"Enduring memories" - experiencing the impact of the GEC in Ghana

23 January 2023 by George McLaughlin, Girls' Education Programmes Team Leader, FCDO

In April 2022, I became FCDO’s Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC). This was just as the UK – and much of the rest of the world - entered its first COVID-19 lockdown. Great timing!

In my 35-year career with FCDO and its predecessor organisations (DFID and ODA) I have been the SRO for numerous development programmes across the world. I usually aim to visit the programme as soon as possible to meet delivery partners and make sure I really understand what we are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, COVID-19 travel restrictions meant that this was not possible and for a long (long!) time I relied on the advice and insights from the FCDO and GEC Fund Manager teams.

As the world started to open up in early 2022 and some international travel became feasible, I was keen to undertake visits that had not yet been possible. My first trip was planned for Ghana, to visit GEC projects. The first plan to visit in late April collapsed when the Ghanaian schools closed for an extended Easter holiday and the revised plan to visit in mid-June suffered the same fate when I caught COVID-19! Third time lucky - the visit went ahead in July. I would like to use this belated blog to share my reflections from this fascinating visit.

Over the course of five days, I met with GEC partners, visited Tolon in Northern Region of Ghana to meet District Education Office staff, Afrikids and ‘STAGE’ project learners, met District Education Office staff from Ningo Prampram, and held discussions with Ministry of Education staff. I spoke with young women who have transitioned from being out of school into formal basic schools (including a school for the deaf) or are running businesses, as well as their teachers and parents.

The objective of the visit was to understand the impact and sustainability of the GEC programme across the three projects implemented in Ghana since 2013: The Discovery Project run by Impact(Ed), Making Ghanaian Girls Great! (MGCubed) run by Plan International, and Strategic Approaches to Girls Education (STAGE) led by World Education Inc. with seven downstream NGO partners. In Ghana, the GEC has supported over 130,000 girls and 110,000 boys from disadvantaged backgrounds to access education and learn.

I saw how material support and proactive negotiation with families was important for girls’ transition to school, between levels of school and for retention in rural areas. The GEC’s strong focus on safeguarding has improved project school and partners’ policies, processes and practices. Through these and other efforts, attitudes towards girls’ education, disability and girls’ self-efficacy have improved. Disability-inclusion was an area which needed to be strengthened. Our visit to the school for the deaf will be an enduring memory and is an example of how, with a little bit of care and money, life-changing opportunities can be provided for children.

I also saw some of the best of what the GEC can do working alongside the Ghanaian Government. There were clear examples of the GEC influencing Ministry of Education policies, strategies and reforms, and strong and sustained relationships between the Ministry at national and district levels, project partners and FCDO. On sustainability, Discovery Project and MGCubed partner schools are continuing to use EdTech, project resources and girls’ clubs to improve teaching and learning.

It is clear to me that despite what the GEC and others have achieved significant issues remain for girls’ education in Ghana. These include migration from rural areas to urban areas, adolescent pregnancy, early marriage, gender-based violence, limited range of livelihoods in home communities and poor school infrastructure. As in many other places, finance remains a challenge for continuing support for girls’ education and out-of-school children.

As for the GEC operation itself in Ghana, the working relationship between the FCDO Education Adviser, GEC Fund Manager and GEC delivery partners is outstanding and I’m sure this has contributed to what it has achieved.

I’m grateful to everyone who made the visit such success and particularly to the GEC delivery partners who provided a warm welcome, along with valuable insights and access to their work. I also want to thank Grace Wood and Michelle Lewis Sandall who stuck with me patiently through every mile, meal and meeting. I learned so much from both of them in a very short time.

I would like to do another trip soon, any ideas?