EDP Trust in Ghana – free education for impoverished young people

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Laura of EDP Trust, a UK charity running a secondary school for impoverished youngsters in Southern Ghana. Would like to thank Laura for her detailed answers and the photos she sent us.

What are the main social issues in Ghana?

Ghana is a peaceful and culturally rich nation with a bright future. As the first African nation to gain independence in 1957 Ghana is, in many respects, a trailblazer. Despite this, poverty, illiteracy, economic stability and health remain issues which successive governments and international agencies seek to address. In line with the Millennium Development Goals promoting universal primary schooling, Ghana has made significant progress in the provision of primary level education. However, although a step in the right direction, this often results in classes being overcrowded and under resourced. Primary schooling is free in Ghana although many students cannot afford the associated costs, such as transport to school, food, uniform and exam fees, but senior high schools charge fees for pupils from 14 onwards. The incidental costs increase as students progress through their education and families struggle to pay, in particular those with multiple children. The high costs associated with secondary education put it out of reach for most of the population. The poverty-trap effect is especially evident with young people who have not fully acquired the skills and knowledge they need to attain jobs after their Junior High School education, yet cannot afford to further their studies. A key issue which the school seeks to address is the imbalance between the requirements of the labour market and the syllabus currently taught in the educational system.  
How do you identify and select the communities where you intervene?
We could have set up a free school anywhere in the country, and found any number of promising students who were unable to afford a secondary education, but with only sufficient  resources to fund one school, EDP Trust settled on a conurbation just 50 miles west of the capital, Accra. The aim is to create a centre of excellence which can serve as a model for others. Our students are selected on the basis that they are genuinely needy, but also bright and desperate to learn. The comprehensive selection process is managed by the team on the ground in Ghana, and involves liaising with school staff, home visits and entry examinations in Maths,  English and Science. The process begins in January, entrance exams are held  between March and July and the admissions list is published between August and September. The process is extremely thorough to ensure that the school is targeting the neediest in the local community who do not have the means to pay for education at another institution.
The process works as follows:
1- If a student has the requisite grades from Junior High School but has been out of school for one to three years (any longer and they find it difficult to readjust to studying), we can assume that this is because their family cannot afford the costs of Senior High, therefore they are automatically  invited to sit the entrance exam. The student is also required to attend a formal interview and complete a poverty assessment form.
2- If a student is still attending Junior High School they are required to complete an application form. After this they will have to pass an interview, write an essay and fill in a poverty assessment form.  A home visit will also be arranged; these take place at any point of the process. Once teaching and EDP staff have established that the candidate is genuinely deserving, they are invited to sit an entrance exam.
We aim to recruit equal numbers of female and male students with good average scores in the Junior High School exams, who perform well in the AWSHS entrance exams.
What are the factors that can lead to a lack of access to education? Is child labour a major issue?
Gender disparity in education is an ongoing issue in Ghana. In seeking to explain this trend, research has suggested that poor families are more inclined to use their limited resources to educate their sons rather than their daughters. In addition, girls are more likely to be withdrawn from school to assist with household chores and agricultural labour.  Lack of funds to buy sanitary protection can also mean that girls may absent themselves from school two or three days a month.  AWSHS works with local organisations such as the Kairos Ladies Network to empower female students, and to help address these barriers to education. Some of our female graduates were fortunate to secure support from CAMFED, enabling them to go on to university. Ruth Tawiah is one such example, currently studying economics at university- she is a regular visitor to the school and inspires the current students to expand their horizons post-graduation. Strong female role models change attitudes and encourage our students to aim higher.
Many of our students face further barriers to fully realising, or ‘accessing’ their learning potential. Both girls and boys are likely to have to work and support their families on evenings and during the weekend, limiting the possibility for private study Some do not have the means to buy a health insurance card, meaning their health has been neglected. Others come from such poor families that they may not have eaten prior to coming to school, which seriously affects their concentration. There are students who have to walk for miles because they cannot afford transport, who are exhausted before they even arrive at the school. AWSHS strives to ensure a healthy learning environment for all students and to support those whose education is being impacted by factors beyond their control.Through the hardship fund, AWSHS can reach out to the neediest pupils with free school meals, a place in one of the school hostels, help with medication or other essentials. The Welfare and Guidance Counsellor and the teaching staff are trained to recognise signs of stress in students, and offer support. 
What makes the Awutu-Winton School different?
Awutu-Winton Senior High School is funded by a UK charity, and is also set up as a not-for-profit organisation in Ghana, and it charges no fees whatsoever; moreover the associated costs are kept as low as possible: for example the uniform is a simple white shirt and black skirt/trousers, which most families can manage to source.  The Awutu-Winton School ethos is to provide a holistic education- students are not only enrolled in academic courses, culminating in the national  WASSCE examinations, but they are able to participate in a range of extra-curricular activities such as cadets, business club, music, drama and many sporting activities. They benefit from numerous opportunities including school trips, sports competitions, employer presentations and talent shows. In these informal spaces our students not only gain confidence and enjoy being young people, but can develop skills and interests that might lead them to their future career.  The teacher-pupil ratio is comparable to that in UK high-schools, with classes less than half the average size in Ghana, enabling more student participation and less learning by rote.
Student welfare is a primary concern: staff at the school and the EDP team runs initiatives such as Welfare Week to promote healthy life choices, and to discuss issues which affect teenagers. Our students have access to facilities such as the IT lab and the newly refurbished home economics lab. The Valerie Dix Hall doubles as an exam area but also a performance space for our talented musicians and dancers. Our school environment and ethos foster a positive and healthy environment for learning and encouraging students to reach their potential. 
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
AWSHS benefits from strong relationships with local authorities and government departments in Ghana, and EDP Trust has a strong base of supporters in the UK who regularly participate in challenge events such as marathons and sponsored bike rides, to raise funds for the school. Numerous charitable trusts have also responded to appeals, all contributing significantly to the continuing development of the school.
A recent partnership with the British and Foreign Schools Society has seen AWSHS benefit from a very generous grant to improve literacy. This will involve a comprehensive training programme with teaching staff, and interaction with students in a long-term project aimed at improving standards. 
Through a partnership with the Ghana Education Service, the majority of teachers at AWSHS are now provided by the government. This ensures that funds raised by EDP can be channelled into infrastructure projects to further develop the school, as well as maintenance of the existing facilities and support of ancillary staff.
The students regularly benefit from interactions with local NGO’s and social enterprises. One of these is the Kairos Ladies Network who regularly engage with students at the school- their focus is on empowering young girls to make meaningful contributions to their communities. AWSHS students have benefited from coding workshops, business talks and farm visits through their interactions with the Kairos Network.
EDP is also associated with Pill-Brook Aquatics, a fish farm on Lake Volta.  Several AWSHS graduates have gained employment at the farm, and current students have the opportunity to participate in internships. These activities expose our students to the world of employment, and encourage them to consider what career direction they might take after graduating.


A fairly recent development at the school is the donation of a swimming pool by the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation as part of its ‘Learn to Swim’  Programme. The school is situated only 15 km from the sea, and aquaculture and fishing are significant industries in Ghana; however many of our students had never seen the sea, and very few of them could swim. Now, after a very short time, nearly every student has learnt to swim, including the girls, although the take-up has been slower.   This not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but also opens up other potential career paths.