Innovator Interview: Brighter Futures Programme

Wambui Munge
 

To solve the lack of school facilities in remote rural areas in Central and Western Ghana, the Brighter Futures Programme has developed a model to construct sustainable kindergarten complexes with the technical support of Arup, a global engineering firm. Located in strategic areas, these schools aim to provide children with the best learning environment. The program is run by the Sabre Charitable Trust in close collaboration with Ghana Education Service (GES). CEI recently interviewed Dominic Bond, Managing Director of Sabre Charitable Trust to learn more about this innovative model: 

Tell us a little bit about Brighter Futures Programme program in Ghana?

Established in 2008, the Brighter Futures Programme provides an innovative and carefully considered response to the challenges of poor learning environments and weak teacher capacity in the kindergarten (KG) sector in Ghana, which is delivered through Building Better Schools and Transformational Teacher Training. KG is the start of formal education for children in Ghana, and is made up of two years of compulsory schooling for all four and five year olds.

During 2012, key members of the Sabre team were closely involved in the development of the Ghana Education Service (GES) Operational Plan to Scale up Quality KG Education Nationwide. The development of the plan was a highly consultative and participatory process, which has been widely praised for its extensive stakeholder participation, and the scope and innovation of the interventions proposed. Following the publication of the plan, we realigned our goals for the Brighter Futures Programme to ensure that our projects are fully aligned to and supportive of GES national plans.

Sabre is currently building Centre of Excellence KG schools at two of the seven Colleges of Education responsible for pre-service teacher training in the KG sector in Ghana. These schools use the Sustainable KG Complex design, which Sabre developed through a six-year partnership with international design and engineering firm Arup. The four schools already completed by the Sabre-Arup partnership have won domestic and international recognition as some of the very best kindergarten schools in Ghana, and have been profiled as exemplar projects at conferences on quality learning environments, community based construction, and safe school construction.

In tandem with our school construction work, we have spent the past two years piloting the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme (FTTT) with GES and OLA College of Education. This approach provides improved practical teaching placements for Early Childhood Diploma students through the creation of a network of Model Practice Classrooms in the vicinity of their College of Education. The pilot FTTT began in August 2013 and is due to complete in July 2015.

What makes Sabre Charitable Trust approach to education innovative?  How does Brighter Futures Programme reflect Sabre Charitable Trust’s mission?

Innovation is one of the core values on which Sabre was founded, and we see our role in our partnership with GES to develop and test innovative approaches, which enhance existing government education systems. In this way, the Brighter Futures programme blends innovation with a strong commitment to working with and through government.

We strive to bring innovation to all aspects of the Brighter Futures programme and the following are just a few examples:

  • The schools we build are designed with learners in mind (which is surprisingly innovative in Ghana!), and provide ample indoor and outdoor learning areas to support the new child-centred, active and play-based pedgagogy GES is advocating for KG.
  • The schools we build are also very “green” schools, and make use of locally-sourced materials in creative ways to prove that these low-cost materials can deliver high-quality environments – some examples of the materials we use are bamboo, coconut fibre, stabilized soil blocks, and pozzalana cement made from fired palm kernels. The schools are also fitted with simple systems to harvest rain water for hand-washing, cooking and drinking.
  • In a Ghanaian context the new pedagogy for early years education is highly innovative, taking a child-centred and play-based approach, which is radically different to the entrenched system of rote-based learning. The use of phonics and an integrated thematic approach to session planning are further key innovations of the pedagogy.
  • Our teacher training programme is highly intensive, and devolves key aspects of training to the live classroom environment through In Class Coaching sessions, ensuring that teachers are able to effectively implement what they learn in the workshops.
  • The teacher training bridges the gap between in-service and pre-service training, by placing student teachers in Model Practice Classrooms, where the teachers are being supported to become high quality practitioners and mentors.
  • Significant emphasis is placed on teacher-made resources to support activity-based learning, and we have developed a Teacher Resource Toolkit, which provides instructions to help teachers make resources from recycled materials such as bottle tops, cardboard boxes, plastic water sachets and plastic bottles.
  • By building the Centre of Excellence KG schools on campus at the Colleges of Education, we are fully integrating our building schools and teacher training work, and in addition to being fully function GES schools, the centres will provide teacher training venues and expose student teachers to classroom practice much earlier in their course.

How has your program developed since its founding?  Are there plans on expanding this program to different countries or regions?

In 2008, the Brighter Futures programme began with a project to design the Sustainable KG Complex, and in this respect our work had a strong infrastructure leaning. We always recognized the importance of the teacher training component, as a fantastic building is nothing more than a pretty shell, if the teachers inside it are not able to fire the imaginations of the children they teach. As Sabre’s capacity grew, we became more active in teacher training, working with a small number of KG teachers to test new approaches to training and pedagogy.

Following our involvement in the development of the GES Operational Plan in 2012, we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with GES and OLA College of Education in the Central Region to trial the plan's innovative new approach to training KG teachers – the FTTT. Since then, our teacher training work has gained increasing profile, and in 2014, the FTTT project was recognized by the World Bank’s Early Learning Partnership as a promising preschool practice in Africa. We are also now using our Building Better Schools work more strategically to support teacher training through the construction of on-campus Centres of Excellence KG schools at the Colleges of Education.

