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Opinions of Saturday, 23 May 2009

Columnist: Lansah, Adisa

Including the Excluded: Plan Ghana’s scholarship scheme.

Adisa Lansah

Mildred (not real name) comes from a village in the Manya Krobo district of the Eastern region. Her village is about 50 kilometers from Asesewa, the nearest town in the district. Transportation to this village is by a Hyundai truck on a dusty feeder road, through a rough and rocky terrain, on market days only. She only visits Asesewa market once every Christmas to buy a dress. There is no electricity in the village, which implies that she has no access to Television or Radio because her peasant farmer father can not afford cellular batteries for their old radio. She eats her only meal for the day when she joins her parents on the farm after school. Her school has only the head teacher and two untrained teachers to teach the whole Junior Secondary school (now Junior High School), because trained teachers are not willing to live in such a harsh environment.

Aku (not real name) was born in Accra. Her parents are salaried workers, who sent her to a Montessori pre-school, and then to an international school. Whenever her parents are too busy to drop her at school, she joins the Metro Mass transit bus free. Since pre-school, she attended vacation classes and extra classes organized by her school to supplement the normal pupil-teacher contact hours.

Mildred, with all her social and economic disadvantages, had to write the same Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) with Aku. When the BECE results were declared, both Mildred and Aku had aggregate 10, which means they all qualified for further education, and thanks to the computer selection system, they all had top schools with boarding facilities.

Aku went ahead to Senior High school, but Mildred could not afford the fee of almost 200 Ghana cedis down payment within one week the Senior High School was demanding.

She was therefore left behind to join the band wagon of excluded group of naturally brilliant children in the rural areas who, through no faults of theirs, are victims of parental poverty. Their dreams of attaining their God given potentials in life are never realized. They also become disincentives to schooling for the younger ones who use their sad fates as an excuse for not taking schooling serious.

In education cycles in Ghana, it is often stereotyped that most parents, in the rural areas, do not see the education of their children as a priority issue. Such an assertion is unfortunate. The truth is the opposite. Parents in rural areas want their children to have access to higher education so that one day, these children will be able to break the cycle of poverty in the family. That is why some sell their jewelry, clothes, and even family lands to pay school fees while others take loans from money lenders and end up deepening their level of poverty. The sad fact is that these monies only pay for the initial expenses and after that the child would have to stop school due to non payment of fees.

Unfavorable Education Policies:

Global and national policies on education do not favor second cycle students. The UN declaration on Education for All by the Year 2015 (EFA)and the Millennium Development Goals(MDG) emphasize the provision of Basic primary education.

At the basic level in Ghana today, pupils enjoy fee free education, where the Government pays a capitation Grant of approximately three Ghana Cedis on behalf of every child enrolled to the school, in addition to free Textbooks. Some of the schools also participate in the NEPAD school feeding program. The situation in the second cycle schools is not the same. School fees (Boarding, lodging and stationery) have doubled within the last three years and parents are finding it increasingly difficult to send their children through second cycle education

In an attempt to include the excluded poor in the financially competitive higher education system , Plan Ghana instituted a Scholarship Scheme for brilliant but needy boys and girls from the rural areas to enter second cycle schools in Ghana. The program started on a modest note in 1997 with 10 students. Over 500 students completed secondary education, through this scheme and proceeded to various tertiary institutions. Presently, (2008) a total of 1,609 students are benefiting from Plan Ghana scholarship nation wide, with 1,464 in Secondary schools, 100 in Vocational schools and 45 (42 are girls) in the Universities. Each award covers full payment of boarding and lodging as well as tuition for a period of 4 years. Plan Ghana spends GHC 500,000 (5 billion old cedis) on scholarships annually.

To ensure gender equity, over 60% of beneficiaries of the secondary scholarships are girls while It is interesting to note that three of the girls being sponsored in the university are in Medical school, one is also reading Mechanical Engineering while another is majoring in Mathematics. They are all from poor homes and attended very deprived schools in rural areas.

Institutional Support:

As part of its Vocational scholarship scheme package, Plan Ghana has supported three Vocational schools, namely St Claires Vocational in Tumu, Panfokrom Vocational School and St Annes Vocational at Nuaso. The support was in the form of training equipment to enhance effective practical training of the scholarship beneficiaries. The equipment includes Electric Sewing Machines, Industrial Knitting machines, Gas Cookers, Deep freezers and deep fryers. A total of $38,00 was spent on these equipment. A girls dormitory was also provided for St Claires Vocatinal to create a conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning in the school.

Funding:

Funding for the scholarship project comes from individuals and corporate institutions from our national offices in the USA, Germanay and Canada and the UK. Notable examples are the following:

Employees of General Electric company of the USA are sponsoring 144 students in Manya Krobo through deductions at source from their salaries. Moved by this kind gesture employees of Plan Ghana, led by their Country Director, have also decided to sponsor 10 pupils for a period of 4 years through monthly deductions from their salaries. Still in Ghana, Novotel Accra is sponsoring two children for 4 years.

Other examples are individuals through our national office in Germany are sponsoring 325 girls made up of 100 vocational 200 secondary and 25 tertiary. Finally Mri Hein Kolk, the former Director of Plan Nertherlands, is sponsoring 12 tertiary students through his foundation.

Plan scholarship at a glance as at 2008

Category 2006/2007 Academic year 2007/2008 Academic year 2008/2009

academic year Total Grand total

Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Secondary

272 303 350 314 91 134 713 751 1,464

Vocational 3 97 3 97 100

Tertiary/University 3 44 3 44 45 Total 1,609

“When I was in Basic School, it was my mother who was paying my school fees, but even then she was finding it difficult. When I received my admission letter to enter secondary school, my mother died. After her funeral I decided to forget about further education, but by God’s grace, my teachers encouraged me to apply for the Plan scholarship which I did. I am now on a full scholarship and all my worries are gone. I thank Plan Ghana for saving me from being a street girl.” Patience Teye.

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