Education in Ghana

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.

Teaching Methods

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.

Discipline: Caning

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.

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Becoming Useless: the Art of Capacity-Building

Useless I started and useless I will become, if all goes according to plan.

I remember starting my placement and being extremely frustrated by the feeling of uselessness I carried. “What value can I add to CHIPS, or to the EWB team I work with?” “How is anything that I am doing going to improve anyone’s life in the long run?”

It is a good thing to ask those questions, and to ensure that thousands of dollars are not being spent for me to just have a nice experience. The JF selection process is thorough and the training is even more so, and as a result we are set up to truly contribute to impact here in Africa. I am learning slowly that I am not (yet) useless, and there are actually small (and big, hopefully) ways that I can my skills to further the work that EWB and CHIPS are doing.

It was on the phone with Ben Best, my coach, that these questions of uselessness came up again, but in a very different context. We spoke about capacity building, and how part of my role this summer can be to build the skills and capabilities of the team of Ghanaians I work with. Perhaps I was already doing some of this by taking them along as I asked hard questions, tested hypotheses, and challenged assumptions, not to mention the practical ways like role-modeling workshop facilitation or helping to develop computer skills. However, I knew that I could be a lot more intentional about how I was doing this.

“Find out from the team what value it is that you are adding”, Ben explained, suggesting this be done by asking directly, or having an outsider ask on my behalf. “Then, impart those skills to others so that they are able to do it just as well as you have been”.

Makes sense, right? I have skills and talents, and those are the things I am best able to impart to my colleagues. But that means that if all goes according to plan, by the end of the summer I will have nothing to offer that they themselves do not now possess.

I learned recently that two characteristics of an effective agent of change are (1) ability to build skills of those around you and (2) humility. I think both of these will be essential if I hope to do capacity-building right.

Humbling it will be indeed, to become useless. By choice.

Development Theory Made Simple

I would like to summarise my favourite two conversations about development so far. One is with a Ghanaian, and another is with a Canadian.

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 We were in the middle of a heated discussion about something to do with development. I was sitting with Sarah, Akid, and Nick, wonderful JF friends of mine, along with Sham and Bull, a couple of Ghanaian guys Akid is friends with. We argued over the role of Canadians, and us specifically as JFs, in Ghana, or in development in general. Did we belong here? And if so, what was our role?

We finally addressed the question to Sham, and I think his insight was brilliant. He concluded that a lot of Ghanaians have misconceptions about the Western “rich” life, and it has been important to chat with Akid and hear the reality and understand what life on the other side of the world is about. We had been discussing the example of BRAC, and he also agreed with us that the most effective development will certainly come from the locals themselves. In short, he said Canadians should stay in Canada and develop Canada and fix the problems that are there, and Ghanaians should be the ones to fix some of the problems in Ghana. We could still see the other culture, and have it be an eye-opening experience to further us in our hopes for our respective countries.

Cultural exchange and locally-driven development. Sounds good to me.

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The second cool conversation was on the phone last night. I finally figured out how to call Canada, and was speaking with Jennie and Tishauna, two of my close friends from Hamilton. They are both still in high school and have lived in Hamilton their whole lives, so were somewhat ignorant about a country like Ghana.

I had greeted Tishauna and asked her how she was doing, and then we got on the topic of my life here. She was shocked as I explained that there was no running water and many people used the bush as a toilet, and only certain people used the next best option, a latrine (explained to her to be like an outhouse or Port-A-Potty). “Whoah, I thought they just made stuff like that up on TV!” She remarked.

(1)    Realization that there is actually an issue at hand.

I went on to reassure her that I was having an amazing experience and really loved life here in Nakpayili. I explained how everyone was so friendly and always greeted one another. I told her of the strong sense of community and family connection. I spoke of the way people worked really hard and helped each other out. “They may be poor”, I remarked, “but they are so rich in these ways”. “Yeah”, she responded, “if they were rich, they wouldn’t be that nice. They would be mean and selfish and lazy and not wanna help each other”.

(2)    Realization that what we have in the West is certainly not the Utopia to strive for. Richer≠Better.

I agreed and told her that I would rather be poor and have good community than have lots of money but have no strong social networks or hard working people who cared about each other. “Yeah, except you can’t just stay that poor. That is a problem”. I tossed out the idea of hospitals, and safe water, and she continued. “Yeah! You at least need things like safe water to drink, and toilets, and money for school or to go to the hospital, and food to eat, and a good house to live in. You don’t need drugs or cigarettes and the rest though.”

(3)    Realization that although we may not know the ideal “developed” state, there are basic rights and opportunities all humans deserve to have, and we can work towards providing them.

