The day was Wednesday, August 24, 2016. I had gone to Kujawein in the Bunkrugu District of the Northern Region to cover a programme on the menace of Open Defecation. The weather was clear as the skies gave way to the hot sun rays. It was 12:17p.m. That was my first day in Kujawein.
Thatch-roofed mud houses dominate structures in the community. Kujawein is a farming community with a population of about 600 people. My eyes continued to scan the make-up of the community although I was not new to the village setting.
My first day observation at Kujawein however, sharply contrasted the import of the popular saying by the late celebrated former South African leader, Nelson Mandella, that: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. If there is any truth in this saying, then children in Kujawein are born to be powerless and noncompetitive against the rest of the world.
I observed with a troubled heart the number of school-age children, who were loitering in the community as of the time of our visit. These children should have been in school at the time we found them in the community wondering aimlessly.
Why are these children here at this time and not in school?” I softly asked a parent who offered me a chair under one shea tree. Her name was Latifa.
We don’t have a school here so our children have to travel for about five kilometers to Temaa D/A Primary to attend school. That is why many of the children are home. Only the elderly ones can walk to school so normally they start school at age eight, she said.
It sounded unbelievable, that children from this community should have to walk about 5km to Temaa every day to attend the Temaa D/A Primary school. They repeat the effort after school.
Latifa’s response drove a knife into my heart, virtually. I was disturbed by the ages of the children who were yet to start school. I was sad also because elsewhere in Accra and other big towns in Ghana, some children start schooling as early as six months. But for children in Kujawein, the self-imposed age to start school is eight or more.
Latifa who could not go to school herself had four children. Only two of her children were in school. One was 14 and the other nine. They are in primary three and two respectively.
Hawa Alhassan is one of the children I found at the village. She was 13 years. When I asked her of her name in English, she could not answer because she did not understand what I had said. A colleague of mine had to translate what I said in Bimoba for her.
Having known Hawa’s name, I asked her what she would love to become in future. In a Bimoba language, she said she would want to become a nurse. Her dream of becoming a nurse was to enable her treat pregnant women in her community who struggle to go to hospital during childbirth. But Hawa’s dream seems like a mirage.
Children such as Hawa, Zamana Ahmed, 9, and Mohammed Dauda, 11, in Kujawein, are among the over 440,000 out-of-school children in Ghana. These children are likely not to get formal education if proper interventions are not instituted to meet their needs.
As it is rightly captured in the thoughts of a former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Kofi Annan, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”. Children in Kujawein, like their colleagues in Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast, deserve equal opportunity and access to quality education.
For instance, Goal Four (4) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The framers of the SDGs did not target only the few privileged children in society but all children.
The SDGs, otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
The main objective of the SDGs is to serve as a guide to world leaders to take decisions and actions that would improve life, in a sustainable way, for both the present and future generations.
Globally, it is estimated that there about 57 million out-of-school children, with Africa having the largest concentration. Nigeria, for instance, holds the highest figure in Africa of about 10.5 million out-of-school children.
In the July 28, 2017 report by the Secretary General of UN, António Guterres, on SDGs, titled “Progress towards the SDGs”, he said achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all will require increasing efforts, especially in sub-Saharan Africa for the vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas.
According to the report, about 263 million children and youth are out of school, including 61 million children of primary school age with Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia accounting for over 70 per cent of the global out-of-school population in primary and secondary education.
Ghana has since independence made significant strides in its education system. Notable among these policies and programmes include the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) programme, introduced in October, 1996.
The FCUBE programme was introduced among other things, to ‘expand access to good quality basic education’ in Ghana.
It was also to improve teacher morale and motivation through incentive programmes as well as ensuring adequate and timely supply of teaching and learning materials to schools.
However, the growing numbers of out-of-school children in the country appear to be an imminent threat that could thwart Ghana’s efforts in achieving SDG 4.
According to the 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), about 440,000 children aged 6-14 are estimated to be out-of-school, with the situation being worse in northern Ghana.
Most of these out-of-school children are those mostly found in hard-to-reach communities, children from poor households, children with disabilities, and working children.
The Ghana 2010 Census data indicates that the proportions of the population who have never been to school in the three regions in northern Ghana range between 44.5 per cent in Upper East and 54.9 per cent in the Northern region while in the other regions, it ranges between 10.1 per cent.
On April 6, 2017, Plan Ghana, an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), rescued and provided Complementary Basic Education (CBE) to 9,139 out-of-school children in four districts in the Northern Region. The children were drawn from Tatale-Sangule, Chereponi, Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo and the Tamale Metropolitan Assemblies.
The Director of Supervision of the Ghana Education Service (GES) in the Northern Region, Alhaji Issah Abah, in an interview blamed the high numbers of out-of-school children in the region on the lack of parental responsibility.
He said many parents had shirked their responsibilities to send their wards to school, and were instead using such children on their farms.
He expressed worry that most of the out-of-school children, particularly the girls, usually ended up migrating to the southern part of the country to engage in head porterage, popularly known as Kayayei.
Contributing to the issues, the Northern Regional Coordinator of Plan Ghana, Mr Stephen Konde said there are many communities in the country especially in the northern Ghana without schools, adding that such communities have huge numbers of the out-of-school children.
“For us as a nation to meet the SDG 4, we need to improve upon our current infrastructure”, he said.
He explained that although government is doing well in combatting out-of-school children menace, a lot more needed to be done in transitioning some of the CBE learners from remote areas to schools within the GES approved 5 km radius.
Mr Konde said most of the out-of-school children enrolled in formal school system by Plan Ghana under the CBE programme are aged between eight and 14, adding that the children were rescued from 189 communities.
On Tuesday, October 27, 2015, the then Acting Deputy Director General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Stephen Adu, who was speaking at the 20th anniversary of School for Life, an NGO in Tamale, said the over 440,000 out-of-school children constituted a critical mass whose continuous exclusion from the school system will thwart the nation’s goal on education for all.
“We are denying all such children the opportunity for them to also contribute their quota to the development of this our great nation”, he added.
On September 27, 2017, the Daily Graphic reported that more than 8,000 out-of-school children in the Kpandai District in the Northern Region have been enrolled in formal schools through the CBE programme by Ibis-Ghana, an NGO, since 2013 to date.
The CBE, introduced in 2013, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Department for International Development (DFID) in partnership with government and some NGOs, is an education programme that provides literacy and numeracy skills to out-of-school children before they are absorbed in the formal education system.
The goal of the CBE which will end in 2018 is to enroll 200,000 out-of-school children.
One of the greatest challenges CBE learners face has to do with availability and access to primary school facilities. This is because most of the CBE beneficiaries who live far away from school tend to stop schooling along the way.
The way forward
All over the world, education as a subject has received prominent attention and treatment. This is because education enlightens people. The move to achieve quality education for all, rages on unabated.
It is believed that people who keep their children from going to school do so because they have limited understanding and knowledge about the importance of education. However, we can change the narrative in our time by ensuring that all children of school going age in Ghana have access to quality education no matter where they found themselves.
For us to achieve SDG4, it will require our collective effort in tackling the menace of out-of-school children in the country. Until we tackle the menace of out-of-school children, Ghana will find it very difficult to achieve education for all as stipulated in Goal 4 of the SDG.
Let us work to provide school infrastructure for hard-to-reach communities, provide incentives for teachers to accept postings to hard-to-reach communities, and also create awareness about the importance of education to compel parents not to keep their children from going to school.
I could not agree more with the former First Lady of the United States of America (USA), Michelle Obama, who said: “Empower yourself with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise”.
Let us empower all Ghanaian children with quality education for them to realise their goals in life and contribute to the building of the country.