This is what my Thursday looked like at Tamasco:
We sat in class from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and not a single Master showed up. I asked some of the students if this was unusual and they told me that, in fact, they hadn’t had an ICT (Information and Computer Technologies) Master in their three years at the school. So, it’s not like the Master was lazy, there just wasn’t one. I was astounded; Ive heard that teacher absenteeism is a big problem in Ghana, but to experience it firsthand was eye-opening. I guess that’s the value in a school-stay.
When I told my classmates that in Canada, or the US (and probably parts of Europe, although I have no way of knowing), a teacher would be immediately queried and disciplined, if not sacked (fired) for such behaviour, they laughed. “Welcome to Africa,” said Daniel, a Dagomba brothah of mine, “feel free to put that in your report.”
I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. Literally one week prior, a classroom full of teachers had told me that their students “weren’t serious”. I wonder: were they talking about the same students who were faithfully in class, studying from their textbooks and practice question sets while their Masters did who knows what? The same students who get up for the 4:30 a.m. prayer, even if they are Christians, so that they can get in extra study time before class? The same students who study for 2+ hours every night in the empty classrooms on campus?
After “class” (a.k.a. free study time), Emmanuel told me that he wanted to show me something. We hopped on his bike and he directed me to a seemingly secret location whose purpose he wouldn’t disclose. He stopped us under a tree close to a nearby JHS where many bikes were parked. “See that?” he asked me. “Yeah, but what am I looking at?” I responded, confused. He went on to explain that the Masters who had not been present during the day were holding extra classes and charging students 4 Ghana cedis for entrance. He told me that usually 80-90 students would show up to these extra classes and that if you don’t show up early, you won’t get a seat.
The whole thing was abominable to me. The teachers know they won’t be fired for missing classes, because there is little to no accountability for them to actually do their jobs. For them to create a demand for extra classes and take students’ hard-earned and sparse money through their inaction is just disgusting, in my opinion. I know that not all teachers do this, but that it happens at all just astounds me. I wanted to weep under that tree right then and there.
We had to leave the extra class quickly, because there was a football match between the two Agric classes. All of my classmates wanted me to play, so I pushed out of my comfort zone and laced up. I’d like to point out that I haven’t played a real football match in maybe 10 years, and that back then football didn’t involve three different languages (Twi, Dagbani, and English), a bunch of grown Ghanaian men who have been playing since they could walk, herds of goats on the pitch, and the occasional moto driving across the field. Even without these things, I still had a penchant for scoring on my own team’s net back when I did play. I figured this match would be interesting.
The whole time, I felt like I was just running to keep up with the other guys, let alone actually play. I got the ball a total of four times. Once was a good block that received some cheers from my team, another was during a collision with one of my own players (no injuries sustained), and the last two were attempts at goal. The first attempt was laughable: the net was wide open and the ball was right in front of it. My foot never actually made contact with the ball and I ended up on my ass. The second attempt was a little better, but the ball rolled off the top of my foot and ended up going over the net instead of into it.
The whole game made me truly feel like a Ghanaian student. I was always running, working so hard just to keep up. When I did have a chance to attempt a goal, I didn’t have the skills to follow-through to success, because I was horribly out of practice.
As I high-fived my teammates after the 3-2 win, a mix of happiness at our success and raw desperation at the reality of these students hit me.
I had become part of the missing bottom line.