What Works in Early Childhood Education in Ghana?

[Dr. Evelyn Owusu-Oduro] Since 1843 we’ve had kindergartens attached to our primary schools, but some of them didn’t survive due to financial
constraints. Until 1961, when we had a structure for contents for education,
there was some recommendation for kindergartens to be parts of the
education structure. Our biggest challenge has been the teacher gap. We don’t have the qualified number of teachers teaching at early childhood education. Even though there has been a series of attempts to help teachers to
improve their academic qualifications in that sector. We also have a gap in the
infrastructure and materials. [Dr. Sharon Wolf] Ghana is a really unique country to
study and think about early childhood education. It’s been a pioneer on the
continent in expanding two years of pre-primary education called
kindergarten as part of the universal free basic education system in the
country. Because this policy was rolled out in 2007, Ghana has made
tremendous strides in increasing access to an enrollment in kindergarten
education. The key issues the government is now grappling with is how to ensure
that that education is high-quality, and that children are really learning and
developing to their full potential by having access to early childhood
education. The Fast Track Transformational
Teacher Training Program, or FTTT as we call it, is a model program
designed to support teachers in their pre-service training to become
kindergarten teachers. It’s an intervention that includes training,
monitoring, and support—both for the student teacher, and the kindergarten
teacher, who is really the the key trainer for the student teachers. The
program sets up model practice classrooms to give student teachers a
sense of when they are then placed as full-time teachers what their classrooms
could and should look like, how to implement the kindergarten curriculum
within those model practice classrooms, and the goal is to get teachers ready to
then go on and start their own teaching career wherever they’re placed around
the country. In partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action Ghana, the Ghana Education Service, and Sabre Charitable Trusts, we designed an evaluation to understand the impact that the FTTT program was having both on
student teachers during their training year and the following year when they were placed as full-time teachers. So 135 student teachers completed their
coursework at the Holy Child College of Education in 2015, and Sabre
Charitable Trusts only had enough funds to support half of them in the FTTT program. So we randomized student teachers to either be placed
in an FTTT school or placed in whatever placement school they would
have been assigned to otherwise, and we were able to then track these student
teachers over the course of that year and then follow them as they were placed
throughout the entire country and follow them in their first year as what is
called “newly qualified teachers.” In that final year as newly qualified teachers,
we were able to do a whole set of classroom observations surveys with
teachers as well as assessing the learning and development of the children
in their classrooms to understand how FTTT was transforming teachers’
experiences and ultimately classroom practices. As student teachers and in the following
year as full-time teachers, those who were trained in the FTTT schools
had much higher knowledge of the kindergarten curriculum as well as
implementation—they were using many more of the activities and structural
resources from the curriculum in their classroom. Impacts were very large, over two standard deviations. We also found that teachers had more
motivation if they were trained in the FTTT program, specifically
around teaching and higher rates of personal accomplishments. And these
persisted the following year as they were placed as newly
qualified teachers. One unexpected finding is these teachers were less
satisfied with their jobs as they became full-time teachers. By the final wave,
which was one year after their training, all of those impacts essentially faded
out. So by not having ongoing support the differences between the treatment and
control group by the end of the first placement year had basically disappeared
in terms of classroom quality. The Quality Preschool for Ghana program
was a partnership between myself and my colleagues Larry Aber and Jere Behrman:
a partnership between us, Innovations for Poverty Action Ghana,
Ghana Education Service, which is part of the Ministry of Education, and the
National Nursery Teachers Training Centre, one of the premier teacher training
centers in the country. And our goal was really to find scalable ways to improve
the quality of the kindergarten education sector in the country. So
working with lead trainers in the country, we developed an in-service
teacher training to support teachers to use the curriculum for kindergarten,
which is actually a wonderful curriculum. Many teachers, however, are not trained on it, so to actually train them on the curriculum, and then to provide ongoing
coaching and monitoring and feedback for teachers throughout the year as they
integrate these practices into their classrooms. [Dr. Larry Aber] We took 240 schools in the
Greater Accra region and we assigned them by lottery to business as usual, to
the teacher training program, or to the teacher training program plus a parent
awareness component. So we had three groups: business as usual, teacher
training only, and teacher training plus parent awareness. if you assign schools
by chance, by lottery, to those three conditions and you follow them over time,
any differences that emerge you can safely say is caused by the teacher
training program or the teacher training program plus the parent awareness
program. So these kinds of random assignment studies are how we get good
medicines, how we get all sorts of things in the world. They’re kind of the basic
science of learning in human development. [Teacher] Once upon a time, I wrote a letter to the zoo
to send me a pet, so they sent me an- Elephant! [Dr. Sharon Wolf] We found that the teacher
training was very effective in improving classroom quality. Teachers were using
many more elements and activities from the curriculum in their classrooms, the
quality of interactions between teachers and children—which are really the
drivers of children’s development—was improved. Teachers’ rate of burnout were
reduced, actually, we found very large reductions in teachers feeling
emotionally drained from their work and as a result of that we actually saw a
very large reductions in teacher turnover rates, primarily in the private sector. So just by virtue of engaging in this training, teachers were much more
likely to stick with their jobs through the end of the year and for children to
have a consistent teacher for the entire school year is a really big gain. We
also found that these differences in classroom quality and teacher
professional well-being appear to translate into improved outcomes for
children so we found positive impacts on children’s school readiness, which is a
composite measure of behavioral and academic skills. When we broke that down, we saw that that was really driven by impact in multiple domains: children’s
early literacy skills, early numeracy skills, and also their social and
emotional development. [Dr. Larry Aber] IPA has been a really wonderful partner
to academics like us doing this kind of work because IPA has field offices in
over 20 countries, one of them being in Ghana, they’re here for the long haul.
They’re making relationships with schools, with ministers, and so they are
able to help researchers tune into the policy and practice debates and help the
policy and practice communities learn more about research. The implications of the research for
practice are that it is possible for teachers to become more skilled, more
sensitive, more effective in the classroom. And when they do, children
learn more, and that’s a very positive message. We don’t have to sit and have
untrained teachers, we don’t have to sit and let children not be as ready for
school as parents and communities want them to be. [Dr. Sharon Wolf] Together both of these
studies inform the broader goal of improving young children’s education in
Ghana. Both show the potential for transforming teaching practice to
support the national curriculum and integrate more child-friendly pedagogy.
And that when teachers implement these practices, children learn more, and
develop their socio-emotional skills. If implemented together, the FTTT and
QP4G training models have the potential to truly transform
kindergarten education in Ghana.

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