Region
do not complete the compulsory nine years of primary schooling, nor
do they attain a basic level of literacy. The average school
enrolment rate for the whole of Ghana is 80 %.
The deprived educational situation of the Northern Ghana is further
compounded by the tendency for educational expenditures to disfavour
the poorest regions of the country.
example Northern Region receives only 4.06% of recurrent budget
for educational activities and with the lack of major financial
inputs, educational standards have deteriorated.
The inhabitants of the Northern Region are therefore marginalized in
their educational development. This is also a result of the formal
school curriculum based on a theoretical and individualistic
philosophy, which often places the children in an awkward position
in relation to their family and social background in general. The
structure and the philosophy of the educational system can be traced
back to the colonial period and the following political situation,
which has also resulted in a stratified educational system. The
educational reform, fCUBE and the Education for All strategy,
is however meant to address some of these problems.
Apart from the
historical reasons mentioned, the marginalisation in terms of
education in the north is also caused by beliefs that formal
education alienates the children from their original culture. This
causes a reserved attitude to education from illiterate parents, who
cannot easily appreciate the benefits of education and even
sometimes experience that it makes their children lazy, complacent,
In addition, to
ensure family income, children of school-going age form part of the
familys labour force. The girls are engaged in trading, mainly as
hawkers, and they do the household chores in absence of the mother
who is every day away to engage in farming or trading. The boys
assist in the various forms of farm activities, and are particularly
responsible for the livestock of the families.
the different reasons mentioned most children especially in the
rural areas never enter the formal school system. On the other hand
parents and guardians generally express an understanding of the need
for education. However, it needs to be a kind of education that
allows the children to maintain daily duties and to contribute to
everyday activities in the communities. School for Life offers this
The School for Life Approach
for Life has over the years developed a methodology of successful
learning and sensitisation of communities, which forms the basis of
improving the access to and quality of the
educational system. The SfL pedagogic
concept comprises several components that interact and support each
Each component is essential as part of the concept - and it is
important to stress that one single component is not - and cannot be
a solution to the range of problems that the Ghanaian school system
is facing today.
A combination of all the factors contribute to the outstanding
result that can be noted from the SfL classes. The major pedagogic
and planning principles are outlined below:
One of the most important components contributing to the success of
SfL is the use of mother tongue both
as the only literacy language in the class and
as the language of instruction. The value of mother tongue
instruction is well established. It is optimally efficient as a
teaching tool as the mother tongue is the tool of thought.
Furthermore, the use of the local language contributes to the
building of self-consciousness and self-esteem in the children and
it creates receptiveness of education in the communities.
Policy implementation on a national level, however, faces several
difficulties: Multiplicity of local languages, lack of
language-competent teachers, and lack of primers and reading
material. SfL will, however, continue to demonstrate and document
that each of these problems can be solved, given a little
imagination and consistency. Therefore the institutionalised way of
using the language of the learners is used by School for Life and
the results of the learners have been very satisfactory. The pupils
reach a level of literacy that enables them to read and write a
simple text and use mathematics corresponding to classes 2-3 in the
programme operates in 4 languages presently; Dagbani, Likpakpaaln (Konkomba),
Ncaam (Bassari) and Anufo (Chekosi). Moving into two new districts
with a different language pattern it is expected that 2 or 3 more
languages, mainly Gonja and Mampruli may be included in the
programme. The programme seeks to achieve ethnic balance in its work.
Classes are offered in languages indigenous to the district and
which have written forms. Communities
select languages of instruction. Where a communitys language is
not included in the SfL programme, the community can select another
indigenous language covered by the programme. English, however, is
not an option for language of instruction.
Functional teaching material
The teaching material used in the classes is based on issues
already known to the children: the livestock, the body, hygiene,
sanitation, the environment etc. The texts are written in a simple
language and they take an outset in the known and proceeds to the
unknown, stressing on learning by doing and incorporating practices
together with theory. The teaching material, both exercise books and
readers, are available and free for the children. Co curricular
material to sustain the literacy level after graduation is
continuously developed. Making the childrens everyday life the
focus of education ensures functionality. In that way children feel
that their home and school walk hand in hand. Studying is not an
alienating process and classroom learning is applicable directly at
A model timetable is used, where e.g. sport activities and
handicrafts are included. Teaching is moreover combined with singing
and dancing since this is a very great part of a Ghanaian childs
life. The classes usually compose their own School for Life songs,
which makes the teaching lively and friendly.
Child centred and non-authoritarian approach
positive learning environment is pursued and School for Life has
therefore developed and adopted a child-centred, participatory and
interactive teaching methodology with dialogue, questions and
affirmation of the childrens contributions in classes with not
more than 25 children. Most of the facilitators are not trained
teachers and their own experience of education is typically the
authoritative approach common within the formal schools due to lack
of teachers and very big classes. However, facilitators courses
impart this methodology and pedagogy and the facilitators generally
adapt it well.
communities identify the School for Life facilitators, they work
voluntarily and absence is hardly seen since they stay close to the
school and receive help from the community. Facilitators receive
three weeks intensive initial training and SfL arranges refresher
courses during the teaching cycle and after a year of teaching. By
calling in the facilitators every three months in their own area,
their skills are updated, the SfL approach is reviewed and their
The training includes mother tongue teaching and SfL methodology.
