This post was first published in The Conversation Africa
Researchers know very little about the daily lives and education of children who are excluded from formal schooling. According to UNESCO’s definition of “out of school” these children are never expected to enrol, have dropped out or are expected to enrol later in formal schooling.
But a case study in Ghana suggests that there may be a different way of considering notions of literacy and schooling.
This is important because goals set for universal primary educationunder the Millennium Development Goals have not been achieved. What to do about this was discussed at the recent 2015 World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea where delegates mapped out the world’s educational agenda for the next 15 years.
A Ghanaian story
In Ghana, 80% of school-aged children are enrolled in primary school. This leaves up to one million children between the ages of six and 14 recorded as “out of school”.
Savelugu is a big country town about 650km north of Ghana’s capital city. The major - and only - highway to Burkina Faso splits the town in half. More than 97% of the area’s residents are small-scale farmers. Savelugu is considered a deprived district because it performs poorly against a number of key development indicators. The 2014 UNICEF Ghana District League Table ranked Savelugu 138th out of the West African country’s 216 districts.
A few kilometres from Savelugu’s town centre are the small communities of Botingli and Bunglung. Every morning the villages' children work on farms and do household chores. They also learn the Qur'an. They do not attend formal public school. Most never have and the rest dropped out during their early years.
But on four or five afternoons a week, 25 children in each community make their way into a classroom in twos and threes. During these lessons, which last for about three hours, children are taught numeracy and literacy in their mother tongue, Dagbanli.
The afternoon classes are part of a nationwide program called Complementary Basic Education. International donors, the government of Ghana and non-government organisations are working together to oversee and implement CBE for 200 000 children who don’t attend formal school. The programme aims to provide flexible and accelerated literacy and numeracy schooling to out-of-school children over the course of nine months.
Once they have completed the programme, children are encouraged to enter or re-enter public schooling at either Grade 4, 5 or 6 level. Children can achieve similar learning outcomes in nine months that their peers achieved in three to four years of formal schooling. This is a huge saving in opportunity costs to parents and families living in poverty.
Literary practices in the frame
For two weeks in February and March of 2015, 10 children from Botingli and Bunglung were invited at random to participate in a PhD research project. They were asked to document their literacy practices using digital cameras. More than 4000 images were captured by the ten children. These offer some fascinating insights and challenge long-standing notions of what it means to be literate or illiterate and out of school.