School for Life Phase 3

Information on the policy of
School for Life
and the option for replication

1  What is School for Life?

 “A 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.

 Another 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.

  2  Friendship cooperation

 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  Traditional Council. SfL 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 area

 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.

 Though 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.

 The 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.

 95% 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 Ghana’s 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 practices.


Marginalized in educational development

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 [1]. 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.


For example Northern Region receives only 4.06% of recurrent budget expenditures[2] 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, and non-productive.


In addition, to ensure family income, children of school-going age form part of the family’s 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.


For 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 alternative education.


4  The School for Life Approach


School 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

formal educational system. The SfL pedagogic concept comprises several components that interact and support each other.

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:


Mother tongue education

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 formal school.


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 community’s 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 children’s 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 home.

 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 child’s life. The classes usually compose their own School for Life songs, which makes the teaching lively and friendly.

 The primers are designed to support the SfL methodology and a detailed teaching manual is revised every year. The community radio, Radio Simli (friendship) of GDCP produces educational cassette tapes supporting the facilitators’ classroom work. The rollout of signal boosters by GBC means that Radio Savannah will now be able to carry messages throughout the programme area, which will help the spread of SfL related issues and community programmes produced in local languages.


Child centred and non-authoritarian approach

A 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 children’s 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.



The 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 commitment rekindled.

 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 daily necessities.

 Remedial courses are arranged for SfL facilitators, who have not been able to pass their Senior Secondary School examinations.

 SfL 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.

 SfL 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.

 Timing of classes

Classes 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.

 This 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 Christian communities.

 In order to reduce economic barriers to attendance no uniforms are required and books and tuition are free.


Community Animation

Animation 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.


Criteria 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 tree.

     Be committed to compensate facilitators in foodstuffs, labour or cash.

     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.


Depending on the need of the area, around 50 classes are established in each district of SfL operation in every teaching cycle.      


5.   Focus Areas:

– service delivery, mainstreaming and replication of the SfL Approach & strengthening of civil society


Mission Statement

SfL 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

Until now School for Life’s 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 NGO’s to replicate the programme, and through advocacy activities.

 Mainstreaming of the SfL approach is then given high priority in the programme strategy. Through advocacy activities it aims at creating the will to change the formal education system and let the children of rural deprived areas get access to it.

 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 activities.

 For 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 (CBO’s) to advocate for, demand and attract funding for education.

 Acknowledging 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.

 Crosscutting issues

Advocacy initiatives are intensified and developed, among other things through intensified collaboration with other NGOs and agencies on advocacy. Girls’ and women’s participation is pursued on many levels of the programme and is a high priority and crosscutting issue in the programme strategy.

 Finally, 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.

6 Results

 he first 8 years of School for Life programme have seen continued solid delivery of functional literacy for children who would otherwise not have had access to any kind of schooling. The programme has become a model for other donor-assisted development interventions and by July 2003, roughly 50.000 children will have gone through the School for Life programme, of which about 43% are girls.

 After 9 months teaching, random testing shows that:

  • 1/3 can read very well and write on their own
  • 1/3 can read fairly well and can write a few words
  • 1/3 can read with difficulty

 The figures however vary a great deal from district to district.

 After the teaching cycle up to 80% of the children and their parents express a wish to continue in the formal school. Thus the attitude of most parents has changed. Unfortunately there is not always a school nearby and the economy of the parents is often very tight. 69 % of SfL graduates have continued into the formal school, representing 29.000 children. The receiving schools test them and most of the graduates are enrolled intoPrimary 3 or 4. Evidence available from the Performing Monitoring Test carried out by GES in some districts shows that SfL graduates who integrate into the formal school system have performed very well both academically and in terms of responsibility and maturity. Usually the SfL children belong to the better half of the class when tested.

 Taking the socio-economic context of the programme area into account, the performance in terms of gender equity has likewise been impressive. However more work needs to be done to encourage female participation at all levels of the programme, especially regarding pupils and facilitators. School for Life encourages 50% girl child enrolment in the SfL classes and 3 out of the 5 members of the SfL Committee are women.

 School for Life moreover assists in the improvement of educational infrastructure in the programme area since the capacity within the District Administration is far from sufficient. This is done through either connecting the communities to other NGO’s and agencies specifically working with infrastructure or through SfL’s own Self-Help Pool. There is a self-contribution from the community on 15% of the cost of a school pavilion and 25% of the cost of the school furniture. Since the start of SfL, 104 school pavilions and 13 teachers quarters have been put up, and 351 sets of furniture have been provided.


 Programme Set-up

School for Life is managed from three levels. A District Office is established in each of the districts and has the main contact with the communities, facilitators and District Assemblies and GES at district level. Field staff make sure that classes are being visited, facilitators contacted and supervised and communities sensitised.

 Moreover SfL has divided its operations into two areas, one covering the eastern corridor of the programme area and one covering the western corridor. The area level was introduced in phase 2, when the programme expanded to cover 8 districts. Each area has an Area Office that handles 4-5 districts and is responsible for supervision and monitoring of the District Offices and for acting as intermediaries between the Head Office and the districts, as well as providing assistance to the districts in detailed planning and implementation of daily operations.

 Overall programme management and coordination as well as supervision and monitoring of Area Offices takes place from the Head Office in Tamale by a team of professional educators and logistics personnel, headed by a Programme Director.

 In Ghana, School for Life has an Executive Committee with an attached Advisory Council made up of various stakeholders within education and with a representative from each District Assembly of the programme area. The EC makes policy and since programme inception, policy has remained within a framework set by agreements with Danida. This situation is however going to change in the near future with future collaboration partners or donors being represented at policy-level.

 In Denmark an elected GV project committee is attached to SfL for advice, monitoring and supervision of programme intervention. The School for Life Committee undertakes most of GV’s communication with the Ghanaian partners and is moreover directly responsible to Danida. Liaison between SfL Ghana and GV is maintained through a Programme Development Advisor stationed at the Head Office in Tamale to assist EC/ACL and Management and to ensure communication between Ghana and Denmark.


For further information on School for Life…

Head Office
P.O.Box 787, Tamale, Ghana
Tel: +233 71 22023
Fax: +233 71 23815                        Homepage


 Situated at Naa Luro Estate, House no. 60 Choggu block VI, near NORBISCO

Tamale Area Office
P. O. Box 787, Tamale, Ghana
Tel: +233 71 25916

Situated at Kalpohin
Estates, First Rd.


Yendi Area Office
P.O. Box 105, Yendi, Ghana
Tel: +233 744 22165

Situated near Yendi Hospital.


[1] Ghana Population Census 2000 and GES statistic Department, Regional Education Office

[2] Ghana Education Service Internal Budget Book, January 2002, Vol 3