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Why is early childhood education a key focus for us in Ghana?

POSTED March 29, 2021

Why is early childhood education a key focus for us in Ghana?

Our director of West Africa shares how far we’ve come and what’s left to accomplish to help young learners thrive

By Christelle Kalhoulé, director West Africa

Children look up from writing on their chalkboards at their desk

It’s nine in the morning at a school for children aged four to six in Dakpam in northern Ghana. Inside, as I escape the hot sun, I hear “Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.” The lyrics are unintelligible as many of the children are still learning the words, but they’re having fun at their Early Childhood Care and Development Centre (ECD), surrounded by colourful drawings of bananas, oranges and animals, which spark their imagination.

This was not the picture many years ago when the public school system wasn’t available for early-childhood learning in many parts of the northern region. That was before Children Believe (formerly Christian Children’s Fund of Canada) started working in Ghana. At the time, in 1996, few ECD centres existed. If they did, children and teachers sheltered under straw or grass mats weaved together to give shelter. Many children were not in school.

We’ve made progress since. Now there are more than 20,000 children aged two to five enrolled in ECD centres in our operational areas. But, there’s still lots to do. A recent report from UNICEF estimates, “globally 43 percent of children less than five years old are not achieving their full potential.” The same report notes this could be because healthcare, good nutrition, early stimulation, learning opportunities and protection are absent. This may interfere with the development of cognitive, language and psycho-social skills. It could also lead to kids eventually dropping out of school with poor performance.

That’s where ECD comes into the picture. It provides the chance for children up to the age of eight to develop and thrive through access to life’s basic essentials and early learning in a safe environment.

Since we began our work, we’ve had more than 35 ECD centres built to include playground equipment and employ trained teachers. In fact, we’ve lobbied for teachers to be posted to communities and introduced an award-winning Learning Through Play methodology — this has impacted more than 36 communities.

Children smile and make faces for the camera in early-childhood class

What’s more, new and updated buildings, furniture, school supplies, a hot lunch as well as trained teachers, who are always learning, is anecdotally boosting enrolment and will continue to give parents and caregivers opportunities to earn income as it’s safe to return to the centres, following the pandemic.

It took time to get parents to embrace the ECD concept. Change is hard, but after nearly 25 years the region’s Department of Children has applauded our methodology, and we’re contributing to public policy changes, pushing for greater improvement and focus on ECD centres.

And, we’re happy to hear our partner, Taiwan Fund for Children and Families, will be following our ECD model in Ghana.

We’re on our way to ensuring all children up to the age of eight get the opportunity to play, learn and grow, as we work to enhance our relationships with government ministries of health, education and social protection to make greater change.

I hope the sound of children learning at the Dakpam ECD centre will grow louder and louder, creating a firm foundation for a fruitful and formal education. The communities, families, children and schools are grateful to Children Believe and all the wonderful donors for their support.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.