Following many cases about girl-child education in Techiman and the nation as a whole, the communication and research team of Center of Posterity Interest Organistion (COPIO), an NGO located in Techiman took the pains to infer much into the situation and to find suggested solution in combating it. Centre of Posterity Interest Organisation (COPIO) is vibrant team which has been operating as a community action group since 2003, but was formally registered as a Non-Governmental Organization in February 2008. It is a Ghana based development organization that seeks to promote self-development within marginalized groups and communities irrespective of their religious and other affiliations. We work with community and motivated individuals with the aim of building their capabilities to provide for themselves. Our mission is to mobilize resources from local and external sources in support of the vulnerable, (the poor, unemployed, orphans and the sick amongst others); to carry out projects that will address the challenges and problems lowering their living standards in Ghanaian communities.
ISSUE OF GIRL CHILD EDUCATION IN TECHIMAN
Females constitute more than fifty one percent of the entire Ghanaian population and therefore education should be a necessary requirement for them to be able to significantly contribute to the development aspirations of Ghana. It is believed that when this section of the population is properly educated they will make immerse contribution in terms of our health, social, economic and political development than we have today. This is how the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon puts it when he read his speech at the first ever international day for the girl child, “Investing in girls is a catalyst for changing the world…We must all do our part to let girls be girls, and not brides.”
According to the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition report, girls enrolment continue to decline progressively from the basic to the tertiary level of our education despite several international and local interventions such as the Education For All and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For instance the goal three of the MDG seeks to promote gender equality and promote women empowerment. This important goal can only become a reality when women are given quality education to the highest level of the educational ladder.
Educational policies and programmes in Ghana from the colonial time of the Basel, Wesley and other missionaries to date have been very emphatic on the education of females. Baltes (2002) cites the establishment of the Government Girls School in Cape Coast in 1821 as the First attempt to give education to females in Ghana.
After the first World Conference on Women held in Mexico City in 1975, Women Associations at national and across international levels have not regretted in organizing seminars, workshops, conferences and symposia to raise and sustain the growing awareness that, it is only education that can eliminate social and cultural barriers that militate against female advancement in status.
Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey made a saying that ?if you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation?. In fact, so much value, and importance has been placed on the education of females that governments the world over, non-governmental organizations and women?s organizations are teaming up in resources in the development of initiatives or plans, policies and programmes to intensify the creation of awareness on the education of females.
After over a decade of efforts to making education accessible and affordable for all, the challenge of providing equitable access to and quality education for girls remains a critical challenge in many sub-Saharan African Countries including Ghana of which the Techiman cannot be overemphasized.
Access to quality education devoid of violence is regarded as a priority among other basic human rights by most nations and the international community. Key international protocols and conventions including the Education For All, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and Millennium Development Goals all have key provisions on the right to basic education for all.
However Girls? enrolment declines progressively from the basic to the tertiary levels of education hence worsening the retention, completion and this transition of girls at various levels of formal education in Ghana, which Techiman is of no exception. This has resulted in the under representation of the needs and concerns of women and girls in socio-economic and political development processes of the country as evident by the 2012 general elections.
Thus women represent 10.2% (28 seats) out of the 275 seats of parliamentarians which does not entail fair representation of gender in our political system. This is owes to the fact that many girls have not had the opportunity to assume leadership positions from the onset of their careers especially at the basic levels of education.
As a result of domestic and other households chores imposed on girls, they are less likely to participate actively in schools activities (contributions in class) since they might be exhausted before getting to school than their male counterparts. Obviously, we see female students at home and streets of town during school days and the clear reasons for their absence from school has always been ?I am asked to take care of my younger sister/brother, go to market, help my mother at the market, sell sachet water to make money for educational needs, fetch water for the house or perform other domestic chores? which is very appalling and human unfriendly in the educational environment.
Also, some traditional mirth do not encourage girls? education especially in the less deprived areas of Ghana and this is even worsened by any physical, sexual or psychological assault perpetrated against school girls since this directly negatively affects girls? school attendance, their concentration, classroom activity and completion of homework, all of which are closely linked to their educational participation. It is obvious to see young girls of school going age being given out for marriages and other girls unfriendly practices that prevent them from attaining higher levels of education.
FACTORS MILITATING AGAINST GIRL CHILD EDUCATION IN TECHIMAN
The phenomenon of poor school attendance by girls in Techiman of the Brong Ahafo Region has been a major source of worry to both parents and school authorities. The major aspect of this problem however, has been the retention of the pupils in schools in the municipality. Many girl children of school going age are usually found out of school during school hours doing ?head-selling? on streets. Some of these girls may either have dropped out of school or may just be playing truant, or may be engaged in one form of tedious job or the other. They are usually engaged in hawking, and a number of them too fall victims of teenage pregnancies at tender ages.
There is every indication that parents of most of the girls of school going age seem to have either shirked their responsibility of directing their children?s school going or have lost control over their girl children?s right to go to school. If girls who are supposed to be in school are usually seen engaged in other activities than schooling, if parents of these girls have lost the awareness of their children?s right to education, and if school authorities are unable to device means of getting these girls back to the classroom, then several questions arise.
The specific needs of female students came into focus in 1997 with the formation of the Girls Education Unit. Since its inception, the GEU has worked to create female scholarships for promising students, revised text-books to be more gender-sensitive, trained women on income-generating activities, created a Girls Education Week, put on Empowerment camps, and focused on partnerships with the private sector to meet the needs of female students. To address the continuing problem of low female enrollment in higher education, GEU created an action plan that includes steps such as promoting female role models, improving the safety of schools, building female sanitary units, educating boys and men about how to treat women, improving reproductive health knowledge, providing food programs, providing incentives for female teachers, ensuring school schedules are flexible enough for the child to still do labor for their family, mobilizing the community towards an attitude change on female education, and ensuring that schools are cost-effective and affordable for students.
