11.02.2019 Opinion

Shaping Ghana’s Preschools: Converging Children’s Skills, Program Impacts, & Family Involvement

By Dr. Yaw Amponsah Adoo
Shaping Ghanas Preschools: Converging Childrens Skills, Program Impacts,  Family Involvement
11.02.2019 LISTEN

The Context:
There is little doubt about the increase in early childhood education (ECE) schools throughout Ghana today. Ghana is a giant in education in sub-Saharan Africa. The country leads many African nations in its ECE policy and access levels. In 2004, The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs led in originating and coordinating Ghana’s 2004 National Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) policy.

The policy aimed at promoting quality early childhood development activities that focused on physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual needs of Ghana’s children. The policy was attentive to preventing developmental delays of children. The ECCD policy replaces the previously uncoordinated, sector-biased programs developed and implemented by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry for Employment and Manpower Development, Ministry of Health and, the Ghana National Commission on Children and other stakeholders. Subsequently, President John Agyekum Kufour’s government in 2007 introduced the two-year kindergarten education directive to reform the free, compulsory, and universal basic preprimary education system.

Private and public schools are required to follow the ECCD curriculum. The curriculum is play-based and use child-centered methods to nurture children’s holistic learning. Despite the revolutionary strides to strengthen early childhood education, a 2012 Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ghana Education Service (GES) account concluded that the ECCD curriculum was not implemented as desired. More importantly, it showed that the quality of Ghana’s ECE education was lower than expected.

Majority of private schools serve kindergarten pupils. In 2017, 14,145 public Kindergarten schools and 7,907 private Kindergarten organizations catered to 1,770,587 Ghanaian pupils. 2017 estimates from MoE and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports stated that Ghana’s preprimary net enrollment rate of 80 percent was nearly four times higher than the average of other sub-Saharan African countries combined. In 2013, researchers Kelly Bidwell, Katie Parry and Loïc Watine of the American non-governmental organization Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) performed a formative study of the preprimary education sectors in Accra. The study showed that ECE enrollment rates were as high as 94% in many communities in the Greater Accra Region alone.

Kindergarten teacher training is massively disproportionate in Ghana. About 66% of 37,717 public Kindergarten teachers are adequately trained, compared to 16,219 private Kindergarten teachers, of which about 6% are trained. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s government has urged training institutes and agencies to initiate vigorous programs that train ECE teachers using methodology that strengthens the ECCD curriculum and related teaching and learning materials.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to achieve universal primary education has been tough. So far, the global number of out-of-school children has decreased significantly since 1990, even though the strides of improvement have been unsatisfactory to achieve the universal primary enrollment by the MDG 2015 benchmark. The good news is that 57 million children of primary school age are estimated to be out of school, down from 100 million in 2000. Of these, 33 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than half (55%) are girls. Obviously, more work needs to be done.

The Challenges:
In Ghana, poverty, not violence, continues to weaken children’s ability to succeed. Data that show how such hardships are currently affecting kindergarten-age children is staggering. The World Bank reports that school enrollment rates are at its lowest over no less than three decades. The Round 6 of Ghana Living Standards Survey reports state that about 21% of adults and 28% of Ghanaian children are currently living under the national poverty line.

Ghanaian children struggle to meet basic developmental objectives. Chief among them are following directions, working independently, and getting along with others. A recent study by Professor Kwame Acheampong of the University of Sussex suggests that Ghanaian educators find it hard to simplify instructional principles. Much effort is rather placed on routine implementation of specific teaching practices. Dr. Dana Charles McCoy (Harvard Graduate School of Education) and Dr. Sharon Wolf, an applied developmental psychologist and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania wrote a report that explained that lack of quality-specific kindergarten teacher training is among the reasons associated with learning challenges of one third of Ghanaian preschool aged children.

Children in Ghana face poverty and low at-home parental encouragement. The result of these has caused decreased learning development early in children’s life, despite the high rates of ECE participation. Dr. Sarah Kabay (New York University) and her research team submitted that kindergarten teachers are not adequately informed, equipped nor trained to be fully engaged in children’s’ development. Differences in parenting practices has made these challenges more difficult, as many do not know what to expect from their children’s teachers.

The practice to provide feedback using technology with learning supports and culturally sensitive materials to connect lessons to teaching objectives for teacher instructional practice are not there. Bioecological systems theory can explain these issues better. The theory reveals that children’s learning and development is inseparably linked with environmental characteristics, broader multicultural expectations, and norms. Developmental theories and lessons are not included in the training of kindergarten teachers, leading to open questions regarding whether and how culturally specific dimensions of classroom quality might relate to children’s outcomes over time. A study conducted by Dr. Mumuni Thompson of the University of Cape Coast suggested that not enough has been done in Ghana to guide research and practice on using instructional strategies to influence different ways to develop children’s learning.

