Six things we’ve learned about Making Ghanaian Girls Great!
Putting good teachers in front of the students who need them the most.
Ghana’s education system is facing extraordinary challenges. Official data shows that many of the country’s school children can’t can read, write or do basic maths.
While Ghana has made marked progress since 2012 when less than half of Ghanaian students passed the national BECE exam,* the situation is acute in deprived districts where almost 40% of primary school pupils received English grades below the national average.**
For Ghanaian girls, the challenges are profound. Frequent early marriage, child labour and youth pregnancy all mean that girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys. Girls who stay on in school often face pressure to put work and family duties above their studies.
Making Ghanaian Girls Great
That’s why The Varkey Foundation set up ‘Making Ghanaian Girls Great!’ (MGCubed), the country’s first ever live, interactive and two-way distance-learning project. A three-year pilot project funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, MGCubed uses satellite technology to transmit interactive lessons into schools.
The project’s potential is vast. MGCubed has let us put good teachers in front of thousands of girls across Ghana – and get to some of the most marginalised communities in the country. So far, the project has reached over 10,000 girls (and boys) in 72 schools within two regions, Volta and Greater Accra. All from two studios in Accra.
That hard work has paid off. MGCubed has delivered significant improvements in literacy and numeracy, according to an independent evaluation by Innovations for Poverty Action as well as the Varkey Foundation’s own internal assessments.
It’s clear that this technology, when combined with good facilitation in the classroom can result in big impact. That impact has been boosted by our ‘Wonder Women’ after-school clubs, which focus on empowering marginalised girls and encouraging them to stay in school.
And beyond the headline improvements in English and Maths, our results have brought other good news – including evidence that MGCubed has boosted attendance among school children and even brought some out of school girls back into the education system.
The children have grown in confidence and are probing more. Speaking to some of them has shown that the girls have great orientation that has changed their goals and more focused.
A member of a school Community Committee, interviewed as part of the evaluation.
But we’re not resting on our laurels. Just like our students, we’ve been learning, too. Here are six things MGCubed has taught us about improving girls’ education:
- Be ready to change your teaching content if something isn’t working – and even if it is. When we saw our midline results for English and Maths, we thought hard about what was working and what wasn’t. We realised, for example, that we needed to change our English curriculum to give students needed more time to practise their reading. With Maths, we faced a different problem. Our first-year students had spent a lot of time on their foundational skills and that, in turn, had delivered big improvements. However, we realised that this approach would result in diminishing returns as the students moved up. We decided that we needed to move our students on to more complex concepts. The results of all that tweaking? Significant gains across the board in literacy and numeracy.
- Multi-grade teaching can hold students back. We started with the best of intentions, by teaching all the students in one group. However, we quickly realised that things just weren’t working like we’d hoped they would: the strongest students were moving too slowly and the weakest were being left behind. We broke our classes into groups by grade. Even then, we still found we had an issue with mixed abilities, so today we make a lot of effort to effectively differentiate them.
- Want to help girls? Engage with boys. When boys told us that they were feeling left out of our project’s after-school activities, we created a boys’ club just for them. The boys flocked to the new club in droves and it had some surprising effects, with some boys changing their behaviour toward the role of girls in their community – some even started to help out their sisters at home with the chores.
- Build relationships with local communities. We wouldn’t have succeeded without consulting and engaging with each of the communities the project is active in. That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges, as many girls are still made to stay out of school in order to work or to take care of a household. But we’ve worked hard to earn the trust of these communities – and made the schools a focal point for good.
- School leadership is critical. School leaders are the key to keeping girls in school. They are the ones who can help girls make the difficult transition to junior high school by ensuring schools are gender-responsive, as well addressing barriers to transition by linking with communities and local services. School leaders also play an important role in bringing out-of-school girls back into the education system, as well as addressing abuse. But to do all that, school leaders need more training and support.
- Finally, and most importantly, teachers matter. Technology can help put good teachers in front of the students who need them the most. But there’s simply no substitute for good teachers. Our studio teachers are fantastic and they’ve had access great training. It’s their work, in collaboration with the classroom facilitators, that has driven the impact in learning outcomes.
* Source: Ghana EMIS, 2012.
** Source: Ghana Education Sector Report, 2016.