Countries all over the world have had their educational systems stretched to near breaking point by a pandemic that has disrupted nearly every facet of our lives. As the world celebrates the International Day of Education, it is worth reflecting on those interventions that have been able to not only adapt to the pandemic, but managed to thrive in remote communities, through harnessing cost-effective technology and innovation to bridge the digital divide and enhance access to education.
The Educate to Innovate with STEM Project is one such shining example. This is an intervention funded by Tullow Oil and implemented by the Youth Bridge Foundation (YBF) to promote and inspire interest in STEM education, improve the performance of students in the core subjects of Science and Mathematics at the BECE and WASSCE as well as develop a pool of competent human resource in six (6) coastal districts of the Western Region of Ghana where Tullow operates, namely: Shama, Sekondi Takoradi, Ahanta West, Nzema East, Ellembele and Jomoro.
Since 2017, and particularly with the onset of the pandemic, the project has adopted many transformative and innovative approaches to improve student learning, support teachers, and harness community support through actively engaging parents and opinion leaders in these rural and peri urban communities.
Focus on Students
For the students who lack an efficient after school learning support mechanism, the project was welcomed as a needed cost-effective support to their learning. Many who had never seen practical science laboratory kits could now do through the MOBILE STEM CLINIC; stationed science laboratory replicates in the community centres and classrooms of basic schools where students could associate the things they learn with the equipment and apparatus present.
A Hub secured and equipped for STEM education, practical training, STEM design and career counselling located in Agona Nkwanta, a suburb of the Western Region welcomes students to be trained in basic engineering and electronics inventions.
At the peak of the pandemic, the project started the TULLOW STEM RADIO SCHOOL; a cost-effective, wider reach alternative to bridging the digital divide. During protracted school closures, using radio and community public address horns to provide science and maths lessons to students.
Even when the government was trying to offer remote learning opportunities at the Basic, Secondary and Tertiary levels using a combination of online and/or TV broadcast, a World Bank data report has shown that they will not reach most students as only 36 percent of residents of lower-middle-income countries, have access to the internet, a statistic that cannot easily be improved during the pandemic. What most countries do have, however, is a simpler radio infrastructure that has ready potential and widest coverage to reach a great number of students and educators at a lower cost.
Young females in STEM and beneficiary student, Rachel recounts her first time joining her teacher in studio.
“My first experience learning on radio was fantastic. I didn’t think mathematics and science could be taught on radio, especially because of the calculations. Thanks to Tullow Oil and Youth Bridge Foundation for this initiative. I am enjoying the classes”.
The school till date has served as an important afterschool learning support to students and teachers in these unserved communities in the Western Region of Ghana, sustaining interest in learning and ensuring about 98% of the 14,500 beneficiary students returned and stayed in school when schools reopened in January 2021.
Focus on teachers
Recognising that teachers are the most important side factor in student learning who remain at the heart of education, Tullow trained local teachers in STEM Refresher courses, first hand science laboratories, encouraged peer to peer learning which has averted selective teaching, a practice most teachers adopted in their classrooms because of weak capacity and knowledge gaps.
Focus on community (Parents/Opinion leaders)
Through the project’s continuous PTA and community outreach programs, the community’s initial aversion towards STEM subjects has seen a major turnaround since the project started. They feel inspired by the performance of their wards and encourage them to pursue STEM courses in the Senior High School and Tertiary levels. They are now champions and advocates of the project in their various communities.
Student retention since 2017 when the project started has steadily increased from 916 students in year 1(2017/2018), 942 in year 2 (2018/2019) and 1,170 in year 3 (2019/2020). In total, number of students impacted over the three (3) years are 3028 students impacted at the Junior High School Level, 1800 students impacted at the Senior High School level and 1,200 students impacted through the Tullow STEM Radio School.
The BECE Performance over the 3-year academic period has risen from 48% in maths and 52% in science to 84% and 80% respectively. Over 2,100 students trained in basic engineering and electronics skills have produced vacuum cleaners, sprinklers, water heaters, portable LED lamps and fans using recycled materials.
Twenty (20) mentorship platforms created in beneficiary schools to inspire interest in STEM careers, offer coaching and encourage peer-peer mentoring. 150 basic school level science and mathematics teachers have been trained over the period.
For education to thrive, especially in the era of an unrelenting pandemic, we must remodel it to be inclusive of unserved communities; their students and teachers. Tullow leads the way.
We are in a crisis but education continues.
For more videos on the project, kindly visit Youth Bridge TV on YouTube