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The way it really is…. (Mon., 7/6)

I have started taking bets on what will wake us up first…the rooster, baying goat, torrential rain, staff setting up chairs in the courtyard for breakfast, or maids sweeping (they do keep a very clean lodge). Today it was the rain and the rooster…still better than hearing an alarm clock though it would be nice if it happened a bit later. Today we headed to the schools to help our teachers and get a good idea of what education is like here. We were in public schools with a very high student/teacher ratio (though private schools offer a lower number.) Unfortunately University Practice, the school that I was to attend, had a clean up day today, so Comfort elected to take us all to Methodist and pair us with teachers there…I have learned a new saying today, TIA, This Is Africa. You just have to go with the flow here.

We arrived at Methodist and I was placed in a classroom in the upper elementary school with children aged 10 to 18 + (some had to be at least 21). From what I now understand, there is human trafficking that goes on here (mostly in the Volta Region-west of here near Togo) and some of these children have found their way to the schools here—the government mandates a free education for all, so these children (now adults) come to receive the education they missed. I talked to Kathryn’s teacher, George, and he said that his friend is working on getting counseling services in the schools for these children/adults because they know of no other way of life than that of worker, and they have been through so much that does not just go away. It’s an awful situation.

The classroom I was in was stark to say the least. It had posters that had been made by the teacher in a line along the walls. Some were of the three food groups, forms of transportation, multiplication tables, the Ghanaian National Anthem, Capital cities and Regions, and forms of religion. The long desks (they seat from 2 to 4 students) were in three rows from front to back of the long room with a chalkboard at the front made of the carbon from batteries (I made the mistake of erasing the board and ended up with pitch black hands, which the students were quite concerned about). A table and cabinet at the back of the room (which was also where the door was located) held the teacher’s attendance book, a pile of English and Math paperback textbooks, and the students’ notebooks for each subject (their parents must provide these notebooks and if they can’t, the students had better have a good memory). These notebooks are checked, but grades are not kept…the big exam at the end of the year (coming up) determines if they are able to move to the next grade. The students wore yellow uniforms, some in various stages of disrepair and others brand new. The door to the room served as a light source as well as a way for the breeze to enter and two windows with slits in them aided light and air as well. The other light source was found in the ceiling- there was a small rectangle cut from the tin roof and covered with transparent material. There is no electricity and no bathroom in any part of the school. Goats and chickens wander around the grounds and in and out of the classrooms as well. During breaks (15 minutes each) students may visit the food and water cart if they have brought money, though most played the game Ampi (a clapping and jumping game or ran about the courtyard in the middle of the cement buildings that serve as the campus of the school. ) All of the classrooms open into this courtyard. They are right on the beach and get to look out of their courtyard to the beautiful ocean—yet another ironic circumstance. I did take some pictures and will be able to post them as soon as I get home.

Instruction was a bit of a shock as well. They have no supplies except small Math and English textbooks and the chalkboard. And the big shocker, that we were actually warned about, was that they cane their students. The teacher I was with had a long flexible wooden stick and used it as a pointer and struck the desk to get attention from the 65 students in the classroom (there are supposed to be 98, but some were absent). He also used it to strike students on the back of their necks, top of their heads, backs, and hands if they were sleeping, being disrespectful, or not paying attention. It was so hard to watch this take place and not be able to stand up and yell…”No, there is a better way!”- But it is the way they know how to maintain order and we are outsiders here, instead I kept my mouth shut and tried not to look shocked. (Not all the teachers mange their classrooms this way but many do). You can’t change the world in a day and you can’t change a culture’s way of maintaining class discipline in a couple of hours…but perhaps we can plant a seed for these teachers to see another way.

The reaction of the students when I walked in the room was that of interest, though they were obviously unsure of me. I do not think that some of them have ever seen a white person before, or at least never gotten an opportunity to get close to one. When I got there they were finishing up some problems in their math notebooks and waiting for the teacher to check them (that’s how they do things here—teach the lesson, have the students do problems on their own, check the work, and then move on when they are all done- we got through three subjects today). Many had finished and were milling about and came right up to me, before I knew it I was surrounded by at least 10 children rubbing my arms, feeing my hair, and touching my eyebrows- it was a bit disconcerting I must admit. I kept explaining to them that our skin feels the same, it is just a different color, and that my hair is still hair, it is just a different color and texture, but they still kept at it. I definitely looked different to them and they were trying to figure out how and why. One little girl broke my heart when she said “I want to look like you.” I told her that she was beautiful the way she was and that we are all different and unique and should cherish that. Finally they settled down after I promised them that I would be their friend and was going to stay for the rest of the school day. All the while they were trying to place chalk in my hand and begged me to teach them English—the children here are so eager to learn.

After a bit of a disruptive start, to say the least, the teacher began a lesson on Ghanaian culture and language and the focus was on the language, Fantse. I had absolutely no idea what was being taught, but I was excited to see him draw a graphic organizer on the board. He filled in the middle bubble with a Fantse sentence and then asked them for things to put in the outside bubbles. I think they were trying to finish the sentence in different ways, but again I felt a completely lost. After this he wrote the sentences in the board for them to copy and waited at his desk for them to bring their notebooks for him to check. Meanwhile a lady came in selling “Junior Scholar,” a newspaper that looked similar to our Scholastic News- it had a word search and school news as well as a cartoon. They were 20 peshees (not sure about the spelling, but it means cents). I was overwhelmed with the need to buy one for every student, but luckily Dr. Houff had confiscated my money before we left- ( I probably would have given it all away). After the lesson, the students took a break in the schoolyard and I got to step outside and breathe—it was pretty hot and dark in the classroom.

