I have been blessed to have made another “Siliminga” friend the past few weeks. Alex came to stay with us in Nakpayili for just over two weeks. Alex is studying to be a teacher, and thus spent his time at the local Primary school observing how school works here and getting to teach himself and inspire the teachers with some (more creative and engaging) teaching methods. Alex kindly wrote this post for me, sharing his impressions on the Ghanaian education system.
Access to Education
On my first visit to the local Ghanaian school I was immediately impressed with the amount of children attending primary school from the local area. The lack of access to a good education for many children is a widely known global problem with estimates suggesting that over 120 million young children worldwide do not have the opportunity for a decent primary education. As far as I can tell, Ghana is at least making an attempt at minimising this problem, though there is still a lot of work to be done. In this area of the country certainly, most major villages have a primary school and smaller communities tend to be just a few kilometres away from a school. However, through speaking to a variety of people I have been informed that this is not the case nationwide with many communities having little or no access to any education at all. The Government still has a lot of work to do in order to establish this wide access to education, but it seems to be walking slowly on the right path at least.
Lack of Resources
The Ghanaian education system however, has a wide range of other problems that need to be addressed. I can only talk from the perspective of a narrow range of rural schools of which I have experienced or had discussions about, and have had been told differing information from different people, but schools seem to have a serious lacking of teaching resources/provisions. I have been told by some that the Government has just told schools to improvise for their teaching materials; on the other hand I have been told by others that schools are granted a monthly capitation which they should use to spend on resources and school facilities, etc. Either way, from what I have actually observed in school there is little-to-no decent learning materials; textbooks are minimal (in a class of over 40 students, there may be 10-15 textbooks meaning that up to 4 children could be sharing one textbook – that is old and ripped – to study from); and exercise books and pencils seem to be funded individually by students (although last year a Government initiative was meant to have provided every pupil with one exercise book per subject). Although primary school is free in Ghana, the need to fund some equipment, exam fees, etc. along with considerable rates of poverty, many families cannot afford to send their children to school well equipped (or even at all in some cases) and this consequently challenges children’s potential development thus creating a large percentage of failing students and a diminished number proceeding to a higher level of education. Moreover, learning and teaching is further diminished by the lack of educational provisions. In Nakpayili primary school for example, the school (with over 500 students) owns just one ruler which is formed from a stick about 1 metre long with the numbers 1-18 written on it with unequal intervals, seeming to bare no relevance. All of the tiny amount of resources the school holds have been improvised and created in similar ways. It is extremely challenging to try and teach and learn effectively in these sorts of conditions.
Another issue that rose to my attention was the teaching methods used by the teachers within class. The methods would seem unorthodox or extremely old fashioned in the eyes of ‘Western’ society. In many ways it is good for different cultures to have their own edge to the delivery of education, and western methods should not be imposed on the rest of the world as the correct way as this is completely untrue, but in my view the methods I have experienced in Ghana rely too greatly on repetition and ‘forced learning’. The class would repeat – after the teacher’s example – a key word from a text, written on the board, many times over without understanding the meaning of the word or even the layout of the phonics within the word enabling them to read it in all contexts. Information and knowledge is always repeated again and again in order for it to get ‘drilled’ into the children’s minds. Consequently they would not understand the reasoning behind the method or information, or have any understanding of the subject/ topic in a wider context. Similarly, in mathematics children are drilled the answers to and knowledge of various sums; however their range of basic mathematical vocabulary and understanding is minimal. Furthermore, basic problem solving and reasoning skills that should form a key part of the mathematical curriculum from a young age have not been acquired by even the eldest/most advanced pupils. This could boil down to several reasons: the teaching methods used, the fact that the language medium (English) used in class is not the first or regularly spoken language of the community, the lack of routine within school, or even in some cases the children’s desire to learn when they don’t understand what benefits they will receive from it. Whatever the case is, many local teachers believe that a change of teaching methods is needed, they are just not quite sure how to implement it within the classroom as they have never known anything different from the current system. Some have mentioned that more practical and experiential learning is required, others have revealed the need to review the language system and how English is used within lessons, friendships and communities to make it a more understood educational language. All of these ideas have arrived from well educated local Ghanaians who understand the current system and the communities; and these ideas would benefit children’s development greatly.
One of the aspects I have found most disturbing with Ghanaian education is the constant use of the cane as punishment. Its use has actually been made illegal by the Government but amongst rural schools who are not observed regularly, it is still widely known to be the main source of punishment. Although the face is avoided, all parts of the body may be caned, including occasionally the back of the head if the child is sitting down. What has troubled me even further is how children are even caned sometimes if they do not know the correct answer to the question when the teacher feels they really should. It’s a huge pressure for children to learn and recall the correct information. This punishment is not light and the children genuinely fear it, but it is traditional amongst these communities and it will not be easily subsided.
Optimism for the Future
Although there are still problems within Ghanaian education, and many further developments are required, the system genuinely does seem to be slowly moving forward on the correct path. Teaching is becoming a good career for Ghanaians with a decent salary and it is planned that by 2015 all primary and Junior-high teachers will have to be qualified to at least diploma level and senior-high to degree level. Being able to provide education for all young children in Ghana is a key target of the Government it seems, and the educational system as a whole is a significant issue that is being constantly observed and discussed amongst political parties, especially with elections imminent. If significant advancements are maintained then the distant future is beginning to look bright for Ghanaian education, but for now I would say that the students and children of this nation need as much help as possible, as do the teachers who all have high hopes for the education of this country.