The following interview was conducted by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity with Veronica O. Dzeagu (VD), the National Coordinator at the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC) during the Education Commission's (EC) Learning Generation Lab Workshop from May 8-12 in Nairobi, Kenya.
The workshop introduced senior government officials and civil society leaders from 12 African countries to the Learning Generation Lab methodology and action plan and - most critically - offered tools to assess a country's readiness for the Lab process. In bringing together actors from across Africa, the workshop marked an important moment for peer-learning in the education sector.
EC: What brought you to the Nairobi workshop?
VD: We came at the invitation of Ghana's Ministry of Education. Our network, the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC), has more than 200 member organizations. Founded in 1999, our mission is to influence policies, practices, and attitudes toward quality basic education for all. Over the years, GNECC has worked closely with the Ministry of Education and its agencies to establish policies to make the school environment safer for children, ensure equitable teacher distribution, help make schools more inclusive, and education management more efficient.
We have maintained our independence and earned the confidence of the Ministry as a partner in the promotion of education in Ghana. For this reason, the Ministry contacted GNECC to be part of the delegation from Ghana attending the Learning Generation Workshop for African Pioneer Countries to help us make progress in the education sector. As a civil society organization, our role is to ensure that government focuses and prioritizes on the areas with the greatest need, so our core interest is to get a clear understanding of what is expected of our government so that when we return to Ghana we can monitor to ensure the right actions are being taken.
EC: What does the Learning Generation vision mean to your country?
VD: The Learning Generation vision seeks to change the way education is delivered at the country level. It requires forming a movement of champions in education and mobilizing more funding to accelerate the progress toward achieving SDG4. I fully support this vision, and the Commission's work could not come at a more appropriate time. In Ghana, education is valued at the national, community, and family levels.
Successive governments have prioritized - and allocated a substantial proportion of the national budget toward - education. And yet after so many years, rather than improving, the quality of education has declined. Several reforms have been made, but the results have been minimal; in some cases, there was complete failure. This has led to a widespread outcry from Ghanaians, as well as many questions. The government has also expressed concerns about the return on education investments.
So we are all in search of solutions - government, civil society, and various stakeholders. One of the aims of the Learning Generation workshop was to introduce the concept of 'ruthless prioritization' to leaders within education so that the policies primed for impact are acknowledged and advanced. The process itself entails having a clear sense of the goals governments want to achieve, identifying all possible barriers, and formulating realistic solutions. The prioritization of actions then helps a country determine what actions can be taken in the short-, medium- and long-term. This is a delivery model that requires critical thinking and bold action, and it will serve a country like Ghana very well.
EC: What do you feel has been your contribution to this week's discussions?
VD: The presence of civil society helps government leaders know they will be held accountable for the decisions and actions they make. During the country review process, I was there to validate the information shared by the Ghanaian education officials.
EC: What are three main lessons you are taking with you?
VD: The workshop opened my eyes to the planning process in a way I have never experienced before. Often, civil society organizations like ours monitor policies only after they are rolled out. Through this workshop, we were exposed to the planning process from the "get go," and I believe it is going to enhance how we monitor and hold governments to account.
The importance of engaging all relevant stakeholders right from the beginning of the planning process was also emphasized through the lab simulation. Although it is not the easiest approach, it is definitely more effective and guarantees greater impact than planning in silos.
Negotiation skills and open-mindedness for the views of each stakeholder are required to navigate this tricky process. However, it is important to have a clearly defined goal to inspire everyone and head down a common, coordinated path for success.
This leads to the concept of ruthless prioritization which, I believe, will be the mantra of all those who were at the workshop with me. The importance of prioritizing policies and initiatives has been elevated by introducing ruthlessness - in the sense of a clear, direct focus. Those individuals with a sincere desire to see results and impact should consider this approach as part of the routine planning process.
EC: What comes next for you after the workshop?
VD: I am going back to Ghana with all the knowledge I have acquired here and will make sure these lessons are shared with the staff at the national secretariat of GNECC and then the wider network. I believe our approach to policy analysis will be greatly enhanced as a result of this workshop and it will add to GNECC's credibility within the education sector.
I hope Ghana's government makes the decision to participate in the lab process to ensure that ongoing reforms are effectively implemented. This will go a long way toward improving education outcomes and reassuring all Ghanaians that we are getting value for the substantial investment going into education.
Veronica O. Dzeagu is the National Coordinator at the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC).