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Girls' Education in Ghana: A Q and A with May Rihani

SAGE (Strategies for Advancing Girls’ Education) is designed to take a non-traditional, multi-sectoral approach to increasing involvement in girls’ education.

May Rihani is an internationally recognized expert in girls education. As the director of the AED Center for Gender Equity, she oversees AED’s efforts to increase the rates at which girls are enrolled and retained in schools around the world.

Much of that work is performed through the Strategies for Advancing Girls’ Education (SAGE) project. When SAGE started working in Ghana in August, 2001, girls’ education had been the subject of public information campaigns as well as the focus of some projects. 

So the goal of SAGE’s work was to build on what already existed, expand it, and add to it certain new approaches and solutions that advance girls’ education.

It was important that these solutions be designed at the local level, so that each individual community committed to advancing girl’s education and felt ownership of the proposed solutions.

What are the benefits of girls’ education?

Once an educated girl becomes an adult and mother, there are many resulting benefits, not only for herself, but also for her family and community. A key benefit is decreased infant mortality. An educated mother can read and understand health-related messages.

When a child gets sick, the mother will take the child to a basic health clinic. But if the mother cannot read, the instructions she gets from the nurse or doctor can be overwhelming and intimidating. Often, illiterate mothers only go to basic clinics once and never return because they are intimidated by the experience. Educated mothers are able to read instructions and therefore better care for their children. As a result, the infant mortality rate decreases in families with educated mothers.

What was the state of girls’ education in Ghana, particularly in the communities where SAGE worked, before the project began?

At the local level, many girls were attending school, but they were not staying there past puberty. The lack of running water and bathrooms made it difficult for girls to stay in the buildings for an entire day. For boys, the facilities did not seem to matter as much.

At the national level, Ghana’s Ministry of Education had a very small department working on girls’ education. While the department was gathering data from local communities, they needed better systems in place to effectively analyze the information and act on it.

What were SAGE’s activities in Ghana, and what impact did they have?

On the national level, SAGE worked to strengthen the capacity of the girls’ education department at the Ministry of Education by creating an operational manual and training all 110 the district girls’ education officers  to become more powerful forces in promoting girls’ education in their districts so they could motivate communities to make girls education a priority. In addition, SAGE created a more effective and efficient monitoring system for the girls' education unit within the Ministry of Education.

At the local level, SAGE focused its work on 70 communities in seven of Ghana’s 110 districts, and its goal was to get all sectors of the community involved. Because each community has its own hurdles to jump in terms of getting and keeping girls in school, SAGE staff worked directly with each community to help them create action plans specifically designed to address those issues. Some communities had created “girls clubs” to help girls in math and science.

SAGE staff worked with the leaders of these clubs to incorporate lessons on self-esteem, leadership and assertiveness. Once those social issues were addressed, and the girls’ confidence improved, their academic achievement would improve as well.

On the whole, communities took action to create more opportunities for girls to stay in school. Some schools built bathrooms for girls. In other communities, parents rearranged their family’s schedule to make time for girls to study, and created spaces in their homes dedicated to studying.

Parents who were worried about girls’ safety walking the long distances to and from school arranged for girls to walk in groups, or be chaperoned by a trusted member of the community.

Another component of SAGE’s work in Ghana was mobilizing the media. SAGE created a media task force and provided them with information about the importance of girls’ education. Members of the media began visiting some of the SAGE communities and wrote articles, or produced radio and TV shows about the project.

That effort helped spread the word that educating girls was good for families, communities and the whole country. That, in turn, helped make the district education officials more informed and more accountable.



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