INGH’s Response to Closure of Schools.
As part of measures to deal with the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the government of Ghana ordered the closure schools from March 2020.
When measures put in place to deal with the disease begun to yield the required results, the government eased the restrictions and directed that final year students in Senior High School (SHS) and Junior High School (JHS) resume academic work in June 2020 in order to wrap up preparation for their final examinations. Subsequently SHS 2 and JHS 2 students also resumed school in September 2020.
However, the majority of pupils were to stay home indefinitely. The protracted closure of schools disrupted the academic calendar which should have ended in July. With these developing realities, the government of Ghana introduced learning programmes on TV for pupils. Unfortunately, majority of children in deprived and difficult to access communities could not take advantage because they are not connected to the national grid, do not have TVs or both. Most of International Needs Ghana (INGH) schools are in the deprived communities and could not participate in the learning interventions on TV.
INGH responded by implementing community-based reading clinics in 10 communities to minimize the negative effects of the protracted closure of schools.
The objective of the intervention was to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 by providing a learning opportunity for participants in order to sustain their interest in education. It was intended to contribute to improved reading and comprehension skills of participants. The clinics were also geared towards improving writing as well as numeracy skills of participants and sustaining their interest in learning and schooling and reduce absenteeism when schools reopen.
The clinics which ran from June to December 2020 reached out to over 1,300 children (class one to JHS 2) in 10 communities in Volta, Greater Accra and Central regions of Ghana. Participants were put into multigrade groups (maximum of 25 readers) and handled by a mentor. These mentors were teachers and volunteers within the community. Each mentor handled at least one group and they met twice or thrice weekly with strict adherences to COVID-19 safety and prevention protocols. Reading sessions were held in open-spaces within the community with each child coming along with a chair from home.
Throughout the period, community leaders, members, parents and mentors showed ownership of the intervention. The Community Child Protection Committees (CCPC) ( a selected team of dedicated, child-centered community members who are tasked to protect the best interest of the child at all times) in various communities mobilized participants for the clinic through Community Public Address Systems (COMPAS), community durbars, one-on-one and home-visits. The CCPCs encouraged parents to provide the needs of the children and motivated them to actively participate in the clinics.
INGH made available face masks, hand sanitizers and liquid soap for handwashing. Additionally, 1,350 grade-appropriate supplementary readers were provided. To observe handwashing during meetings, some communities constructed “tippy-taps” while other communities used the “Veronica buckets” provided by community leaders.
In the addition to the weekly reading meetings, INGH collaborated with the mentors to provide variety of activities to sustain the interest of the children. During these sessions, INGH staff and past INCAP beneficiaries mentored readers in the various communities. They read with them as well as encouraged them and answered their questions.
Additionally, INGH partnered with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and available traditional leaders to deepen the knowledge of participants of the reading clinic about effective Personal Hygiene Practices.
Participants also interacted with Samuel Odartey-Lamptey – a medical student from the University of Ghana Medical School and a beneficiary of the International Needs Child Assistance Programme (INCAP). Master Odartey Lamptey shared his experience with INCAP and educated the audience on COVID-19 infection prevention protocols.
INGH climaxed the reading clinics with an Intergroup Spelling Challenge in all the communities. The contest assessed the reading and spelling abilities of the contestants. Before the intergroup, each group organized an intragroup competition. This provided each participant an opportunity to spell and read. Consequent to that, the three winners in each represented their groups.
During the final, community leaders, CCPC members and parents were in attendance to cheer the contestants. At the end of the competition, parents, community leaders and CCPC members were excited about the performance of their contestants and pledged their support to continue with the good work started by INGH and ensure that children continue to read.
Some participants of the reading clinic shared their experiences:
- “When I joined the reading clinic, I could not read aloud because I was afraid to make mistakes. With the help of my teacher in the reading clinic, I can now read with confidence”
- “When my school closed, I was not sure I will have the chance to learn again because we have been going to the farm every day of the week. I am happy to part of the reading clinic now. I learn new words at every meeting and write sentences with them.
- “Practicing silent reading in our reading clinic group has been good for me. It helps me to identify new words. I never knew I could do it because I found it difficult to stay quiet for long.”
- “…. We won the spelling competition in our community because we worked as a team. When we did not get a question right, we encouraged ourselves…”
- “My team did not win the competition but I was excited about our confidence to answer questions”
A Nurse from the Ghana Health Service who was engaged to provide health education on the sidelines of the programme had this to say:
“I have worked with children all these years but your children are fun to be with. Their eagerness to answer questions is encouraging. I will not hesitate to attend your programmes especially when I have to engage with them.
A member of CCPC in one of the communities remarked
“The reading programme is good for children in our communities. It has helped them to be more confident to speak English. I was happy parents allowed their children to come for the reading clinic”