Poor achievement in rural schools is mainly a result of very poor learning environments and very poor quality of teaching. Substandard physical infrastructure, inadequate learning materials, and health risks from lack of latrines and clean water exemplify existing school conditions. Teaching methods are typically based on a “chalk and talk” teacher-centred lecture approach, even at elementary grade levels. Our holistic approach addresses all of these factors that contribute to lack of access to, and lack of quality of, education in the region. Our model consists of the following initiatives, included as part of each project:
We upgrade physical facilities, replacing dark, broken down mud classrooms with new cement block structures with tile floors. No longer do schools have to take Friday afternoons off in order for students to spread dung on classroom floors to keep the dust down. At each school, we also build a library, administration block, science laboratories and latrines. We furnish all buildings with locally made desks and chairs, and we provide sports equipment and library books.
Our Education experts hold regular teacher training workshops at all schools, in collaboration with the International Community School (ICS) and the Regional Education Department. These are based on a student-centred, experiential approach to learning, and introduce novel instructional resources, as well as holistic methods of evaluation, to all teachers, principals, and supervisors. Our experts continue weekly follow up, and mentor each teacher for three years. Selected teachers from each school also travel periodically to Addis Ababa to shadow classes of ICS teachers, learning new approaches, student engagement and assessment strategies. After these visits, they in turn mentor their fellow teachers. Special Needs teachers receive specific training from Special Needs teachers at ICS.
school greening and educational gardening
Our greening and educational gardening program consists of planting trees that will serve as live fences and canopies that provide shade for both indoor and outdoor classrooms. It also includes planting and maintaining organic vegetable gardens and fruit orchards at each school. Not only are students learning hands-on agricultural practices and gaining nutritional knowledge, but also, experiential learning approaches are being designed to integrate various aspects related to the gardens into a wide range of course curricula. The programs provide work for students and income for the school and local families. Support by way of providing seeds, seedlings, expertise, water tanks, irrigation equipment, farm implements and gardeners have been provided by Bahir Dar University, ISEE-urk, a Dutch NGO, and Compassionate Eye Foundation.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
We facilitate bringing water to each school via redirection of nearby protected springs and construction of reservoirs and distribution points. Wash basins are set up by latrines. In collaboration with the local Health Department, and the WET Centre (an affiliate of Calgary-based NGO, “CAWST”) sanitation and hygiene workshops are provided to students and teachers. WaSH clubs are strengthened at schools after the workshops, and trained students teach others and lead the school community in keeping the schoolyard, classrooms and latrines clean and safe. Our Education experts follow up implementation of the workshop lessons at each school on a regular basis. Anecdotal evidence indicates that students have been taking lessons learned home to their own families.
We have also started a school-based eye project in partnership with Operation Eyesight Universal and the Bahir Dar University. We will facilitate vision screening for all our students and provide eyeglasses where needed. For those where more serious issues are identified, we will enable treatment services.
Outcome measurement and research
Annual standard Early Grade Reading Assessments and Early Grade Mathematics Assessments created by USAID are administered at our schools as well as at control schools in the same region. Students from the Education Department at the Bahir Dar University administer the assessments, and analysis is done by our research expert. Surveys of drop out and completion rates, particularly of girls, are also conducted each year, along with a survey of well-being created by the World Health Organization. These are used to identify areas where improvement may be made, and to form a baseline for target outcomes for the next year.
All of FGCF’s projects are initiated by communities. Community committees are signatories to construction contracts; they stay closely involved and are consulted throughout the duration of projects. At the selection stage, they negotiate a percentage share of the total project cost, depositing their contributions into FGCF’s bank account prior to the beginning of construction. Community members collaborate with FGCF to select contractors for the project: each party invites contractors to submit sealed bids, and they are opened at a public meeting. Once the project is underway, community members, along with local government engineers and FGCF’s independent construction consultants, oversee physical construction and the greening program on an ongoing basis.
The Woreda/District Education Office is a signatory to the construction contracts for each project. This ensures that government standards are respected at every stage. The Office assigns and pays teachers and support staff, supplies science kits and textbooks, and helps facilitate and implement the professional development component of the projects. Representatives of the Office have also attended our workshops. The Regional Education Bureau has approved FGCF’s request to run each of its target schools by a steering committee composed of representatives of the district education offices, parents, students, and teachers, FGCF staff, principals, and supervisors. The Bureau has also provided FGCF with a furnished office free of rent.
Communities approach FGCF with proposed projects. We assess the need, the commitment of the community as well as the school principals, and the community’s ability to contribute to the cost. Community contributions are deposited into FGCF’s bank account and then sealed contractor bids are tendered and opened in a public forum. Construction begins immediately thereafter, and normally new schools are opened at the start of term in September. Teacher training, sanitation & hygiene, and greening and gardening programs follow as soon as the school is built. Outcome measurement and research begins at the end of the first year.