Case study: Sharon Wolf

Programme: Early Childhood Development Programme 2017

Award-holder: Dr Sharon Wolf, University of Pennsylvania

Project title: Assessing Sustained Impacts of the Quality Preschool for Ghana Teacher Training Intervention on Children’s Early Primary Grade Outcomes

Value: £334,767

Country of focus: Ghana

A British Academy-supported project demonstrated how affordable, easy to implement at scale and relatively brief interventions to improve the quality of kindergarten education can have far-reaching impacts on children’s learning and development in Ghana.

The early years form the foundation for children’s future learning. This has led governments around the world to increase investments in early childhood education and, as a result, enrolment in pre-primary and primary school has been on the rise. However, experts are concerned about the quality of expanding early childhood education services, particularly where such services are being implemented at scale. In 2007, Ghana added two years of kindergarten to its universal basic education system. Despite its success in increasing access to pre-primary education, the Ghanaian government now faces the challenge of improving quality and ensuring that young children effectively develop the skills needed to succeed in primary school.

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A British Academy-supported project assessed the impacts of the Quality Preschool for Ghana programme, which the Ghanaian Ministry of Education implemented in 2015-2016. The programme aimed to enhance the quality of kindergarten education and was delivered across 240 schools in the Greater Accra region. It offered in-service training and coaching for teachers, coupled with parental-awareness meetings. The training focused on integrating play- and activity-based child-centred teaching practices into classrooms, while the parental-awareness meetings included discussions on the importance of play-based learning and encouraged improved parent-teacher and parent-school communication. Dr Wolf and her team set out to uncover if enhancing kindergarten education quality also led to improved learning outcomes in primary school.

The research found that the Quality Preschool for Ghana programme did indeed improve kindergarten children’s academic and social development outcomes. It also led to sustained gains in the children’s attention and behaviour skills, all-important for classroom engagement and learning, which persisted in children who had transitioned to primary school. When combined with parental-awareness meetings, however, the in-service training and coaching for teachers were found to reduce the rate of growth in children’s school readiness skills, specifically academic outcomes in literacy and numeracy skills.

The outcomes of the research suggest that even a relatively brief kindergarten teacher training, built into existing educational systems and implemented over a short period of time (ie one school year), can have a significant and long-term impact on the development and academic attainment of children in primary school. Such interventions are affordable and can easily be implemented at scale. The research has also demonstrated that where parents’ specific vision for teaching practices lags behind innovative approaches which have been demonstrated to improve children’s learning and development, this can have a tangible negative effect on children and their literacy/numeracy skills. This particular finding highlights the need to improve children’s educational experiences in both school and home environments.

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The project has provided reliable evidence that activity-based, child-centred learning strategies can result in better learning outcomes for children in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as successfully support children’s behavioural and social development. It has also demonstrated the importance of giving careful consideration to parents’ desires and goals for their children’s socialisation and education, in order to ensure that future interventions build on parental visions in positive ways.

Dr Wolf and her research team are currently working with Innovations for Poverty Action Ghana, the Ghanaian Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service to adapt the Quality Preschool for Ghana programme to rural communities, which generally have lower rates of school enrolment and curricula relying heavily on local languages. It is hoped that once adapted, the programme would be scaled up nationally.

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