Many kindergarten teachers face long standing unique challenges that have not been addressed by private and public kindergarten and primary education institutions. Dr. Esther Ntuli (Idaho State University) and Dr. Moussa Traore (University of Cape Coast), leading authorities in inclusive education research suggest that teacher aides, developmentally appropriate materials, and lack of proper training on how to manage inclusive classrooms for children has been core resource challenges for most kindergarten schools. Alternatively, Dr. Ahmed Abdulai of The University of Education (Winneba) cited many reasons for this, including issues surrounding the use of one-size-fits-all curriculum for all children. He also stated that teachers are not allowed to learn at their own pace, and that teachers lack convenient spaces to learn. Importantly, the corporate attitude to involve parents and guardians in evaluating teachers as one of the means to address inherent challenges is virtually nonexistent.

The Opinions of Experts:
To shape Ghana’s pre-and-kindergarten future, a bold initiative is necessary. Policies must be practical and supported by ECE operators, teachers and families. Dr. Simon Ntumi (University of Cape Coast) suggested that private pre-kindergarten administrators and local governments should prioritize in-service early childhood education curriculum training for teachers and parents. The fact-finding conclusions of University of Ghana’s Dr. Sheriffa Mahama and her team proposed that Ghana’s MoE endorse professional training of preschool teachers to update their knowledge and skills. Dr. Ahmed Abdulai (Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Education - Winneba) suggested that use of ECE curriculum must take environmental conditions and architectural designs into account to strengthen pedagogical practices to accommodate learning needs of all levels of learners.

Dr. Esther Ntuli (Idaho State University) and others advocated for kindergarten classrooms to include adapted infrastructure so that fully able kids and children with special needs to learn together. The latter will require fundamental corporate and governmental commitment, including funding, changed cultural ethos, and modified pedagogical philosophy. Dr. Seidu Sofo (Southeast Missouri State University) and Dr. Eugene Asloa (Valdosta State University) stated that ECE curricula should stress physical activity as a specialized module with specific goals. The goals must develop positive attitude through creative physical activity and movement, using the right mechanical tools for bone and muscle strengthening, and aerobic activity.

Children adore teachers that use songs and rhymes as an entertaining way of teaching. To arouse children to be more active, excited and involved, Dr. Justina Adu and Dr. Samuel Oppong Frimpong (Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Education, Winneba) suggested that teaching and learning processes must be enjoyable. In-service training for teachers and families that considers creation of melodies and rhyme books can offer a more inclusive learning opportunities which entire communities mutually benefit.

New Positions to Consider:
Improvements should start in the classroom. Proprietors, teachers, GES, and all stakeholders must understand that improvements in overall instructional quality may take time. The stakeholders must demand quality children’s early academic and socio-emotional outcomes from the beginning to the end of every school year. An improved system that works should demand a maintenance culture that will be particularly beneficial for children and classrooms. Overtime, the maintenance culture will drive for higher baseline proficiency levels.

The curricula adopted should be inventive, inspiring, play-based, picture-walk and think-pair-share with a clear vision suitable to Ghanaian kids. When young children are engaged in artistic and creative plays, they are not just entertained; they are developing skills and concepts that are foundational to their learning. Teachers can get the most out of children in critical development times. They can do so by adopting thoughtful preparations using dramatic play activities, family connections, music, and movement experiences. These activities allow children to freely explore their creativity to learn from each other.

Parents and guardians should be encouraged to prioritize behavior and socialization activities at home and in the community as part of their children’s pre-school experience. The national ECE curriculum should be available for parents at the beginning of school year. The curriculum must be revised periodically to incorporate parental expressions by using children’s’ ideas and interests to inform class activities, encourage reasoning and problem solving, and draw connections between subject matter and children’s’ daily lives.

Ghanaian ECE teachers must be encouraged, using reinforcement strategies, to build on their emotional support and behavior management practices. The success of this is critical for teachers to be consistent when using developmentally appropriate pedagogical practices as specified in the national curriculum.

There is hope for kindergarten pupils in Ghana. The hope lies in converging children’s skills, streamlining programs to generate valuable impact, as well as involving families in an all-inclusive process for quality future of Ghana’s pre-school education system.

Dr. Adoo is an internationally recognized educator and management professional. He is a Professor at University of the Virgin Islands. He was nominated at Shorter University for the Vulcan Materials Teaching Excellence & Campus Leadership Award in recognition for strong campus leadership and pioneering teaching methodology. He is co-founder of North Point Academy (NPA), a pre-school and child development organization in Accra. NPAs mission is to inspire and guide children to love learning, have fun, respect one another, and challenge the world around them.

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