Closing the Educational Gap in Rural Communities in Ghana
In a remote mountainous region of Ghana resides a project I’ve been working on for a third of my life – the Akaa Project. Akaa is a remote and rural community located in the Yilo Krobo District in the Eastern Region of Ghana. As a farming community, families rely on seasonal harvests and thus struggle with basic access to essential needs and services like medical care and clean water.
Started as a small project to provide daily classes to a few dozen students, we are now a non-profit organization focused on closing the educational gap in rural communities through literacy and computer education programs. We have developed a unique model that has a deep and integrated connection in the local community to where our team intimately know our students and their families.
2007 – No access to the most basic education
The idea for the Akaa Project started in 2007. I had traveled to Ghana for the first time and met this community, the Akaa community. The majority of children were not attending school because there was not one in their community. It was the summer before my final year of high school and I was in the middle of the college application process yet these children did not have access to the most basic education. I continued to think about this disconnect when I returned home to the US.
A few months later I had formed plans for daily classes for these children. A few months after that, community members banded together to build a simple structure: waist-high mud walls and a palm leaf roof. Children carried wooden stools from their homes to use as desks and chairs, three community members with basic education volunteered as teachers, and I fundraised in my hometown to purchase blackboards and chalk. 30 students now had access to daily classes.
Early childhood education has not yet reached all corners of the earth
The first five years of the program saw slow, gradual growth. At the time, the greatest challenge that the Akaa Project was seeking to address was getting children to school at a young age. The importance of early childhood education has not yet reached all corners of our earth and without access to a school, it is nearly impossible for those from impoverished communities.
Prior to our school’s establishment, only about 20% of children from this community would attend school. These students would make the hour long journey up the mountain through a narrow forest path to reach the closest school. But the distance caused high absenteeism rates and many would drop out before finishing 9th grade. The distance also meant that children from this community started school much later because they had to be capable of making the long walk. Students would begin their education at 9-12 years old, missing the most formative years critical to cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.
2016 – Strategic Shift
Children were now able to begin formal learning at age 4 – because they could easily walk to their school. And the school grew. In 2016, we made a strategic shift. We partnered with the Ghana Education Service, who provided us with additional teachers, logistics, and management support, and rolled out two major programs made possible by new construction. Our recently built library and community center is the hub of our activities. Built on school property, it aims to be a place where children can explore curiosity and access practical hands-on educational resources.
Through a partnership with international NGO, Worldreader, we now have an e-reader library. Loaded onto our 25 kindles are local storybooks and curriculum approved textbooks. These are used throughout the day in classes and during additional reading times. Our designated community librarian encourages and helps students prior to first bell, during breaks, and after school on discovering stories and continuing to practice their reading skills.
The library is also home to a computer lab of nearly 20 laptops. Rural students significantly lack access to technology in their homes and schools. They are at a major disadvantage when it comes to country-wide tests on the subject of technology and do not have exposure to new ideas and thoughts that technology can provide. With a Ghanaian NGO, Young at Heart GH, we designed a program and curriculum to teach students technology from the ground up with weekly hands on lessons. These students went from never having touched a laptop to creating power point presentations.
Trust, ownership and integrity are key
From the beginning, the Akaa Project was focused on community involvement. All of our staff are from within the villages we work and we have a community committee comprised of elders, parents, and grandparents who have a stake in decision-making. This has allowed deep trust, ownership, and integrity which are often difficult when working across borders. I strongly believe that this is the key characteristic that will allow us to continue to create educational opportunity in rural Ghana for the next generation.
Remark photography: With the addition of the library and computer hub to this community, students now have the opportunity to learn technology in a hands-on, practical way instead of merely on a blackboard and through books.