13 March 2012
Ghana’s government is investing in new leadership training across the country’s primary schools thanks to the combined energies of 20 inspiring Ghanaian headteachers and the expertise of a Bristol-led research programme known as EdQual.
Led by Professor Leon Tikly at Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, EdQual is a £2.5 million collaborative research programme between six universities in the UK and Africa funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Their work aims to improve educational quality for some of the world’s most disadvantaged learners, particularly in Africa, combining findings from five interlinking research projects. One of these projects, “Leadership and management”, gave Ghanaian academics enough evidence to persuade their government to fund national professional development programmes for primary school leaders throughout Ghana.
Researchers from Bristol and Ghana’s Cape Coast University began the project with 20 primary schools in 2008, training heads in Participatory Action Research techniques or PAR. Headteachers used PAR to identify a particular problem in their school, collect and analyse base-line data, and then design and evaluate an intervention to address the issue.
The success of this kind of research rests with the headteacher who understands the problems and obstacles that their community faces and what will work best for their school. “Heads now view themselves as researchers.” says Dr Angeline Barrett, Lecturer at the Graduate School of Education. “It’s no good us having the expertise here. That doesn’t do anything for learners in Africa. What matters is that the knowledge is with the practitioners in the environment that they are working in.”
Empowered by these techniques, heads went on to implement a range of successful initiatives in their schools during the project. They engaged local community support for a school meal programme, offered remedial classes to boys who were going out to work instead of coming to school, and developed a programme to reduce levels of sexual risk and pregnancy for young girls. A school serving hearing-impaired children introduced an initiative to raise reading competencies and improve communication skills for both students and parents through the use of sign, reducing children’s isolation at home. Simpler projects influenced parents to make sure children ate breakfast and came to school with pen and exercise books, and another headteacher, running his school single-handedly, persuaded the district education office to appoint more teachers.
Prior to this, the educational landscape in Ghana was heavily prescribed by the Headteachers’ Handbook issued by the country’s Education Service as well as education policy targets set out in response to the Millennium Development Goals. The aim had been to drive up standards. The result was that most school leaders felt like bureaucrats and were resigned to poor educational outcomes for their students because of the challenging social circumstances they faced each day.
When the Bristol team returned two years on, things had changed dramatically, as Professor Tikly explains: “After the Ghana team had been doing Action Research with the heads we couldn’t keep them quiet! They were full of enthusiasm for the changes that they had made. When you walk into a good school you can feel that there’s a buzz and that’s what had been released in Ghana.”
Making this turnaround even more remarkable is that it is taking place in some of the most disadvantaged communities in sub-Saharan Africa. High levels of poverty mean that educators deal with a lack of basic equipment such as pens, paper and exercise books as well as absenteeism where families are forced to send children to work. And then there is a lack of resource within the home itself. Children come to school with no breakfast and when they get home they have no light source or personal space to do schoolwork.
The research is also breaking down barriers between schools and academic institutions within the country. Schools are seeing academic colleagues as collaborators rather than remote analysts and theorists. This cultural shift is realising another aim of the project by establishing the African institutions as centres of excellence for future education research. By collaborating to raise the quality of education for some of the world's most disadvantaged communities, hopes are now high that this work will begin to show benefits at both local and internationals level in helping to create the conditions for increased economic independence for the individual and the country as a whole.
EdQual. Implementing education quality in low income countries is the largest grant ever made to the Graduate School of Education. Bristol led a consortium of six academic institutions including the Universities of Bath, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Cape Coast (Ghana), Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the Kigali Institute of Education (Rwanda).
Funded by the Department for International Developent (DfID), the programme incorporated five large scale projects that ran from 2005-2011:
Professor Leon Tikly was the director on “Implementing education quality in low income countries” and is a Professor in Education at the Graduate School of Education
Dr Angeline Mbogo Barrett was the research and communications co-ordinator on the research programme and is a Lecturer at the Graduate School of Education
Please contact Alison Leach for further information.
Students in a Ghana primary school
Image by Professor Leon Tikly
Heads now view themselves as researchers. It’s no good us having the expertise here. That doesn’t do anything for learners in Africa. What matters is that the knowledge is with the practitioners in the environment that they are working in.