In Ahuren, a small community in Ghana, residents plan to establish a kindergarten but lack the resources. To raise the necessary funds, they start an oil palm garden, sell the oil, and use the proceeds to support building a kindergarten and nursery. Eventually, they add a school canteen and large dining area and link with another project in Ghana that provides food for school meals.
The community development activity, supported by USAID, is part of a program that has been advancing accountability, transparency, and good governance in Ghana with support from EDC. Called the Government Accountability Improves Trust II project (GAIT II), the program “enables the government to respond to citizen needs. It does this by building local organizations’ ability to advocate for their interests and by supporting local government officials to engage citizens,” says EDC’s Beth Miller Pittman. “What the community of Ahuren has done is truly incredible. It’s inspiring to see.”
In support of Ghana’s Education Strategic Plan, GAIT II has been steadily working with community members and district officials to increase the community ownership and effectiveness of schools. Over the last four years, GAIT II has promoted community participation to plan and implement activities that improve educational quality and has helped district officials be more responsive to citizen needs.
Miller Pittman has witnessed change across the communities in which GAIT II has worked, particularly in those communities where parents have felt isolated and shut out of the education system. “Going around to different communities, we hear how things have changed. Before, parents—especially if they couldn’t read or write—didn’t have the confidence to participate in their children’s education. They felt that was the responsibility of the government or teachers. We are seeing parents build a sense of how they can support their children’s education.”
She continues, “For instance, if a head teacher is not working out and they have attempted to improve the situation, parents now understand they can go to the district office and either report the problem or ask for a new head teacher. For me, that’s probably the biggest change—seeing parents realize that they have an important role to play.”
With support from EDC, 700 communities throughout 25 districts are engaged in this effort. They meet to discuss education-related issues and problems and to determine a school improvement plan. Some plans focus on building infrastructure, while others pinpoint how parents can support their children’s education through activities such as checking homework, interacting with and supporting teachers, following up on their children’s performance, and promoting reading.
Working in collaboration with an EDC-operated project to improve children’s literacy called Education Quality for All (EQUALL), GAIT II helps communities and district education offices create environments that enhance children’s ability to read, write, and do arithmetic. “We work with parents, teachers, and community members to help them improve their children’s education,” explains Miller Pittman.
Participants receive basic skills training, learn how to open a bank account and manage finances, identify and raise additional funds, run meetings, and build alliances with other organizations to advance their own efforts. Following the training, they also receive a micro grant—about $350 per community. Participants track their funds, learning how to connect their expenditures with their school improvement plans.
“They apply skills gained in training to manage their grants,” says Miller Pittman, “from opening an account, to raising additional funds to supplement that micro grant, to purchasing things like equipment for sports activities, a cupboard to keep books in, or resources to establish a library—whatever it is they decide as a community to spend the micro grant on.”
Representatives from parent-teacher associations and school management committees advocate for their educational needs at the district government level. Annual district education forums bring together these representatives from each of the 28 school communities in a district to share progress and discuss common educational issues. As a larger body, the representatives meet with district officials to share their experiences and issues and to hear how their needs can be addressed. Such forums model a way in which the government can get input from citizens to better inform their annual education plans.
“By focusing on developing skills among people at the community level and with government officials at the district level, community ownership will continue to increase in the areas in which GAIT II has been working and also ideally expand to new communities and districts through the support and leadership of district level officials,” says Miller Pittman.
Originally published on October 24, 2008