Foundation First: Investing in Ghana’s Future by Empowering Early Childhood Teachers and Developing Young Learners

Dear GlobalEd Readers: It is a huge pleasure to introduce you to a wonderful organization based in Ghana called Foundation FirstGodwin Agbavor is the founder of Foundation First Ghana and works to improve the quality of early childhood education through teacher training, advocacy, and partnership work. Julia Cave Smith is the founder of Foundation First UK, which provides technical and fundraising support to the Ghanaian office through strategic leadership from the board of directors, social media management, and grant writing activities. Thank you to my colleagues Godwin and Julia for their extraordinary work offering some of the highest quality EC teacher training that I have seen –anywhere!

Godwin delivering a training session

Four years ago, Godwin Agbavor founded Foundation First based on the belief that investing in a child’s future from an early age is essential for investing in one’s nation, community, and oneself. The initial inspiration for Foundation First stemmed from Godwin’s challenging experiences in primary school, which he later saw repeated in his students’ experiences while working as a kindergarten and primary school teacher. Specifically, children often perceive teachers to be scary and fear punishment if they misbehave. 

Foundation First provides accredited training to teachers, demonstrating alternative classroom behavior management techniques which do not require physical punishment, such as  establishing classroom rules and norms and rewarding good behavior. Overall, the organization serves communities by empowering teachers, improving school learning environments, and transforming students’ learning outcomes. 

Research demonstrates that a quality early childhood education enables children to succeed in life through stronger child development support (Graham, 2011Meloy et al., 2019Sammons et al., 2015Sroufe et al., 2010). Foundation First focuses on these learners to help Ghanaian children become better citizens with the necessary skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, to contribute to national growth and prosperity. Currently, Ghana ranks very low on international assessments, such as the EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) of 2013 and 2015, which signalled that children lack basic reading comprehension at the primary level. In Ghana, kindergarten was only added to the main education system in 2007, however, nursery offerings for two- to three-year-olds are still not part of the formal system, despite evidence of how critical this period is for early childhood development. 

As such, Foundation First is helping to provide young children with a stronger educational foundation such as emerging literacy and numeracy skills, as well as emotional and social preparation to help develop the whole child, complementing the Ghanaian government’s efforts to demonstrate the value of early childhood education. In particular, the organization is targeting children in vulnerable, underserved communities. Foundation First has established six district model practice preschools and 54 circuit model preschools, which aid in demonstrating best practices and alternative classroom management strategies to teachers. The organization has already seen evidence of the impact of training put into action. For example, children working with trained teachers are demonstrating self-regulation skills such as turn-taking and independent decision-making, learning eagerly, showing readiness for preschool and schooling in general, and performing better academically.

Bibi, a Foundation First trainer, modelling for a practising teacher how to use a weather tally chart during an in-classroom coaching session
Children creating their name cards to be used for daily self-registration 

In the model practice preschools, children learn in a happy environment and are excited to come to school each day. One parent shared that when their child was sick, they did not want to miss school because they did not want to miss the early morning arrival activity for students who come to school early–this signals that children are having fun at school. One aspect of learning is students engage in diverse learning centers, such as home, reading, and shopping centers. These centers are important for expanding children’s imaginations and developing cooperative skills. All of these activities are linked to the national government curriculum, thereby helping educators to achieve objectives while fostering a positive learning environment. Students are also using what they learn at school in their homes. Another parent shared that when she and her child were in the kitchen, the child started counting all of the red objects they could see, including tomatoes, bringing the experiences from the learning centers to their home environment. 

Children carrying out self-registration
Children showing their work to their teachers
A child completing the weather tally chart for the day

Foundation First also engages in a variety of advocacy work, including parental and community engagement activities, to fill-in the gaps in attention given to this young population of learners in Ghana and raise awareness of the importance of preschool education. Early childhood teachers are often viewed as inferior and lack the practical skills and knowledge they need to succeed, so the organization is also working to improve the status of preschool educators by providing training opportunities to empower them. Already, 550 educators have benefited from the training programs. As one training participant commented, “there is a preschool revolution happening in the districts” in Ghana as people’s attitudes and mindsets are changing, which results in transformation of teaching practices. 

Araba, a Foundation First trainer, modeling story sharing with trainees

To measure teacher improvement, Foundation First uses baseline and endline checklists, including a list of behaviors and actions that demonstrate a well-managed, play-based preschool classroom. Evidence shows that most teachers have improved considerably, especially in critical areas such as praising children for positive behavior, conducting daily story sharing sessions, and intentionally creating and fostering a welcoming and rich learning environment for childre

Sabina, a Foundation First trainer, explaining how learner resources are linked to the curriculum and to children’s learning outcomes

The organization’s success can be attributed in part to Godwin’s previous experiences working as a government education service employee and the presence of the former national coordinator for kindergarten education on the Foundation First Ghana Board of Trustees, as well as the organization’s growing connections to other groups and actors stemming from conference and event presentations over the past four years. These presentations have led to key partnerships and opened up new opportunities, including the ability to expand the team with three full-time and nine part-time staff members to date. For example, in 2019 when the organization delivered a presentation to the Ghanaian National Association of Private Schools, 23 private schools requested training in the Western region of the country. Most recently, Foundation First just began a partnership with Awana, a faith-based organization. Awana heard about Foundation First’s work during the Edify 360 partnership conference. Such partnerships have helped the organization endure despite the challenges and setbacks brought about by COVID-19. 

To learn more about Foundation First and their work please visit https://foundationfirsteducation.org/ or https://twitter.com/FoundationFirs. They are actively interested in building new partnerships to continue to expand on their great work, so please get in touch if you are interested.