This initiative is part of the 2015-16 WISE Accelerator Cohort.
About the initiative
Making Ghanaian Girls Great! (or MGCubed) is Ghana’s first interactive distance-learning project, started in June 2013. MGCubed (UK’s Department for International Development Girls’ Education Challenge innovation window project, delivered by the Varkey Foundation) uses cutting edge technology and multimedia content to deliver quality teaching to over five thousand students in deprived schools in Ghana. MGCubed aims to address the challenges of teacher quality, teacher absenteeism and poor student learning. The project has equipped two classrooms in 72 Ghana Education Service Primary schools, outfitted with solar-powered computers and projectors, so that real-time two-way interactive distance learning in basic Maths and English can occur for participating students, especially focusing on young girls aged seven to 16 living in deprived communities. Every day from the two teaching studios in the capital city of Accra live lessons are broadcast to the connected classrooms for interactive learning to occur. Each classroom during term time receives one hour of English Language, one hour of Mathematics, and an hour of gender sensitive training during the Wonder Women after-school girls’ club.
This pilot project is being independently evaluated through a Randomised Control Trial, conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) in Ghana. The Baseline report is already available, and the Midline report will be available in October 2015, and the Endline report after October 2016. The pilot is currently scheduled to operate until April 2017.
Context and Issue
Primary school-age girls in rural Ghana face daily barriers which prevent them learning: teachers are under-qualified and often absent; household labor keeps girls at home and early marriage or pregnancy means girls leave school. Choices and good role models in Ghana are limited. The levels of basic literacy and numeracy in primary schools are shockingly low: MGCubed’s baseline research (conducted in December 2013) gave students from all primary schools grades an international literacy test (EGRA) which assesses whether children can identify the alphabet and accurately sound letters and words out in either the local language or in English. At primary 2 level almost no children could complete these simple tasks correctly, and the highest performing students only scored 14 percent on the Letter Sound sub-task. Children have trouble demonstrating any reading comprehension of a short passage in either the local language or English.
Finally, remote rural government classrooms face several infrastructure challenges: no reliable electricity, inadequate numbers of desks and student textbooks, and no form of digital access to the wider world of educational resources available online.
The Solution and Impact
MGCubed’s educational goals are simple: to help all participating students achieve basic competency in reading and numeracy, as well as to raise the aspirations and school completion rates of the in-school and out-of-school girls attending their after-school girls’ club (Wonder Women).
MGCubed introduces an innovative technology package into two classrooms in each of the 72 schools in which we operate. This ICT infrastructure has been designed with several components which help overcome the specific challenges associated with operating in remote rural Ghanaian schools, namely a solar power solution to ensure reliable off-grid power, VSAT satellite dishes to ensure reliable internet connectivity, and a suite of robust dust-proof computer and audio-visual accessories to enable the students to enjoy their interactive remote lessons. The purpose of the classroom technology is primarily to allow the daily communication between the six well-trained Studio Teachers in the Accra teaching studios and all of the 142 connected classrooms. These teachers use well-structured lesson plans enhanced with digital educational content and delivered through modern teaching techniques (especially activity-based learning and phonetics, both of which are markedly absent from observed Ghanaian classrooms).
The after-school Wonder Women sessions take place four days per week. This is conducted in local language only and is a form of informal training, designed to instil further life skills for the participants and raise their self-confidence levels and aspirations to continue their education. The 30-week program covers a range of topics such as leadership, girls’ rights, sexual health, negotiating, financial literacy, and careers. A key feature of Wonder Women is the female role model guest attending every Thursday to speak to the girl students about their life choices, career pathways, and answer direct questions posed to them. This feature is designed to stretch the exposure of the girls to a range of female role models, and show them that they too can reach such heights.
A further major MGCubed program activity aiding the overall quality of the instruction is the presence of our trained Facilitators. These are the three government teachers in each of the 72 MGCubed schools who are involved within each of the classrooms overseeing the children during both in-school and after-school lessons. The Varkey Foundation has trained each of these teachers in modern pedagogy, child protection issues, basic technology usage, and some gender sensitivity topics. As such they are a vital link between the Studio Teachers and the students, and their classroom performance in both components has a direct result on the quality of all lessons delivered. Because they report to the Head Teacher and are involved with each School Management Committee, the facilitators also provide a critical link back into the communities. This helps to reinforce the increasingly positive, attitudinal changes towards girls’ education that their intervention hopes to achieve. They hope that the additional training our facilitators will receive, as well as their opportunity to observe lessons, will add to the improvements in teaching practice within the treatment schools, over the longer term.
The MGCubed pilot has two further full academic years to run, and is constantly seeking to improve its model and instructional quality. One key development in the upcoming academic year will be to split the multi-grade students into a Basic and Intermediate curriculum stream to better help their progression, whilst also increasing their integration within each of the 72 government schools in which they operate.
Given the commencement of their second major Ghana teacher training project in February 2015, we will be seeking to increase the quantity of teacher training and subject specialism support for all the teachers working within the 72 MGCubed schools over the coming year. Indeed, they are interested in testing the other applications of their distance learning communication platform for other community beneficiaries around the 72 connected schools; this may involve inviting Health or Agricultural NGO specialists to conduct adult training sessions to the parents of their MGCubed students by way of amplifying the development impact of the technology infrastructure and further cementing the community buy-in for the project.
The Varkey Foundation is constantly seeking to widen the MGCubed project’s impact through both international and local partnerships. They are already in discussions with various stakeholders about the various ways the pilot project can be sustainably funded and suitably scaled to continue having an impact beyond the pilot’s conclusion in April 2017.