Adventures in Ghanaian Classrooms

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Reflecting on our first training sessions around 150 teachers and head teachers from both SOS and also community schools the differences between my classroom in the UK and a typical Ghanaian classroom couldn’t be more different. Truly. I’d done lots of research and @musicmind had shared with @lisajaneashes and I her footage from her trip to Tamale two years ago but nothing prepares you and when you see it with your own eyes as the Headteacher and teachers proudly show you around it’s time to put your best poker face on! 

The teachers here share classrooms in SOS schools that have whiteboards (not the interactive ones!) a chalkboard, desks, chairs, windows covered with a mesh to stop insects and mosquitoes paying a visit and a door, which is always open. Class sizes vary between 20-25, the lack of space limiting larger classes. There is a small resource cupboard in most classrooms to store resources and ‘equipment’. They have exercise books though, bespoke ones too with the SOS values and the prayer printed, created for the children to use in all of their lessons (see images below). However there are no computers, no speakers, no laptops nor iPads or other tablets, often no teacher’s desk, no shelves, few displays, but more importantly there are fans to keep the classrooms slightly more cool in the oppressive Ghanaian heat. Think sparse, basic and functional. Below are some photos of some of the classrooms that we have seen. The teachers do the very best they can in extremely challenging circumstances that frankly you and I would have nightmares about! The daily challenges which every Ghanaian teacher faces are: cleaning the concrete classroom floor and the path outside before the school day starts, fixing the donated desks and chairs so the students have somewhere to sit (which isn’t the floor), extreme limitations of budgets, access to resources, variety of resources, the unwieldy pressure of teaching six subjects to a high standard (English, Maths, Social Sciences, General Science, Religious And Moral Education and Twi- the local language of Kumasi). All teachers teach through the medium of English which is their second language. The expertise of these teachers is incredible, the amount of knowledge they have to acquire in the three year teaching training programme is rather like that of our fabulous primary teachers in the UK. In addition to multiple disciplines, they must also have at the forefront of their minds: creating the right climate for learning so behaviour is appropriate for learning, being able to build sustainable and professional relationships with students in their care, and of course to have incredible patience akin to Mary Poppins! Oh and the incessant heat, all year round. 

This is a privileged position to be in; the decadence of the SOS schools comparative the community schools is phenomenal. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! It truly is! @lisajaneashes has written a post worth reading. Please take a moment to read this. Ghana – What’s the Point? – The Learning Geek

On meeting the community teachers they are not envious of the classrooms, the range of resources nor the walls and windows in the classrooms. They are surprisingly humble, incredibly so. They are fighters though and are very clear that they want the best for their many students. In community schools class sizes could have a range of ages and up to 60 students. The classrooms in community schools vary on where you go. There are no concrete paths to lead you to classrooms simply the abundant red earth that has been carved in to paths by the teachers and children walking in their flip flops and sandals to class. Some have concrete floors others have reclaimed and recycled plywood, some have furniture, some have walls, few have windows nor the protective mesh seen in SOS schools, some aren’t classrooms at all more like a gazebo type structure. There may be a few desks or chairs or a door but certainly not enough for a class of 50 or 60. Therefore, children share the seated space, 4 sitting on a space for made for two. Quite a challenge you might say.    The community school in Asisakwa supported as part of the outreach programme. 

The outreach work that SOS Village Schools are doing following @musicmind ‘s visit is brilliant. The teachers are just as passionate and want the best for their students but sadly there is still corporal punishment in some community schools here in Ghana. SOS schools have banned this outdated and brutal practice favouring a positive approach known in Ghana as ‘behaviour modification’, to you and I this is behaviour for learning. We had the pleasure of meeting one community Headteachers who was a delight, she was very forward thinking and fiercely proud of the teachers in her school and the connection with SOS school’s outreach programme. Yet, there were no doors in classrooms, windows with shutters, no mesh to keep the insects at bay and even fewer resources. There were students beautifully dressed in blue and white uniforms but also sat with broken boards and sharing furniture. This is the way for community schools but we have to believe that there is another way and, with the support from the outreach programme, these schools are starting to get it. The community schools which are part of the outreach programme also have to cease the punishments too, thankfully. 

The SOS schools have access to resources which are closely guarded by the administration team, not in departmental store cupboards that you and I have. Here, there is no such luxury nor do I think it will arrive to schools in Ghana anytime soon. In the community schools, teachers often purchase items with their own money to ensure learning continues such as chalk for the dilapidated black boards, pens and paper. 

SOS director Alex has the vision that SOS teachers and schools will identify, train and create a fabulous army of expertly trained, all star teacher leaders. They will work with community school teachers as well as SOS colleagues to improve the teaching and learning experience for all students across Ghana. An admirable aspiration and vision to make real but this journey will be long yet arduous but he has passion and drive and will make this a reality. 

@lisajaneashes and I are in Ghana thanks to @ITLWorldwide and @WWEPuk and we look forward to developing the partnership further to support Alex to realise his vision, so that the teachers here in Ghana:

  •  become less didactic and relinquish control
  • to develop questioning styles which draw out key information about prior learning from the students in front of them
  •  to help understanding of differentiation and then to embed it
  • to integrate meaningful praise in to their repertoire which recognises effort as well as excellence but doesn’t just reward intelligence 
  • to use a wide range of strategies to help their learners be more engaged, more curious and more independent

The teachers here have a basic toolkit and through our work here, we hope to add to this showing the teachers that there is another way. If you can help these colleagues please click on the link below: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pedagoos4n 

£1 is worth 5-6 Ghanaian cds (the currency not music cds!) this will buy 10 bespoke exercise books for children in school or 30 boxes of chalk. Thank you. 