These steps come out of the knowledge of several barriers to female education. The first is cost. Although school is technically free, uniforms, school lunch, textbooks, supplies, registration fees, and transportation can be too expensive for some families. If the family cannot afford to educate all of their children, preference often goes to boys. One way the government is alleviating the financial burden of education is by providing free lunches during school through the School Feeding Program, thus saving the family money on food costs, and giving the children incentives to attend school. This program, while very helpful in increasing enrollment, only goes to the most impoverished districts, so more effort needs to be done in this area.
Cultural predispositions towards gender inequality are a strong hindrance to female education. Traditional Ghanaian culture doesn?t always have a positive view on females who advance into higher educational levels, especially in the rural areas.
These communities focus on a submissive role for women, and discourage higher career pursuits for them. One way to change this attitude is by emphasizing the practical value of female education, such as the improved economic stability and increased family income with two working adults. By emphasizing the practical value of female education, the culture may gradually accept females as a vital half of the economy hence eradicating the traditional mirth surrounding female education.
Early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS also have a detrimental effect on female education, particularly for higher levels of education. One of the major issues which continue to stand on the way of young girls is teenage pregnancy. There are even reports about girls who become pregnant in primary schools within the municipality and the country at large. The failure of some schools and headmasters to grant them the right to continue their education is a major concern for all those who have girl child education at heart. If a girl gets pregnant she should be encouraged to stay in school and supported to return to school as soon as possible after delivery. Unfortunately many teenage mothers in our dear country do not return to school after delivery due to stigma. It is only few of them that actually make it back to school as mothers.
Often families will arrange a marriage for their daughter while she is still in her teenage years, and thus, interrupt her educational path. The daughter may also become pregnant early; according to UNICEF, only 20% of the population uses contraceptives, leading to many unwanted early pregnancies. Finally, sexual health information is not widely accessible, and the lack of contraceptive use leads to a high level of HIV/AIDS, which is on the abysmal rise among young people. Better education on sexual health information, increased access to contraceptives, and discouraging early marriage would help alleviate this canker.
Other concerns that female students face are issues of safety and fair treatment in the classroom. Sexual harassment is rampant in the classrooms as well as over sexist bias from teachers. Training teachers and students to be gender-sensitive would help combat this canker within the Techiman municipality and the nation at large. Establishing Girls Clubs, as some schools do, would also be beneficial to raising the self-esteem of female students and decreasing harassment thereby encouraging girl child education in Techiman and its environs.
Sanitation can be a problem too, especially as female students begin menstruation. Often schools lack separate male and female washrooms, which leads some female students to stay home during their menstrual period and miss important class time. Funding for proper washrooms would help give female students privacy and ensure their comfort in school while going through difficult changes.
THE WAY FORWARD
At a forum organized by GNECC in May 2011 to celebrate women?s education, all the participants including males called for the creation of a girl friendly education system and support for women literacy. To them that is the surest way of achieving the goal three of the MDGs.
First and foremost, government must strengthen its institutions such as Social Welfare to properly deal with violence and abuse against girls in school at various levels.
The Ghana Education Service (GES) should build the capacity of their staff in charge of the Girl Child Education Unit in all districts to successfully implement policies and programmes aim promoting girl child education especially at the basic and secondary levels.
Second, the educational system and policies of school management should not impede girls and young women including married and/or pregnant young women from attending school especially at basic levels. There should be support for girl child education by providing them with uniforms, learning materials, among others to stay in school. Parents should be sensitized about the importance of education for girls and young women in Techiman and its environs.
More so, much attention should be paid to gender mainstreaming in such key areas as education, health and employment particularly in Techiman and the nation as a whole.
Furthermore, policies should ensure that girls and young women are able to participate actively, equally, and effectively with boys and young men at all levels of social, educational, economic, political, cultural, civic life and leaderships as well as scientific endeavors in Techiman and the nation at large.
Beside, appropriate actions should be taken to eliminate discrimination against girls and young women and to ensure their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms through comprehensive policies, plans of action and programmes on the basis of equality and equity.
Finally, the guidance and counseling unit of the Ghana Education Service must be well equipped (if in existence) or be created (if unavailable) with professionals to monitor and assist school girls to properly adjust to the school environment in Techiman and its environs.
In a nutshell, girl child education is of paramount interest to the government, policy makers, chiefs, traditional council, CSOs, NGOs, CBOS, and other stakeholders among others and much attention should be paid to the issue in the Techiman areas and the nation at large. Combating the problems of girl child education cannot be effectively extinct by GES, parents, teachers to mention but few but should be collaborative effort of every citizen of the country.
Therefore, all hands are encouraged to jointly fight the girl child education in Techiman and the nation at large especially girls on streets of Techiman during school hours.
Lack of enforcement of child protection laws, the presence of a large market centre in Techiman where girls can sell in the streets, traditional beliefs that are gender insensitive, lack of appropriate teaching and learning materials, poor gender orientation, motivation and supervision of teachers, weak community involvement in schools? administration, and poor economic situation of parents have been identified to have contributed in no small way towards the poor participation of the girl child at all levels of education in the municipality and the nation at large.
From MUSTAPHA M. YEBOAH