Cocoa, Ghana’s “black gold” is one of her highest earning cash crops. Over the years, it has been the major source of employment and income for hundreds of thousands of rural dwellers across the country.
Ghana is the world’s largest cocoa producer after Cote d’Ivoire. Cocoa is vital to the strength of the formal economy as it employs 1.5 million people in production and transport. As in most cocoa-producing countries, the crop is grown by small-holder farmers.
Sadly, many of these farmers and their households, who live in the rural communities, have not had the opportunity to access quality education amongst other social interventions. Over the years, this situation has resulted in low levels of education in many cocoa growing communities. With a considerable number of aging cocoa farmers (majority of cocoa farmers are above the age of fifty years), and the seeming lack of interest from the younger generation, cocoa production in Ghana could be at risk.
Spurred on by this threat, cocoa industry players and development partners have teamed up to help empower cocoa farmers and their households through relevant education. This, it is hoped will help to sustain their livelihoods by expanding opportunities in cocoa growing communities. Contributing to these programs is World Education, Inc. (WEI) a private voluntary organization based in Boston, Massachusetts. It has a mission to meet the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged populations through social and economic development programs.
World Education has since 2009 been an implementing partner on the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) & USAID-funded Empowering Cocoa Households with Opportunities and Education Solutions (WCF-ECHOES) program in Ghana and more recently, since 2011 in Cote d’Ivoire. The WCF-ECHOES program is a public-private partnership between USAID, WCF and WCF member companies which begun in 2007.
WEI implements the basic education component of the program, with Winrock International, another implementing partner, handling the livelihoods component. WCF-ECHOES is implemented in thirty communities in the Sefwi Wiawso, Akontonbra, Juaboso, Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai, Atwima Nwabiagya and West Akim districts of the Western, Ashanti and Eastern regions. The current program runs till 2015.
From 2009-2011, a successful functional literacy program was developed for cocoa farming communities. It was based on WEI’s significant experiences in community-managed literacy programs in West Africa. During this period, several successes were achieved. Eighty-one community members were trained as local facilitators for adult and teen literacy classes. Almost 700 adults from 15 communities have completed basic literacy classes focusing on the development of reading, writing and numeracy skills; an additional 1,050 adults from another 15 communities are expected to also benefit from the program. The adult literacy program continues to impact the daily lives of many participants who are experiencing the benefits of reading and writing. Here are some examples from the Western region:
In Yawkrom, Martha Owusu, a 53 year old learner and a farmer, shared with field staff her success in terms of her ability to read and write and more importantly, being able to record her sales in a notebook which is helping her to better determine her gains and losses. She was particularly thankful to the program and her facilitator for dedicating time to teach her since prior to this class, she could not read, write nor calculate.
Madam Lydia Asigede, a 36 year old learner of Denchembosue, is extremely grateful to the literacy program because the skills she is gaining have helped improve her business through better record keeping. Also, she can assist her school going children to read and write Twi, which brings her great satisfaction.
Mr. Daniel Odum is a mason and has also been a farmer since 1988. He is a member of the Kojokrom adult literacy class and is 47 years old with 11 children, 7 of whom are in school. Mr. Odum could not read or write until he joined the WCF-ECHOES literacy classes. Thankfully, he can now read and write, and particularly can sign his name and read all passages from the Adult Literacy Primer. “I am extremely pleased with the work of the facilitators and really like the way the Literacy Management Committees manage the class”, he cheerfully noted.
Based on these successes, the adult literacy program has been expanded to integrate more content on Financial & Business literacy as well as Basic English literacy. In addition, the use of mobile phones will feature more prominently. It will be used both as a tool for learning and for the provision of additional interaction with adult learners. Mobile phones will serve as a monitoring system based on Frontline SMS by literacy facilitators.
Out-of-School Teens Literacy, Sports and Service
Despite efforts to increase enrollment at the basic level throughout Africa, there continues to be a large number of out of school children. Some drop out at various stages, while many others have never had the opportunity to enroll. Rural teens in cocoa communities face numerous challenges that prevent them from acquiring an education. The poor quality of education and its lack of relevance to their daily lives are among the reasons that account for the high dropout rates in the formal education system. Other reasons for this trend are economic difficulties and the need to work to supplement family incomes. The WCF-ECHOES out-of-school teens literacy activities are geared towards building the basic literacy and numeracy skills of children from 12 to 17 years who are out of school. It also supports them to re-enroll at the end of the nine month session.
From 2009-2011, about 400 out-of-school teens from 15 cocoa growing communities went through an accelerated literacy and numeracy program, with approximately 70% of them receiving ICT skills training and 50% re-enrolling in basic school after receiving their training.
The out-of-school teens also benefit from the integration of sports and life skills to further enhance their development. Life skills development, team work, leadership, community building and healthy living are key themes of the out-of-school teens activities. Literacy assessments are used to test the abilities of the teens and determine their readiness to re-enroll in school and also provide them with opportunities for continued learning support. The literacy facilitators who are trained community members work together with school authorities, teachers and School Management Committees. World Education supports the teens to re-enroll in basic school and creates opportunities for them to receive ongoing educational support to ensure their ultimate success in school.
To address the financial obstacle to re-enrollment, the program will now offer a micro grant to implement Income-generating activities (IGA) such as cocoa nurseries and vegetable gardens. This will be done jointly with the Adult Literacy classes, and income generated will be used to pay for school supplies of newly re-enrolled teens as well as adult literacy classes.
Early Grade Reading
While significant efforts have been made to increase primary school enrollment in West Africa, there are numerous indications that student learning is quite low. Assessments of reading skills of primary-school children have identified cases where many pupils have serious reading difficulties. As these challenged children progress through the school system it becomes increasingly difficult to learn as they are required to read even more in order to access new information. Resulting low school completion rates may make parents reconsider the economic sacrifice they make in order to send their children to school. Based on this and a growing body of literature showing the connection between early reading and improved education and economic outcomes, USAID has made early grade reading a key feature of its education strategy.
In WCF-ECHOES, early grade reading support activities are implemented in collaboration with District Education Offices with the aim of building upon existing programs such as the National Accelerated Literacy Program (NALAP).
The in-school reading program is based on: 1) integration with existing government initiatives to train teachers to more effectively teach children how to read; 2) collaboration with School Management Committee/ Parent Teacher Association (SMC/PTA) and the community to ensure that children spend time after school reading; 3) development and provision of early grade reading materials that include themes relevant to children in cocoa-farming communities; and, 4) training of teachers, administrators and school inspectors in reading instruction and conducting reading assessments. Reading assessment results will be used by SMC/PTA to hold schools accountable.
So far, training of trainers workshops on reading instruction have been held in 3 districts with over 35 circuit supervisors and headteachers being trained.
It is critical that all members of cocoa growing communities, both young and old are given opportunities to access quality and relevant education which will ultimately contribute to the holistic development and sustainability of these rural economies. Public and private sector partners need to continue to come together and invest in making this a reality across Ghana’s cocoa-growing communities.