Adventures in Ghana. 

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SOS villages Ghana is an excellent organisation centred around the many orphaned children that it serves. It’s mission; to make life better for all of the children in its care currently and in the future across the whole of Ghana in any way that they can.

@lisajaneashes and I are here on behalf of @WWEPuk and @ITLWorldwide to meet the teachers and to help, guide and support them to become the very best they can be. Of the teachers we have met so far in Tema they are passionate about making a difference so all of their children in their classes learn well, speak well, make the progress they need to successfully complete the English, Maths, social sciences exams so that they can access a good secondary school. The better secondary schools attended by children in Ghana opens up a wide range of opportunities and thus more successful life for those individuals will be. Sadly in Ghana not all young people access the best education but it is the vision of SOS Village Schools that education is radically improved to ensure that all children have access to ‘quality education’. 

Children coming in to a village often have suffered trauma and loss, almost certainly poverty that you and I have will have rarely encountered nor experienced. It is heartbreaking to scratch the surface and hear about some of the experiences of some children here in Ghana. The children live with a ‘mama’ the mama is in charge of up to 10 children and has two aunties to help her support, care for, love, clothes, cook and educate the children. She becomes their mother. The mamas are trained for three years they are closely monitored and supported in a variety of techniques to best help the children. The mama’s alongside the children’s educational experiences and the teachers at SOS Village Schools here in Ghana work earnestly to ensure the children understand right and wrong, have morals and values as well as good behaviour and making sure the children complete a range of chores to a high standard. The mamas are absolute angels and take their work extremely seriously leaving their own families behind to work. In Tema we had the privilege to meet Mama Juliette who cared deeply for Lisa and I ensuring that we had all we needed throughout our time there. She cooked delicious food for us and brought this from her home to ours so Lisa and I did not have to cook nor worry about doing this. We have been very well cared for by her. She welcomed us in to her heart and she will always remain in ours. 

On Sunday evening we met her children, they greeted us with smiles, laughter and absolute joy in their eyes opening our hands with their urgent little dexterous fingers to grasp our hands tightly. The older children wanted to help us carry our things taking them from our shoulders whilst also sussing us out. The children were very interested in us and word spread like wildfire that the two visitors from England were in their midsts and suddenly we had 40-50 children who all wanted to meet us, speak to us and find out all about us and England. There was an array of children from 3 years old through to young men and women in their twenties. The older teenagers glanced from afar secretly intrigued but like all teenagers, far too cool to show it. Though after the initial mayhem of the younger children mauling and crawling over us some dared to make the break from friends and the football match to come across, their intrigue finally getting the better of them.

Thanks to @musicmind (who shared this little gem off an app with me) I whipped out my phone and showed them YAKIT KIDS, an amazing interactive app which caused absolute delight amongst the children. To the point where so many of them wanted to create one. These children laughed hysterically as they focused on creating faces and adding their voice recordings. We had such fun, the children desperate to play with this. There are a selection of videos here: ​​​


We had brought with us some of the pencils donated to ITL (thank you to all that sent them)  so after a short but intense while we put away the tech and wanted to get an understanding about their school experiences. We chatted to them about what the it teachers and classrooms looked, smelled and felt like initially and Lisa had the idea of encouraging those who wanted to to draw them for us. This was especially interesting as the children wouldn’t initially commit coloured pencil to paper and needed guidance or support. Lisa drew her classroom as an example and having seen this they set to work with glee. See a selection below: It is interesting that classrooms are similar with these children having access to desks, chairs, exercise books and stationery. It appears that the Victorian style of teacher at the front children sit in rows is still a feature in many classrooms across the globe. 

The children opened up and shared their likes and dislikes about school and when questioned about their aspirations I was awestruck to hear the range of professions that the children had set their sights on. Their teachers and mamas clearly have high expectations of them and despite many of the children being of primary and junior school ages they were very clear on the direction of their lives. We heard of aspirations to be doctors, teachers and gynaecologists. I was particularly humbled to hear the response from Martha aged 13 who has set her sights on being a gynaecologist, her reasons are because the mortality rate of new born babies and their mothers are very high. She spoke purposefully about how she will care for and support the mothers along their amazing journeys to birth to ensure excellent health of the mother and the child. She went on to say that although she can learn this at university here in Ghana that it would be her dream to travel to several countries outside of Africa to learn new and modern techniques to bring back to Ghana to help other healthcare professional by cascading the training to her peers here in Ghana to further educate whilst also improving healthcare for mothers and the neonatal system in Ghana. This young lady took my breath away and the calm and quiet passion with which she spoke will stay with me for quite some time. Martha (pink tshirt, front right) with her friends and family.

Life is hard, brutal even for orphaned children living in Ghana unless they come to an SOS Village school where they are cared for, loved and given access to a new family, healthcare and education however this is all extremely expensive and SOS Village Schools are doing the best they can with the means they have. If you would like to support the work of these big hearted professionals making a real difference here in Ghana then please follow the link below to read more and donate. One English pound is worth much much more here so even a small donation will help to change lives. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pedagoos4n

Also please take a moment to look at the fantastic work being completed worldwide by @WWEPuk the charity for which Lisa and I have the privilege to be working here for. http://www.wwep.org.uk/projects
From @lisajaneashes and I as well as the children in Ghana, thank you.