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Basic education blues at North East Gonja District

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Classroom session for kindergarten children at Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School
Classroom session for kindergarten children at Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School

A well ventilated classroom with appropriate and adequate number of desks, and pupils is desired to promote effective teaching and learning. However, for some schools such as Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School, this condition remains an elusive dream.

The Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School, which is located in the capital town of the North East Gonja District of the Savannah Region, currently has a total of 530 pupils, and more than half of the pupils do not have furniture to sit on during classes. Currently, there are 88 pupils in class two, 115 pupils in class three (class divided into two), and 71 pupils in class four, a situation, which is against the Ghana Education Service’ prescribed 35 pupils per class standard. Therefore, three to four pupils occupy a dual desk instead of two pupils per dual desk whilst a sizeable number of them sit on the bare floor to study.

Those in kindergarten (1) and (2) do not have furniture neither do they have teachers to teach them. Due to the congestion, the classrooms are always hot especially in this dry season when the daily temperatures hover around 40 degrees Celcius. The situation is not different at Kidenge Presby Kindergarten/Primary School where about half of its total of 152 pupils, do not have furniture to sit on coupled with inadequate number of teachers to handle them.

The situation at the Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School and the Kidenge Presby Kindergarten/Primary School reflects the reality at all the 52 public basic schools in the district. As the children sit on the bare floor, their uniforms are always dirty.

The situation also discourages some children from remaining in school whilst some parents capitalise on the challenges as a demotivating factor for not sending their children to school. In view of this, school drop-out rate is high in the district coupled with high numbers of out-of-school children in the communities.
Infrastructure deficits, and impact on students’ performance.

According to data on enrollment, furniture, classrooms, and teachers compiled in February, this year by the North East Gonja District Directorate of Education, currently there are 52 public basic schools in the district with a total population of 8,481. Out the figure, 2,671 pupils were in kindergarten, 4,990 pupils were in primary school, and 820 students were in junior high school. However, more than half of the 8,481 pupils and students in the district do not have furniture. On classrooms, the data showed that the district currently has 224 classroom blocks and needs additional 66 classroom blocks to address the challenge of congestion.

In the area of availability of teachers, the data indicated that the district currently has 276 teachers and needs additional 150 teachers to effectively handle the children. This situation is negatively impacting quality basic education delivery in the area. According to the District Directorate of Education, in 2019, out of 256 candidates from the area, who sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), 110 got aggregates from six to 30. Also, in 2020, 296 candidates sat for the BECE and 206 got the pass mark whilst in 2021, 316 candidates sat for the BECE where 179 got the pass grade.

Mr Seidu Tanko, Assemblyman for Kpalbe Electoral Area, in an interview at Kpalbe, said “The state of the schools or education in my electoral area is very bad and poor. We are far behind. Teacher problem was facing Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School but now it is better. The upper primary has teachers. It is the Kindergarten (1) and (2) pupils, who are now there without teachers. We are appealing to the District Directorate of Education to try to get teachers for them.”

The interventions
As outlined above, the challenges confronting the basic education sector in the North East Gonja District are enormous and therefore, require an all hands-on-deck approach to addressing them. To this end, the Assembly is collaborating with some development partners to respond to the challenges.

Mr Mohammed Musah Tindawu, North East Gonja District Chief Executive (DCE), in an interview at Kpalbe, said even though the Assembly was challenged in terms of resources to respond to the myriad of challenges facing the area, it prioritised quality education for the children.

Mr Tindawu said in view of this, last year, the Assembly procured and distributed 500 dual desks to schools in the area adding “This year, we are working to procure and distribute 1,000 dual desks to the schools as part of efforts to address the situation. This is because if the school block is there and the furniture is not there, it still comes to square one.”

He said the Assembly was selected to benefit from the Gulf of Guinea Northern Regions Social Cohesion (SOCO) project and as a result of the many education infrastructure deficits, the Assembly had decided to commit more resources from this project into the construction of new classroom blocks and rehabilitation of dilapidated ones to address the issue of congestion in the classrooms in the area.

The SOCO project is a multi-country multi-million dollar initiative to provide support to the northern parts of the Gulf of Guinea countries that suffer instabilities due to food insecurity, climate change, conflict and violence.
Mr Tindawu lauded the activities of the Citizen-led Educational Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana (CLEAR) project in the district saying it awoken the consciousness of citizen groups especially parents to prioritise their children’s education.

The CLEAR project, which is being implemented in the district by School for Life, an NGO, with funding support from the Global Partnership for Education under the Education Out Loud programme, seeks to mobilise citizens’ groups, and build their capacities to be able to engage education stakeholders with the aim of addressing the many challenges facing basic education delivery in their communities.

The DCE said a number of citizens groups from the CLEAR project communities had engaged the Assembly on issues of classroom infrastructure and he had committed to support in addressing some of them.

He mentioned that the Kpandu and Jinlo citizen groups had engaged him to request of him to pay attention to their classroom situation assuring that the Assembly would construct a new school block for the people of Kpandu while Jinlo would also get a JHS block.

He added that some of the schools would also receive a face-lift through renovation works.
Mr Richard Achinani Sepaga, North East Gonja District Director of Education, in an interview at Kpalbe, acknowledged that the situation was not the best but added that efforts were being made to address the challenges.

He also touched on the CLEAR Project saying it was sensitising the citizens on their role to support education delivery in the districts while building their capacities to hold the education duty-bearers accountable to deliver on their mandate of providing quality education to the people.

He said “the CLEAR approach is helping in shaping the minds of the people to prioritise the education of their children” adding “It has awoken us the duty-bearers to be more responsive to the issues of the people.”

Mr Sayibu Ibrahim, Chairman, School Management Committee, Kpalbe Islamic Kindergarten/Primary School said through the activities of the CLEAR project, parents had started contributing money to clad a pavilion at the school to serve as additional classrooms to reduce congestion at the school.

He said they were working on their action plans gradually and that they would continue to engage the relevant bodies to address their demands.

Government’s education sector priorities
The Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-2030 acknowledged the challenges in the country’s basic education sector and set out a strategic goal for the sector, which is “Improved equitable access to and participation in quality basic education.” According to the ESP 2018-2030, basic education should provide all learners with the foundational skills and confidence to prepare themselves to make informed choices and choose between different learning streams at secondary level. Whilst the country is in the fifth year of the implementation of the ESP 2018-2030, not much has been done to ameliorate the challenges bedeviling the basic education sector in most parts of the country especially rural areas. At the global level, the government is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where SDG (4) emphasises access to quality education. This requires a lot more action on the ground through allocation of resources to address the challenges.

The way forward
There is no denying the fact that it is generally difficult to study under conditions such as what prevails in the North East Gonja District. Even though the District Assembly, and the District Directorate of Education are aware of the challenges bedeviling the basic education sector in the area, and are determined to reverse the trend, they need to double up their efforts to address the situation such that the children will not just go through the school but will receive quality education to prepare them for the future.

This is critical to fulfilling the objectives of the country’s ESP 2018-20230, as well as enhancing the country’s efforts at attaining the SDGs (4).

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