This year through Project Overseas there were 52 teachers assigned to 13 projects in Africa and the Caribbean. I was selected to work in Ghana, Africa with the Ghana National Association of Teachers on the youth project. I was thrilled.
After four days of team building and training in Ottawa, eight educators (on two teams) travelled to Ghana to offer teacher professional development in three different cities. Working closely with two teachers from Alberta and one from Nova Scotia, our team prepared and facilitated sessions on the following topics: effective communication, student-centred teaching strategies in English language arts, mentorships, gender equity, and classroom management and discipline.
My sessions concentrated on proactive classroom management and progressive discipline – very interesting topics considering that in 2010 the government indicated that the use of the cane to discipline children in schools must be phased out. Of note, in our first school visit, the cane was visible on most of the teachers. Also, our teacher participants struggled to know what could possibly be used instead.
They were especially shocked to imagine how, as a school principal, I was not allowed to hit or cane students. Our team did not pretend to have the answers, but we worked side by side with our teacher participants to paint a picture of the small steps needed to move away from corporal punishment.
Teachers in Ghana work with minimal resources and in difficult circumstances. In one session, we had teacher participants identify and discuss issues of concern in their current postings – no place to live, no electricity or clean water, primitive schools that do not suffice when it rains, no toilet facilities, lack of transportation, sexual discrimination against women and girls, class sizes of up to 80 students, low salaries and no resources were often identified. Three participants in one class had taught a full year in remote communities with few resources and never received a salary – merely an allowance provided by the local village. Despite these difficult situations, our classes were filled with teachers who were passionate and determined to provide the best education they could to the children in their schools.
They worked with us to take what we presented and mould it to be workable in their situations. We, the Canadians, learned as much or more from our participants as they did from us, especially in the area of improvisation of resources.
In the first week of our project, our GNAT hosts thought the best way to understand local schooling was to visit a school. Dansoman Basic School is considered a fairly well-resourced school and even houses two special-needs classrooms (something uncommon in Ghana).
When we entered our first classroom the children rose and in unison wished us good morning, then returned to sitting in pairs on their
wooden benches behind little wooden desks. All children sport a school uniform of gold and brown and all have their hair cut short. Their eyes came alive with the sight of the Obronis (white people) who entered. It was in this class that our host asked, “Who knows anything about Canada?” In response, a little girl (Grade 2) put up her hand and indicated that she had been to Canada and it was very hot there. I went over to the little girl to speak with her and immediately noted that she was practicing printing her name, A-n-g-e-l-a.
I told Angela that I had the same name and put my arm around her to explain that where I come from in Canada it is cold most of the year. She laid her head on my shoulder and we chatted about her country and mine.
We continued our visit to numerous classrooms where we were touched by students who had never met a white person. The students were happy, curious and completely taken with our light-coloured skin and our cameras: “Obroni! Obroni! Snap me! Snap me!”
We also visited a country school, located down the road from a small village. It did have latrines for both boys and girls, but that is about all it had. The school itself was a series of bamboo poles holding up a tin roof – no walls other than to separate classrooms. A small blackboard and a couple of desks were inside each classroom. We assumed that most students sat on the dirt floor.
It is important not to judge the country in which we worked – the government is looking ahead. For example, they have made it mandatory that all students in junior high school complete a class in information technology and write a national exam at the end of the year.
The only difficulty is that many of the schools do not have reliable electricity, let alone a computer. This was best captured when, on the board in one of the classrooms, we saw a computer mouse drawn on the blackboard with an arrow pointing to the words “this is a mouse.” The government has also recently announced that they will no longer allow teachers to teach who have not completed the appropriate qualifications. Once again the policy is solid, but the reality is that remote villages that cannot hire and retain teachers will no longer be able to offer any formal education to their children.
Ghana is well on its way to positive reforms in education. It will just take persistence on the part of GNAT, and more importantly its teacher members, time, and of course, money for infrastructure and resources.
Our sessions began on Monday and continued throughout the week until closing ceremonies on Friday afternoon. The days were long and there were obligations in the evenings as well, including a weekly presentation on HIV/AIDS and water-borne diseases, a Canada night on Wednesdays (that we planned and hosted) and a Ghanaian night every Friday.
On Saturdays, GNAT arranged sight-seeing opportunities for us, which we thoroughly enjoyed: drives through the country to destinations such as Boti falls, Nzulezo stilt village, the canopy walk (Canadian-built) and crocodile pond, and visiting downtown Accra and the craft markets. Sundays were travel days. It was a hectic four weeks, but well worth the experience.
The people of Ghana have the best smiles in the world. They are friendly and when we tell them we are from Canada, they want nothing but to know more about our country and dream of one day coming here. Would I go back? Absolutely!
I am thankful to the Saskatoon Teachers’ Association,the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation for awarding me the opportunity to take part in such a phenomenal, life-changing experience.
I will never forget the enthusiasm of our teacher participants, the hugs and smiles of children wherever we went, my brothers and sisters from Canada with whom I travelled and the hard-working staff of GNAT who are truly making a difference in education in Ghana.