According to recent data released by the UN, some 41 million children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa do not go to school. This number includes 800,000 Ghanaian children.
In an effort to help promote these children's right to an education, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Confederation of African Football, the Local Organizing Committee of Ghana2008 and lead sponsor MTN, is using the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations to promote "Quality education for all children".
For the past three weeks a small part of this UNICEF project, spearheaded by former Journalists for Human Rights journalism trainer Katrine Briseboise, has been training youth journalists to report on the need for quality education in Ghana from the children's own point of view.
Two of these youth journalists are based in Sekondi-Takoradi, one of the host cities for the Africa Cup of Nations. Samuel Tronu and Sandra Nyarko, are bright, charismatic and charming. Both are a product of SKYY Kids, a children's TV show organized by Takoradi based NGO United Children Organization, dedicated to developing the talents of those youngsters that would normally not get the chance to express themselves.
Sammy is a fifteen year old young man who is currently not in school. His parents cannot afford the $200 per year tuition to send him to Senior Secondary School. Sammy is a talented actor and easily interacts with other children, quickly putting them at ease and creating a personal bond with those he interviews.
Sandra is twelve year old girl with a natural talent for the screen. Both of her parents are teachers. Her mother teaches at the school she attends. Her personality ranges from gregarious to over-the-top outrageous, depending on the situation. Her presenting skills are highly developed and she oozes personality.
Sammy and Sandra have been hitting the streets of Takoradi in order to interview children selling goods at traffic lights, a common sight anywhere in Ghana, and in Takoradi's famous market circle. They want to find out why education is important and some challenges children face in going to school.
Through interviewing numerous children they have learned that many families, just like Sammy's family, do not have the resources to send their children to school. Many children are forced to go out into the streets to sell goods to passers-by until they have enough for transportation to and from school.
When asked what he's learned from talking to other kids, and from his own experience, Sammy says, "The children out there should learn hard. If they are not in school, they have to educate themselves at home, because education is the key to success. And for the parents out there, they should try to get money to send their children to school now due to free education at schools, so they should be forced to sell something, but not for the children to sell for them."
The government of Ghana has introduced a number of positive initiatives to help get all Ghanaian children into school. The programs, including the abolition of school fees at the primary level and the creation of a school feeding program, have greatly increased enrollment. Yet, still 800,000 children remain on the outside looking in.
The small amount of money required for school uniforms, books, pencils and transportation can be enough to keep a child from going to class. In the some parts of Ghana children often have to bring their own chairs or desks to school before they can begin class. Imagine the sight of primary school aged children carrying furniture to and from school everyday.
Ghana also faces a shortage of qualified teachers, especially in more rural communities. This can lead to class sizes of 60, 70, 80 or more.
These children can also face the cultural and traditional beliefs, and economic realities, that requires a child to work in order to help provide for the family. This situation leads many children into forced labor in fishing, farming and mining operations, as well as many girls being limited to work in the home, cooking and cleaning, instead of in the classroom.
Some parents send their children, whom they may not be able to look after financially, into the hands of those requiring labor help. The promise of a small amount of money or simply a learned skills or trade can end a child's chance at an education. Child trafficking, the giving or selling of children, is a problem in Ghana because of the poverty and cultural practices that make it a realistic option for parents.
These issues arise when investigating the root of the problems children face in accessing a quality education. The solutions to these problems begin with the attitudinal shift that sees education as a way out of poverty.
Children not only need an education, but they have the right to an education. Despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges they face, many children in Ghana display tremendous courage and strength in simply going to school.
Working to create quality education for all Ghanaians, and all Africans, is essential for the development of the country and the continent. Education provides each child the chance to create their own opportunities in life.
The money made in one day of working, instead of going to school, is spent and forgotten. But, as a child said in an interview with Sammy Tronu, "Education is like a property in your head. Once it's there, no one can take it from you."
Sandra Nyarko, when asked what she's learned from the experience of being a youth journalist covering issues of education in Ghana, says, "Education is very important, whether you have money or not parents should try to at least to get a single peswa to send your child to school, for you will get all the money you're paying right now and you'll save it in the future".