I think that’s the most quickly developed, and most accurate, description of the injustices we are facing and why they are worth fighting for. I could not believe that this inner-city highschool girl could so well articulate the problem of development. Thanks, Tishauna, for saying it better than I could myself.

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What are your thoughts on Sham and Tishauna’s perspectives?

Why I love life right now.

I cannot decide.

Do I feel like

Exploding from joy?

Or bursting into tears

From this overwhelming sense of

Gratitude?

 

Previously, I felt the need to

Think more think more think more.

Question question question.

Compare to others,

Constantly.

But now I am learning to

Think well

Do plenty

(but not too much)

And just feel loads.

 

The clarity of mind,

The finding of myself,

The liberation of remembering

That I trust in an all-loving Christ…

 

The songs,

The crosswords,

The pink sunsets,

The laughter,

The Dagbani,

The smiling kids,

The friendly faces,

The feeling of home.

 

The lime & honey,

The pate pate

The anaminchinge

The Toblerone *

The roasted peanuts

The miracle that I just enjoyed

A dinner of TZ and fish.

 

The visits from friends,

The good conversations,

The feeling of purpose,

The satisfaction of To Do lists

Being crossed off

 

The moto rides

And bicycle rides

And canoe rides

 

even the goats.

 

Wow!

I love it all.

How blessed am I!

 

Motorcycles aboard, we canoe across the river to go to my three-day village stay. Epic, right?

 

*Yes, JFs, I know you are jealous.

An Uncomfortable Request

I had been in Pudua for about two days. It was my first time in a village with no electricity, and I was soaking in the experience of having no latrine and very few English-speakers around. I had come primarily to meet this man, Ganui, who is one of the best Community Animal Health Workers CHIPS has. I had spent part of the day before shadowing his work, and some time in the evening roaming the village with him.

I was at home, sitting watching the stars after having finished the supper that was prepared for me by the ladies of the house. Ganiu and his friend, Mohammad, arrived, coming to visit and invite me to go to the cinema, a generator-powered home movie theatre. I was quite excited to experience it and grateful that they had thought to come fetch me.

Before we left to go to the cinema, Ganiu looked at me seriously.

“Naomi, I have some urgent matters that we must discuss”.

“Urgent matters?” I clarified, unsure if I had heard correctly.

“Yes, very important matters. It cannot wait.”

I gave him permission to explain himself, and he told me what he had wanted to say. He was explaining that since we had spent some time together in the past two days, we should be friends. And as we continue to be friends when I go back home, I can soon help him. In a while, once I finish my education and start working and have money, I should help him to also finish his education.

I was taken aback. From friendly movie invite to considerable financial request?

I awkwardly avoided the question, diverting the conversation to other things and dismissing it with a “oh, I am still a student.” And a “yes, we are friends, now”.

I reflected later on what made me so uncomfortable about the interaction. That Ganiu was trying to use me? That our relationship, for him, was just a means to greater opportunities? That I was white educated Canadian, and indeed had access to more resources than him? That I would have the power to one day support someone’s education, whereas he may not?

This SHOULD make me uncomfortable, I realized. It should bother me that this injustice exists – this polar distribution of wealth across the globe that creates unlimited opportunities for some and prisons others in whatever context they happen to have been born. It should upset me that I can return in a few months to my comfortable way of life (University education, electricity, air-conditioning and all) while Ganiu and many others may never find the means to even leave Pudua, not to mention the country.

Really, I can’t blame the guy. At least he is a go-getter trying to seize opportunities. And while I do not want to begin sponsoring his personal education in the near future, I do want to do whatever I can to one day abolish this barrier of unequal opportunity.

Image

Ganiu the Go-Getter at Work

Rain: Canada vs. Ghana

Location

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Nakpayili, Northern Region, Ghana

Rainy season: duration and frequency

Light rain for whole days or weeks at a time.

Heavy downpours that last a few hours max, typically. Every other day or so.

Perceived Benefits

-jumping in puddles

-occasional dancing in the rain

-healthy crops! (rains come, you eat)

-forced break in middle of hot working day

-if you are visiting a friend, you are forced to stay a while longer and chat (must stay sheltered)

-cools the air temperature for the rest of the day and night

-often accompanied by epic thunderstorms

Inconveniences Encountered

-uncomfortable sitting in lecture with wet clothes

-unplanned interruption to your schedule (ie. Meetings cancelled because the rain on the tin roof is too loud to hear one another)

-roads become too muddy to ride easily by motorbike

-rain+moto ride=chilly