Every two years, the Jacobs Foundation awards the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes to trailblazers seeking evidence-based solutions to education’s biggest challenges. In this series, Annie Brookman-Byrne meets with the finalists of the 2022 awards. In part 5, Annie talks to David Pwalua from AfriKids Ghana.
Annie Brookman-Byrne:What are the greatest challenges facing children in poor communities in northern Ghana?
David Pwalua: The first is a lack of means. These children’s families usually rely on informal, insecure employment and may struggle to meet their children’s needs without putting them at risk. They may not able to provide the essentials for schooling, like uniforms and stationery. These costs tend to be prohibitive, so many parents pressure their children to drop out of school, either to go to work or, in the case of girls, to get married.
The second is a lack of motivation. Parents and communities with low levels of education are less likely to understand or prioritise the long-term investment of ensuring every child’s right to education, especially for girls and children with disabilities. This can result in late enrolment in school and poor attendance. Thus children learn less and are more likely to drop out of school early.
There is also a lack of opportunity. Schools in poorer rural areas perform poorly. There are too few qualified teachers, teaching quality is poor, and governance is weak. School environments are often unsafe and unsanitary, and may not welcome all children. Some schools lack toilets, which is especially problematic for girls when they get their periods. In addition, many children have to walk long distances to school.
“All children should know their rights and be empowered by that knowledge.”
Ghana is currently experiencing great economic hardship, with rapid and significant increases in the cost of living. Children from poor communities in northern Ghana are faced with even greater challenges. Many families are unable to provide their children with adequate food and other essential items.
Children from minority ethnic groups, orphaned children with disabilities, and single-parent children are particularly vulnerable. These children are at very high risk of abuse, neglect, and exploitation, as well as harmful traditional practices such as a belief in “spirit children” and early and forced marriage.
ABB: What solutions are needed in northern Ghana to help children?
DP: Children need safe schools. We must put an end to corporal punishment and abuse in schools. Children with disabilities have a right to education. All children should know their rights and be empowered by that knowledge.
Moreover, schools need to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as these disciplines are essential for our children’s future.
Teachers should be trained in active, play-based, and child-centred teaching. Efforts should be made to develop sustainable and effective methods of teacher training, tailored to the needs of rural and marginalised school communities.
I would also like to see community members become more involved in school life, and improved collaboration among key ministries in Ghana’s public sector. Finally, contracts between the district and national directors of education should be tied to learning outcomes.
ABB: What is your vision for the future of children in northern Ghana?
DP: Ultimately, I want to see a prosperous and thriving world, where the rights of all children are valued and upheld by all. By 2069, almost half of the world’s children will be African. As a global community, we have an opportunity and responsibility to invest in these children for the future of humanity. By ensuring that every child is healthy, safe, and able to learn, we will empower the next generation to build the future we all want to see: a future in which all people and our planet can thrive.
Ghana was the first country in the world to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and at AfriKids Ghana we want to see that commitment realised as Ghana becomes a beacon of child rights, a place where every child enjoys a happy childhood and a bright future.
“By ensuring that every child is healthy, safe, and able to learn, we will empower the next generation to build the future we all want to see: a future in which all people and our planet can thrive.”
DP: AfriKids UK and Ghana are working in close partnership towards the shared goal of ensuring children’s rights. AfriKids Ghana, in collaboration with local communities, is leading the design and delivery of all our programmes, while the mission of AfriKids UK is to serve AfriKids Ghana through fundraising, profile-raising, and collaborative capacity building.
Working collaboratively, this partnership is delivering Global South-led, locally relevant, and effective programming that empowers local communities and those in a position of responsibility to serve as agents of change, ensuring that all children are healthy, safe, and able to learn. We are building a comprehensive and powerful coalition of local stakeholders with the means, motivation, and opportunity to uphold the rights of all children, with a particular focus on basic education, child protection, and maternal and child health. Our projects ensure that children are healthier, safer, and learning more, while building a sustainable, well-equipped, pro-child-rights environment that will ensure the rights of children into the future, even without the ongoing support of AfriKids.
ABB: What would you like to learn from other Best Practice Prize finalists?
The finalists are an impressive group of organisations doing important work to advance education and support children around the world. We are always eager to learn from and partner with others; it’s how we innovate, grow, and achieve greater impact. We’re keen to learn more about how other organisations are helping to keep vulnerable children healthy, safe, and learning, especially in similar contexts. Learning from organisations that specialise in edtech, for example, can add enormous value to our programmes.
Likewise, we want to share our expertise in community mobilisation and in reaching those deemed “hard to reach”, especially at-risk children. We hope others can apply our approach in new locations to help many more children.