Volunteering in Ghana – supporting vocational education

As with the majority of our volunteering experiences across the world, we came to Ghana to support education development within the more disadvantaged communities. Whilst this didn’t go quite to plan, we did end up with a worthwhile, sustainable project where we could make a meaningful contribution in spite of our short time in-country.

Following the problems with our planned volunteering project, we relocated to the other side of Kumasi near the town of Ejisu, staying with a number of expats from the UK and USA who are involved in various educational, health and development projects across the Greater Kumasi area. Through their contacts within the local community, we were alerted to a nearby technical school that was actively seeking international volunteer support.

Students during assembly
Students during assembly

At the beginning of the week, we made the short walk from our accommodation to the school. We met with Paul, Centre Manager of the Baworo ICCES centre who welcomed us with great enthusiasm and we went straight to work the following day.

What is ICCES?

The Integrated Community Centres for Employable Skills (ICCES) are a network of alternative education centres for students of Senior High School age distributed across Ghana, with 14 centres within the Ashanti region alone.ICCES differ from conventional schools in that they focus on the delivery of applied courses that provide specific skills to students to make them more employable. Students can choose from a number of specialist courses including:

  • Building and Construction
  • Carpentry
  • Electrical installation
  • Fashion & Design
  • Catering
  • Mobile phone repair

Each of these specialist courses are delivered by staff members experienced in the particular field: for example, the electrical course is delivered by a teacher who spent many years working for the Ghana Electric Company whilst the building and construction is led by a teacher who worked on construction projects across Ghana.

In addition to the specialist courses, students study a programme of English Language, Mathematics, Integrated Science, ICT, Social Studies and Entrepreneurship. The philosophy behind the course offering is that a student who completes a three-year programme at an ICCES centre will either be ready to go to work in their chosen trade; set up themselves as self-employed in their trade or similar business; or go onto further study in a polytechnic or University.

What are the challenges faced by ICCES?

Looking across the school site towards the boys' hostel
Looking across the school site towards the boys’ hostel

Ghanaian education still faces many pressures and the ICCES centres are not immune from these. As with many countries, the national focus remains on the traditional, academic programmes delivered by Senior High Schools. Consequently, the majority of funding at this level is directed at these institutions. As a result, ICCES centres receive funding for their core teaching staff only and the allocation of teachers from the pool provided by the National Service Scheme operated across the education sector. All operating and development costs have to be self-funded by the centres themselves. Given that they accept students from all walks of life, including homeless, orphans and financially disadvantaged, this is a significant challenge for the schools.

Things are not all gloomy however. The centre we support at Baworo has hosted a number of international volunteers since its inception in 2000, staying from a couple of weeks up to several months at a time. A number of these volunteers came from the UK and, on their return there, set up a charity to fundraise directly for the development of the Baworo ICCES centre. Since its launch, One Child Ghana has provided funds to support the centre and since expanded to support all 14 ICCES centres across the Ashanti region with a programme of biannual grants for developmental and educational projects. In addition, One Child Ghana offers student scholarships to support the most deserving students in continuing their education to its conclusion, even if their families are unable to support them.

Furthermore, given the subjects that are taught at the ICCES centres, they have a capability unmatched by virtually all other schools – they can build their school themselves! In fact, this is exactly what has happened. From local and international charitable support, the ICCES centres purchase raw materials and put them to use, building the facilities they need at the schools with the students as the workforce without cost. Rest assured, this isn’t a slave labour force driven to work without rest. Instead, the projects are used as an opportunity for the large student body to learn the necessary techniques and put them into action with the finished product something they themselves then get the opportunity to use. To date, the students of the Baworo centre have built hostels for the boys and girls to stay in whilst boarding, toilets and wash facilities, a workshop for practical work and a kitchen for the catering programme. These are all used day in, day out, standing in testament to the quality of the education received and workmanship of the students.

How did we help?

Students at work
Students at work

Okay, so we’re not engineers, chefs, fashion designers or electricians but there were still many opportunities for us to support them. Firstly, our background as secondary science teachers was an asset as they had yet to receive a suitably qualified teacher from the National Service Scheme. Given this, we were actively engaged in the delivery of science to all classes teaching topics ranging from forces and motion, to nutrition and diseases and electrostatics.

Secondly, our background in leadership & management within the UK education sector allowed us to help organise and digitise their school records to reduce storage requirements and streamline their processes to make them less manpower intensive and more efficient.

One of our teaching boards on nutrition
One of our teaching boards on nutrition

Finally, our experience of volunteering and the connections we have made were also put to good use. We helped review and develop the centre’s infrastructure development plan, produced profiles to advertise volunteering opportunities for their centres on international portals and connected the school to a fellow volunteer who is leading the construction of a nearby clinic – another opportunity for the students to put their learning into practice.

If you’re interested in finding our more about the ICCES programme and how you can support them financially, please head over to the One Child Ghana website. If you’re interested in volunteering here in Ghana, get in touch.

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