Today’s Inspiring Startups take an unusual turn. For the first time, we are featuring a non-Ghanaian. She is a woman from the Netherlands who is trying to make a difference in the educational system. Through her social enterprise, Special Learning Materials, she is producing learning materials that is changing the theory-based approach of the educational system to a practical one. Read on as she narrates to the B&FT how it all started.
Margaretha Ubels is a Dutch citizen who has spent more than 20 years in Ghana. She first visited Ghana in 1994 through an NGO she worked for which aimed at helping street children go back to school. It was relatively a short stay of about nine months and she went back to Holland. But in 2000 she came back to again, —still on the ticket of the NGO— this time on a more professional basis to develop education for the children through life skills training.
However, over time, the NGO realised some of the children it took from the street and sent them to school—fully sponsored—still went back to the street. So, Margaretha was tasked to investigate it and she found out that those kids had learning and behavioural issues which made it difficult for them to grasp the things taught at school.
So the NGO took a new approach. It decided to develop training for teachers and parents and raise awareness through the media on how best children with such problems can be helped in schools. The NGO trained educators who in turn developed training programmes for teachers and parents on how to handle such children in school and at home.
The birth of Special Learning Materials
Last year, the NGO she works with ended the street children programme due to the Ministry of Education’s new inclusive policy which demands all children to be in school and be helped no matter their learning disability. This policy is quite similar to what her NGO was doing to get all children off the streets so they had to end it to avoid duplication of efforts.
Still passionate about education and learning, Margaretha decided to bring up something that is missing in the country’s educational system—practical approach using learning materials. For someone who was born and bred in an advanced country, she knows the impact learning materials can have on the development of children. So she has started producing some of these materials from local raw materials that will reduce the cost and make it affordable for the middle and lower income earners. These materials add images or graphical representations to help children visualize what they are taught so it doesn’t become something vague in their minds.
She also makes puzzles from them to act as both a game and learning material for kids.
The response has been very positive, she says. All the school, especially the private schools she has pitched this idea to have all shown interest and have put in orders for her learning materials.
Parents who also see her materials on social media have also expressed delight about after getting some for their kids and shared how they have improve learning among their kids.
Her vision is to gradually help transform the educational system by moving away from a theory-based approach to a practical one that will make learning much enjoyable and easier for children. She wants to see every school in Ghana use supplementary materials in their teaching and learning.
The main challenge she has observed is the skills gap which makes it difficult to find individuals with the right skills to work with. This, she says, can be blamed on the education system which primarily focuses on theoretical training. As an employer, this comes at a cost to her as she has to spend time and money in training employees all the time.
The Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC) is training her to use sustainable ways of producing the materials and also use effective business models to develop the business and make it more impactful and profitable.
What the government must do
Margaretha feels the government’s focus should be centered more on primary education as that is the beginning of the learning process for children.
“I think more attention should be given to primary education. There are so many children who complete junior high school and still finds it difficult to read. So I think more focus should be centered on primary education and that will make the other levels of education easy for the children”.
A good reason to stay in Ghana
For Margaretha, the main thing that motivates her to keep living in Ghana far away from her family and friends is the friendly culture in the country.
“What I really enjoy in the Ghanaian society is the way people relate with one another. It is much more open and friendly because in the past ten years in Europe everybody is afraid of everybody, whereas here people are friendly”.
And again, the desire to make a change in society motivates her to continue living in Ghana. Compared with her country of origin, she says, every basic need is satisfied and there is not much to be done in areas like education to cause a change in the community, so living in Ghana gives her some level of satisfaction she will never have got in the Netherlands.
Advice to parents
“Parents should become much more involved in the education of their children and they should own the system. They should hold schools accountable for the development and performance of their children. It is not about just paying school fees, it is about holding the schools accountable. If parents will not do it, the government won’t do it either.”
GCIC is a pioneering business incubator with a unique focus of developing SME ventures and entrepreneurs in Ghana’s ‘Green Economy’. Their mission is to develop and support an exceptional set of transformational ventures and entrepreneurs who are pioneering adaptive and mitigating solutions for climate change issues in Ghana. They focus on five key economic sectors (energy efficiency & renewable energy; solar power; climate smart agriculture; domestic waste management; water management and purification). The services provided by GCIC includes the provision of premium business advisory and business mentoring services, technical support in the development, prototyping and testing of their innovation, as well as financial Proof of Concept grants to qualifying SMEs within our incubator.