Wednesday, March 22, 2006

THE SANKOFA FOUNDATION Making A Difference For Ghana

Before I say anything about The Sankofa Foundation I must apologize for my poor skills in the Dutch language. That part of The Sankofa Foundation's web site that contained the basic information about the organization is in Dutch and I had to do my best to try to translate it to English. That being said - Here Goes!

The Sankofa Foundation originated from the efforts of the Akwaaba Party in The Hague, Netherlands. The works of the party arose from the interest in furthering information about Ghanaian culture to the people in The Hague. In order to achieve its goals, those concerned got in touch with an individual in the Department of Culture of the municipality of The Hague. And from the discussions that ensued, the activities of The Sankofa Foundation was begun and the organization was formalized.

The governing body of the organization is the Board of the Foundation and is comprised of people from several cultural backgrounds. They are from Ghana, Surinam and the Netherlands. In addition the Foundation has a body of individuals in Ghana itself with expertise in the areas of culture and education.

As many people know, the name Sankofa is of the Akan language and refers to the mythical bird that symbolizes the Ghanaian philosophy that one must return to the past while in the present in order to be able understand who we are and from where we come. It is for this reason that the Sankofa looks both forward and backward simultaneously. And so by looking backward, it is able to move forward.

The Sankofa Foundation has been involved in many projects including:

Organizing the Kunstexpositie
Establishing the Telecenter in Ghana
Extension computer project in Ghana
Enabling Conciliation media from Ghana to the Netherlands
Helping to provide for the exchange of information
Fund Raising and
The Production of a documentary concerning the role of the church within the Ghanaian community

But mainily I would like to write about The Sankofa Foundation's ITC Project in Ghana.

The primary objective of the ITC project is to contribute to the reduction of the existing gap in the ICT area that exists between Ghana and the rest of the world. It is also the intention of the Foundation to stimulate existing initiatives making the ICT-facilities accessible and affordable for everyone.

By carrying out this project Sankofa creates a greater awareness and understanding in the schools and local communities. The Sankofa ICT Project is partly supported by a Dutch organization: Rodor Groep. Throughout the implementation of different pilot efforts "impact" is considered in terms of Opportunity, Empowerment And Security. Currently the project focuses on the use and impact of ICTs by slum children in Tema, Ghana.

More specifically the issue is addressed of: how do the computer skills of these children contribute to their future opportunities, security and empowerment. For this pilot project Star Basic JSS was selected as this school already provides computer classes to their students starting the age of 10 (6th grade) and also includes computer training in their vocational programme.

The "Sankofa for Star Basic School ICT project" is a computer laboratory that is housed in building of 5 x 20 meters air-conditioned room. So far the laboratory has 15 computers and a printer. This laboratory has been setup in a deprived school that had no computer facility, but has been connected to the national electricity network through the effort of the school authority. The school also had access to telephone facility quiet recently.

The laboratory was setup in 2000 but was unable to operate because the school could not afford to purchase computers themselves. The building for the laboratory was put up by the community, and supported by the school's Parent Teachers Association. This is the community's expression of their willingness to embrace ICT lessons and skills to schools.

Community 5 is a deprived community in Tema. Most students in the school, as in most schools in Ghana, are marginalized when it comes to access to information and communication technologies. Most of these schools are making efforts to set up computer laboratories, but due to the lack of availability of support from the Government in that area the projects often do not materialize.

Star Basic School began operations as a public school for slum children in 1968 with only 10 students and 2 teachers. It currently hosts 945 students, 480 boys and 465 girls. The principal, Mrs Bridget Tsigbey, has stated that her school targets children from families that earn less than 200,000 cedis (about 35 USD) a month. For a relatively small amount of money Star Basic School offers them an alternative to private schools that are often too expensive and government schools that are can possibly be of low quality. Star Basic School offers education from Kindergarten to Junior Secondary grade.

The main reason the Star Basic School has computer training in its curriculum is because these skills are among the basic skills that children need these days

Sankofa Foundation does not believe that computers can solve all the problems of the slum children, but they can be useful instruments to increase their ability to be in demand in the workplace. This brings about confidence building for the children that happens when they learn skills such as mastering the Internet. Additionally, computer skills enable the children to better face the challenges of present day society. These goals comport with those of The Sankofa Foundation: to build skills, confidence, and attitude.

At the Star Basic Schools computer lessons are a compulsory part of the curriculum from class 4 till JSS 3 (ages 10-16). Other schools start from the class 1, but Star Basic School needs more computers and teachers in order to be able to provide for this greater range of students. Currently, there is 1 computer lesson each week for each class and the first years are mainly dedicated to computer orientation. Later, lessons start with the children learning how to use DOS and Windows operating systems, MS Office (Word and Excel). Students would be browsing the Internet and using e-mail (Yahoo and hotmail) when the laboratory is connected to the Internet. The children also have access to classnet, an intranet for Basic Schools where they can ask and respond each other's questions.

Because of the strong ICT sector presence in Ghana, the Star Basic School students have high expectations from their computer classes and are very willing to learn these skills. The results of the computer lessons are: empowerment and confidence building, which are not always easy to quantify. But the access to the Internet alone and contact with students all over the world will bring about changes in the lives of the children.

There is much more to learn about The Sankofa Foundation and the Sankofa ITC Project, Ghana. Information on the Project can be found at this link. And the Hompage for The Sankofa Foundation (in Dutch) can be found at this link.

I strongly recommend that you give it a look.

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