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. 

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