Catalysing community-led change
Supporting projects in low-income contexts can reinforce inequalities between ‘supporters’ and ‘activists’ on the ground. EduSpots is a project based in Ghana that aims to address post-colonial issues head on. Cat Davison reports.
Creating a library and volunteer network in Ghana
EduSpots is a community centred model based in Ghana for advancing educational opportunity whilst engaging students around the world in critical global citizenship education. 50 “Spots”, led by 300 local volunteers, have been connected through online and in-person collaborative training, and given support by a wider network of volunteers and staff in developing the educational impact and sustainability of their centres.
Our ‘Spots’ are positioned in rural Ghanaian settings, where students have had limited access to reading materials aside from textbooks shared between classes. Talented teachers were teaching students to read and write with little more than chalk available to assist them. We also saw a huge desire amongst local teachers and community educators to support students beyond the classroom.
Local and global partnership
I first visited Ghana in 2012 as part of a school-based service-project and met many teachers keen to drive change. A period of deep reflection followed which involved a Masters in Education and International Development. Three years later, in 2015, Ghanaian educators and I saw the potential for an educational partnership based on equality, which drew schools and community members together to share resources, whilst engaging local and global volunteers in problem-solving. The result was EduSpots, and as the network grew, we saw a model develop which united students, teachers and community members, in advancing educational opportunity through active citizenship, whilst embedding reflection in both Ghana and in the UK on power, inclusion, and sustainability into the process of change.
“EduSpots has made me realise that before change occurs you must take action. It has given me the ability to take action even if nobody else does.” (Nimatu, Abdul-Rahmen, volunteer, Savelugu)
The starting point
We started with two partnership projects in Abofour and Akumadan in 2015 and trialled one model of a library space within a school setting and another within a community setting, observing the differences in the impact of both initiatives.
In Ghana, students took on leadership roles as library prefects and led literacy and STEM clubs. Students in the UK engaged in online sessions on sustainable community-led development, before leading fundraising events. In both contexts, students and teachers were encouraged to reach out to their communities for further support, leading to partnerships in the UK with Book Aid International, other schools, book shops, and trust funds, and partnerships in Ghana with churches, District Assemblies, publishers and radio stations.
The ‘Spots’ are owned by community committees comprising traditional and political leaders, teachers, students and parents. These committees build volunteer teams, connected via WhatsApp, conferences and online and in person programmes. Individuals are identified and participate in our Community Leadership in Education (CLEd) programme to learn key skills, with the option for further training in literacy and STEM. We also provide books, science kits and digital devices to equip the Spots and local mentors give ongoing support. Many Spot users become future Catalysts of change.
You can see how it works here:
Encouraging community collaboration
Involving the wider community in educational initiatives results in projects being informed by local knowledge and concerns, rather than purely by national policy. Parental and community engagement in education greatly improves student outcomes, local ownership leads to long-term sustainable impact and provides strong role models.
Our model also enables state and private schools to share educational resources and run programmes collectively, making the most of equipment. Students have a study space that is open beyond school hours, with our projects encouraging student and teacher collaboration, and solar power providing reliable electricity for learning during frequent periods of light-out.
Promoting postcolonial thinking
“I have learnt to take the time to try to consider issues relating to development in Ghana through the lens of someone who lives there. This can be hard – it’s like learning to walk again.” (UK student)
We engage students in different contexts in critical reflections on power through practical projects. Alongside our popular online courses, one example is the EduLit project, where Sevenoaks School students worked with Ghanaian staff and an illustrator to design storybooks and phonics resources that reflect the local environment and culture. 4,000 copies have been distributed. One Sevenoaks student commented:
“Now I am able to recognise how literacy resources are dominated by western culture and it motivates me further to look into diversifying specifically children’s literature.”
A Ghanaian teacher commented on receipt of the books that ‘if we want to encourage pupils to read then we need to give them books that mirror their worlds.”
We have now created 50 community-led libraries in Ghana and Kenya, which benefit 15,000 users annually. We have a detailed quantitative impact study ongoing with Impact Ed, with initial findings demonstrating considerable growth in our volunteers’ skills in citizenship, goal orientation, well-being, teamwork and self-efficacy. Our volunteers often cite being part of our network as the greatest thing they value about EduSpots, with Seidu in Ejura commenting that
“I see a group of people full of passion to make others’ lives better. I always think about this and it motivates me to do more.”
Students enrolling on the STEM camps have also shown considerable (10% or higher) increases in their emotional engagement in maths and science and wider school engagement.
Today, EduSpots feels like a movement for community-led change, with students starting to replicate the volunteerism they have benefited from.
This news report on our CLEd programme was shown on national TV in April 2021
Schools can engage with our work by fundraising or signing up to our online courses, student ambassador programme, global partnership or service projects, becoming a trustee – or simply by spreading our story further – we’d love you to join us!
Cat Davison is Chair/Founder of EduSpots and Director of Service and Partnership at Sevenoaks School. She is also Chair of the Schools Community Action network, linked to the Independent Schools Council. She was recently selected as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2021. EduSpots won the Tes International Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for the EDUCOM Award for Business or NGO Contribution to education in Ghana.
FEATURE IMAGE: Sevenoaks EduLit team with EduSpots Head of Literacy Development Stephen Tettegah in 2020
All images kindly provided by Cat.