Gender issues and data collecting techniques are also being included
in the course plan. Facilitators receive incentives from SfL in form
of a bicycle after one year of voluntary work. Every month he/she
also receives soap-money, which is a symbolic amount to buy
Remedial courses are
arranged for SfL facilitators, who have not been able to pass their
Senior Secondary School examinations.
resource persons help to up-grade their skills to be able to pass
their examinations and hopefully continue into the Teacher Training
Colleges. A new component of SfL is to offer to sponsor qualified
and motivated facilitators studies at TTC through the District
Assemblies TTC student sponsoring programme in order to diminish
the serious shortage of teachers in the programme area.
strongly advocates for facilitators to be allowed as specially
qualified to teach Primary 1-3 in mother tongue, particularly in
wing schools and thus relieving trained GES teachers from this task,
so that they can cater for Primary 4-6. This has, however, not yet
been accepted officially and is part of the advocacy efforts and
negotiations with GES.
are run in 9 months cycles starting from October each year. The
calendar of the teaching cycles is adapted to the community, which
the school is serving. In consideration of the farming cycle the
teaching cycles run from October to June, leaving the kids free when
the farming activities are at their highest in the rainy season from
July to September. Classes are usually held in the afternoon between
2.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m.
allows children to participate in household and farming work. It
also allows SfL and GES to optimise use of classrooms. The classes
are run five days a week, three hours a day. The local SfL Committee
determines the two off-days. These are usually market days and
Fridays in Muslim communities and market days and Sundays in
order to reduce economic barriers to attendance no uniforms are
required and books and tuition are free.
in the SfL districts is done together with the District Department
of Community Development (DCD) in all communities of at least 200
inhabitants. To change the parents
attitude towards education, the fact is stressed that by
participating in the SfL class, children can still be available in
the mornings to help with household and farming work. In addition,
what they learn from SfL will actually help them in their
chores. There is thus no reason why children should miss classes.
In other words, contrary to parents experiences and fears
education can be immediate and direct useful. Each community is
visited according to need, but at least twice. After animation
siting of classes is based on needs.
for inclusion in the scheme remain the ability of the community to:
Nominate a volunteer facilitator who is literate in the
language of the community and who is resident in the specific
community. An extra effort is made to recruit female facilitators.
Nominate children between 8 and 14 (half must be girls) to
enrol for classes.
Locate a classroom for the SfL class (whether formal
school building, hall, "zanamat"
(grass) hut constructed for the purpose or even a suitable shady
Be committed to compensate facilitators in foodstuffs, labour
Set down a School for Life Committee consisting of 5
community members, of which at least three should be women. The
committee will be responsible for the SfL class, sensitisation of
community members, facilitator support by the community and also
ensuring the building and maintenance of the school structure.
Sign an agreement with SfL on the above conditions.
on the need of the area, around 50 classes are established in each
district of SfL operation in every teaching cycle.
works to achieve and sustain increases in functional literacy and
in quality and equitable access to relevant basic education as
means to address the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and
gender inequity in Northern Ghana.
A four-string strategy
now School for Lifes service delivery
has been extremely successful, and the need for SfL services
(provision of functional literacy and educational infrastructure) is
still enormous. To increase sustainability of the programme and to
actually grasp the root of child illiteracy, which derives from the
inadequacy of the formal school system, School for Life also focus
on influencing the formal system. It is not expected that the SfL
classes, training of facilitators etc. will continue after SfL has
left the individual community or district. The sustainability of SfL
will merely be ensured through capacity building of communities,
mainstreaming of the approach into the formal school system, getting
other NGOs to replicate the programme, and through advocacy
Cooperation with major stakeholders within the formal education
system, namely District Assemblies and GES are intensified in order
to mainstream the SfL approach and methodology into the formal
school system. SfL aims at training GES teachers and supervisors,
integrating facilitators as teachers in the formal system and
expanding the use of SfL functional literacy material in the rural
schools. Furthermore, SfL
develops agreements with each individual District Assembly in the
programme area to share roles and responsibilities concerning SfL
this to happen, attitudinal changes are needed at many levels, from
parents to politicians. Strengthening of
civil society aims at creating awareness and the ability
to deliver, demand and sustain good quality primary education.
Activities and training of community stakeholders within the field
of education (including SfL committees, PTAs and SMCs) is therefore
intensified. With a rights based approach, a special effort is made
to motivate and enable community-based organisations (CBOs) to
advocate for, demand and attract funding for education.
the weaknesses and inadequacy of the decentralised departments, SfL
is developing guidelines for replication
of the SfL programme. This is for other interested
organisations and donors to replicate the programme particularly
with the aim of covering the three northern regions and indeed other
deprived areas of Ghana.
initiatives are intensified and developed, among other things
through intensified collaboration with other NGOs and agencies on
advocacy. Girls and womens participation is pursued on many
levels of the programme and is a high priority and crosscutting
issue in the programme strategy.
development education and friendship cooperation is an integrated
aspect of the implementation strategy and will ensure anchorage of
the programme in the Danish public and develop friendship as a basis
of SfL. The aim is to create awareness within Ghana and Denmark about the nature
of the development crisis and educational problems in Northern
Ghana, the positive response of the Northern communities and the
impact made through the use of SfL approach and methodology.
A Needs Based Approach
has been adopted at all levels.
This implies among other things, training of facilitators and GES
teachers, production of teaching materials, running of literacy
classes and provision of educational infrastructure. This is to
ensure that the efforts of School for Life will benefit the most
needy areas and people.