In 1999, the then Secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, described girls’ education as the “single highest returning social investment in the world today”. This is still true in 2013 and there is a great need for girls in Ghana to break out of the spiral of poverty and underachievement.
As in most of Africa, it is the women of Ghana – as the mothers of the future – who hold the key to progress and change. But many of its young girls are deprived of education in order to help their parents, siblings and members of their extended family survive. They often do the physically demanding work like walking for miles for water, planting and tending the crops and looking after animals. Most will marry young and have children at a young age. At best they will have a limited education and their daughters will carry on this depressing cycle, often made worse by poor health, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS and early pregnancy. And so the cycle continues.
Girls in rural areas of Ghana are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to education. They are disadvantaged through their location and gender imbalance. Poverty means that girls are misused more often than boys – they often carry out cleaning and other household chores for teachers and are taken out of school when the family runs out of money or needs an extra pair of hands. There are no role models for them to go by and their mothers have gone through the same experiences, so they accept that this is the fate of their daughters.
Breaking the cycle of poverty
Although primary education in Ghana is free to all, some primary school teachers still favour boys over girls. In addition, when parents need extra help at home, it is often the girls who are taken out of school. All too often these girls will marry young, have children and continue a life of poverty. Give them access to further education, to secondary school and beyond and these girls will more likely have a career, marry later with fewer children and so escape the poverty cycle.
‘College for Ama’ (CofA) attempts to break this cycle. It aims to change the attitudes of intelligent and gifted young girls so they understand the advantages of a better education; getting married later; acquiring more wealth and prosperity, and thus having fewer children who they can look after better including supporting them through secondary and higher education.