We have already expanded out of our base in the Central Region to the Western Region, and have identified the nationwide network of Colleges of Education and Universities as a route to scaling the Brighter Futures programme across Ghana. We have received interest in the Brighter Futures programme from a number of NGOs operating in other countries, and are very interested in forging partnerships to adapt and replicate the approach beyond Ghana.

How has your relationship with Ghana Educational Services helped your program? Have you encountered any challenges working so closely with the government? If so, how have you overcome them?

We build schools with the District Assemblies, for GES, and we train teachers on the government payroll and student teachers coming through the further education system. We are not setting up parallel systems, but working hard to enhance the existing ones. For us this is also the key to sustainability, and has always been a defining feature of Sabre’s approach.

Our partnership with the government is therefore incredibly important to us, and whilst there are inevitable challenges and constraints to working so firmly in the public sector, we have not encountered any insurmountable challenges. Mutual respect is very important, as is taking the time to understand the systems and rationale for why things happen in certain ways. It is only with this understanding that you can start to identify ways to improve systems, and bring about meaningful and lasting change.

Three members of the Brighter Futures team were part of the expert team which supported GES to develop the Operational Plan. Our commitment to helping deliver this plan has meant that, in the context of early childhood education, we have a very strong relationship with GES at the national, regional and district levels, which is founded on our shared commitment to work together in delivering innovative solutions to improve the quality of KG education in Ghana.

How does Brighter Future Programme determine what education topics to tackle?

In the early years of Sabre’s activity in Ghana (2003-2008), in consultation with GES, we identified the KG sector as being the one in greatest need of support, and when the policy to introduce compulsory KG education for all came into effect in 2007, this provided an important catalyst for narrowing our programme focus. Within the KG sector, we have always recognized the importance of taking an integrated and holistic approach, and in this way the Brighter Futures programme tackles the key issues around access and quality through building schools, training teachers and supporting the creation of learning resources.

We are also engaging head teachers, education officers and parents through different facets of the programme, which is really important to raise awareness about the value of kindergarten education, and tackle some of the underlying system-level barriers to delivering quality early years education.

Through the FTTT project we have also supported important work on assessment, collaborating with GES and OLA College of Education to develop and trial tools to measure teacher performance and pupil achievement, in this way monitoring, evaluation and learning is a really important theme for us as well.

Our fundamental principle is that we do not select the education topics to tackle in isolation. We work collaboratively with our partners in GES, the Colleges of Education and the private sector to identify need and develop appropriate, sustainable and scalable responses.

What has been the overall impact of the program?

Through the Building Better Schools element, we have completed four Sustainable KG Complexes to date, and have another two schools on site this year. These construction projects have trained 73 community laborers in sustainable construction technologies, and over their 25 year minimum lifespan will provide high quality early learning environments for at least 6,200 children.

Since August 2013, when we began piloting the FTTT, 235 teachers have received training and 5,360 children have benefited from being taught through the new pedagogy. As new cohorts of student teachers graduate through the Model Practice Classrooms, the impact of the FTTT increases exponentially, and in the next five years at least 432 teachers and 21,400 children will benefit from this pilot project. The FTTT project has already had a significant impact on student-teacher confidence and ability, with a 103% increase in student-teachers achieving the top grade practical assessment. Through the FTTT we have trained twelve trainers drawn from lecturers at OLA College of Education and serving GES teachers, this group will have the knowledge and skills to continue delivering the training in years to come, and also support the replication of the model with other institutions.

Where do you hope to see your program going in the future? What are the goals?

We have exciting routes to scale identified for both elements of the Brighter Futures programme.

On Building Better Schools, we will continue to build on-campus Centres of Excellence KG schools at Colleges of Education and Universities in Ghana, and there is an existing network of at least eight tertiary institutions we hope to work with over the coming years. At the same time, we will this year complete a research and redesign project to develop a smaller and cheaper scalable version of the Sustainable KG Complex, which we then plan to take to scale through direct implementation and collaboration with other partners in Ghana and other African countries. Over the next five years we plan to build at least 15 schools ourselves, but expect this number to be significantly higher when collaborations with other implementing partners are included.

On Transformational Teacher Training, there is a clear opportunity to replicate the FTTT with other Colleges of Education and Universities in Ghana who provide pre-service teacher training for KG teachers. We are also collaborating on an exciting new project to develop a short in-service training course for untrained KG teachers in both public and private sector schools. Additionally we are considering ways in which we can support teachers in lower primary (P1-P3) to continue to support child-centred and active learning, and build on the early grade reading skills started through the phonics programme we use in KG.

Ultimately our goal is to improve access and quality of early years education in Ghana and beyond, both through our own projects and via collaborations with other partners, giving as many children as possible the best start to their education.

To view Brighter Futures Programmes CEI profile, click here.

Images courtesy of Sabre Charitable Trust, (c) Jack Brockaway

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