ON THE GROUND: ActionAid

Scheme: ActionAid's Shepherd Schools in the Bawku West region of Ghana.

Funding: ActionAid projects are funded by individual sponsors from European countries including the UK, Greece, Italy and Ireland. The money for Shepherd Schools comes from ActionAid community development funds.

Objective: To provide flexible access to education for primary-school age children, especially girls in the poorest, most remote communities

As the eldest girl in a family of 18 children in a remote region of Ghana, Adisata Ibrahim wasn't allowed to go to school.

"I was made to stay at home to assist my mother in her household chores as well as caring for the younger ones in her absence,

she says.

ActionAid set up its seven Shepherd Schools in the Bawku region of Ghana in 1996 in recognition of the fact that in many Ghanaian communities, children's labour is vital to the economic well-being of their families. They work in the home and on farms.

The Shepherd Schools fit their calendars around local agricultural seasons and school hours are flexible to allow children to fulfil their duties at home. Instead of attending from 7am until 2pm, as in the state system, the children come to school at 7am and stay for three hours. They then return to their chores, such as tending their cattle.

"With the establishment of the Shepherd School and its flexibility, in time a lot of children in the village were attracted to the school and so was I,

says Ibrahim. "Because I was always available when my mother needed me, my parents allowed me to attend,

she adds.

Ghanaian government schools are often too far from villages for younger children to attend. The journey may involve a long walk across difficult terrain, or dangerous river crossings. Shepherd Schools are located close to villages.

The schools use local teachers, trained by ActionAid, who teach in the local mother tongue. The children study five subjects, including basic English, maths and science. The schools are well regarded, and the teachers often send their own children to them.

Last year, between 700 and 1,000 children aged between five and 15 attended the Shepherd Schools. Of these, around 500 went on to join the last or penultimate year of state junior school in preparation for secondary school.

The Shepherd Schools work in collaboration with the Ghanaian education ministry and the children are placed at a suitable level in the state system.

"When children get big enough to travel to school they are less interested in learning. This way, we catch them when they are still young,

says Julie Adu-Gymafi, Reflect UK trainer at ActionAid.

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