The teacher then asked me to teach the English lesson because he did not teach them English, (he used to have two student teachers that did but they were gone now and he was not good at English.) I was a bit nervous and anxious at this prospect because I had no idea their level or what they were learning, but thought “TIA” and agreed, and I quickly shuffled through their textbook. They were working on a reading lesson about Fanti and the Piti Pot and learning about context clues as well as adverbs and opposites. I figured I could throw something together until I realized that no matter how loud I yelled, I could not yell over the other classroom noise that kept creeping into the room. The rooms have huge holes cut at the top between the classrooms, to help with airflow I am sure, but it makes for a very loud class, especially with 60 to 80 other students in each class beside you. I yelled as I read the story and as I stopped at each section to check for comprehension, was a bit disappointed. They do not speak or understand English as well as I thought and their comprehension has much to be desired. They do not teach phonics here, and so they recite, recite, recite in order to memorize how things are spelled and what words are. Meaning is not always taught alongside and so, while they were reading along with me, the meaning of the passage escaped them.

It was frustrating and after reading the story, checking and helping with comprehension, and explaining the meaning of the words, I was more than happy to move onto the section on adverbs. They had already learned how to make an adverb out of a word so it was easy to go through the exercises and they all seemed to understand and recite the answers out loud. Whew, I thought, after such a rough start I was relieved…but I still had a lot of time to kill. So I flipped to a poem in the book and read it with them, then I decided to explain rhyming words to them and thought that we could create our own poem together. Though they were very engaged and focused on me throughout the lesson, this was the activity that got them hooked and got everyone excited. I simply had them choose a word, explained how to create a new rhyming word, and they were shouting out words all over the place. It was exciting to see something click in their eyes when they got it, but before we were able to create the poem, Comfort came back to pick us up and school was almost over for the day (She could not get a University bus to collect us, so she paid for a taxi and had her sons get us so we would not have to walk—God love that woman). As I left, my heart broke when they asked if I could bring them books tomorrow…all of the books we brought had already gone to the Resource Center. I told them about it and promised to be back tomorrow. I am still a bit anxious about tomorrow but I hope to see other subjects taught and get to know the students a bit more- I will have to fight the urge to gather them up and bring them home.

All of the members of our group had different experiences, which is a testament to the individuality of teachers and students. Many of us did witness caning, some more seriously than others. Some of us had children with special needs in the classroom and while the teachers seemed accepting and determined to teach them, not all of the students were as tolerant. People with special needs do not enjoy the same kinds of opportunities that those in the US receive, and while some students encourage them, others believe they do not belong in the school system, let alone in their own classroom. Some of us had teachers with babies on their backs, while others had extremely engaging teachers who came to the workshops and used everything they learned. Many of us noticed that the main mode of instruction was recitation…in every subject. There was more of a focus on repeating things over and over until it was right or memorized instead of correcting and explaining why it was not right. Teachers here have many students to teach and I am sure that is one of the reasons they teach the way they do, but I also think that they have not been shown that there are other ways to teach …I hope we brought some of that to the workshops and that those teachers who attended will spread the word. Agnes seems to be one who took it all to heart and Claire (our group member who was paired with her) said that her students were engaged and excited, which is encouraging.

Dinner tonight was finally a true Ghanaian foodfest…rice balls (very starchy and were like a dough ball made from rice) and Ground Nut Soup (tasted like a peanut like soup which you dipped the rice ball into). It was pretty good and I feel like I have finally eaten like a Ghanaian, though Evan said that they toned it down a bit for us, and left the chicken out for me…very thoughtful! As Prince, our chef, said when he served it, “Yum Yummy!” More to come…but another day….sorry for such a long post, but I have lots to say !

The classroom I was assigned to at Methodist Primary- they are copying a Fantse lesson from the board.

The classroom I was assigned to at Methodist Primary- they are copying a Fantse lesson from the board.

~ by cferber on .


2 Responses to “The way it really is…. (Mon., 7/6)”

  1. My Dear Christina,
    Don’t think that there is no one reading your posts – because I am following them intently I know It is a culture shock for you but you will learn so much and you will never look at our world the same again We take such mundane things for granted Don’t think that your blog has gone unread, I have been keeping up. We don’t even get how good we have it. What kids have to put up with in other countries for the most basic of needs such as every child’s right to education – not to mention food, clothes, books, toys and of course a basic sense of safety. I am sure it will be a wonderful learning experience for you and the kids. Take it all in and try and have some fun. Luv ya! – Deb

  2. i really look forward to hearing more details of your trip and seeing pictures. once again the teacher and “libra” in me wants to fly over with every educational material i’ve ever bought and give it away! you all have made such a difference~ hope you KNOW that! it’s the little things~ even a smile, hug or nod of understanding that can move mountains! can’t wait to catch up..