Category Archives: Education

(De)Motivation

On Monday morning I woke up feeling, well, really crappy.

No, I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have malaria, parasites, or even just katah*. Something just wasn’t sitting right in my being. As I lay under my mosquito net, a thin sheet protecting me from the cold of the night and muted sounds coming from the compound, Cat’s words from pre-dep about mental health came rushing back to me. I had an immediate self-diagnosis: demotivation.

I know I’m a hypochondriac, so I did a little check-in to make sure that I wasn’t exaggerating with myself. Low appetite? I’d been blaming it on my experience at Tamasco, but I had been having difficulty with food recently. Low energy? I’d even complained to Tania about that the night before. Changes in sleep habits? I checked my phone to see that it was 5 a.m. Neither the Call to Prayer nor my own alarm had awakened me at such a strange hour.

Dammit Chris, I cursed myself, way to ignore every warning sign for the past two weeks. Looks like it’s time for a mental health day. I wondered if talking to myself was a further sign of deteriorating mental health, before realizing that that was the hypochondriac part of my brain speaking up. I silenced the nonsense and fell back asleep.

When I woke up at 8, I immediately called one of my coworkers to tell him that I’d be working from home that day. Thankfully my office is awesome and even encourages working from home, so it was no big deal that I wouldn’t be coming in. After all, Alhassan told me on day one that “you’ll be more productive if you vary your work environment every now and then” (seriously, who is this guy?) So I pushed all fragments of guilt from my brain and set up a make-shift mud-hut office in my room. I spent the morning working on some stuff before heading to town in the afternoon. I had to get some pictures developed to give to my classmates at Tamasco and I had some other small errands to run as well.

However, when I arrived in Tamale I found myself wandering about the shops aimlessly, thinking about the source of my current melancholy. Education in Ghana is just really demotivating. There are so many big changes that are required to fix it and even though everyone working in the sector knows what those changes are, nothing gets any better. I think it was the one-two punch of sitting in a teacher-less classroom one week then immediately hearing teachers tell me that they’re powerless to impact their students the next that led to the KO of my motivation.

“Hey Tamasco! Comena.”**

The voice broke my reverie. I was wearing my Tamasco cloth shirt because it was the only clean one I had left. The man calling me looked young and was flapping his fingers in the very Ghanaian “get over here” motion. He didn’t shake my hand when I reached him, but instead demanded to know about the source of my shirt. My answer of “me, I’m a Tamascan” didn’t satisfy him, so I told him my whole story.

It turns out that the guy’s a teacher getting his degree at the University of Cape Coast. He asked me if I like to read and when I told him that I do, he started prattling off a list of African and Ghanaian authors and their novels. I didn’t have a notepad to write any of them down (because, you know, it’s not often that I have to rapidly record African names and book titles), so I took his number instead. He finally shook my hand.

As I turned to go, he caught my attention.

“You know,” he said, “Education, good education, is the only way, the only way that Africa will get out of poverty. That’s between you and me. Ignore what the rest of them say, it’s the only way.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that and thankfully I didn’t really have to, because he had disappeared into the crowd of his friends. As I stood on the street, the sun beating down on me and people pushing past me, something clicked. The stranger’s words played back in my head slowly. As they did, I squeezed out every drop of significance I could from them.

What a strange coincidence. This stranger had put to words the exact thoughts that I needed to hear in that moment. Sure, the interaction would have taken place regardless of my mental state and it’s likely that I attached more meaning to it than was reasonable or real. However, I can’t ignore that the message I needed was delivered to me right then and there.

Ask and ye shall receive? The power of The Secret? A random event?

I don’t know. Regardless, my drive is back.

-C

* – katah = rhinovirus infection

** – comena = come here

 

 

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Day 5 – Sex and Shit

Warning: this post is not for the lighthearted or weak-stomached. 

Sex

“So, have you ever-teehee-done it?” asks Emmanuel, his mouth blocked by his hand for the last two words of his question. I’m sitting in a teacher-less classroom (surprise, surprise), with all of the students’ attention directed at me. We’re talking about the Mystical Land of Canada.

I had fully expected this topic to be broached over the course of the week and I’d been dreading it. How do I talk about sex with a bunch of potentially very hormonal teenagers living in a puritanical society?

“You know,” I begin, ladling a thick sauce of diplomacy over my words, “in Canada, relationships are very different. Many people have pre-marital sex there.”

Some of the students are surprised by this information, while others nod their heads sagely (or gravely? I’m not sure).

“I’m not saying it’s right or wrong,” I continue, maintaining my level of neutrality, “because, you know, the Bible and Quran both say that it’s wrong. We just have a different culture there. A different context.” They seem to accept this explanation.

“It’s not so here,” says Daniel, “if you have pre-marital sex, they’ll beatchu!” Some of the guys laugh along with him. I sense that the main reasons behind remaining chaste have escaped them and wonder if it’s due to their lack of sex-ed.

“We have a saying at Tamasco,” explains Oliver, “that a girl should arrive and leave alone, never as part of a pair.” I’m immediately confused, as is often the case when I hear Ghanaian proverbs. He tells me that it means that girls shouldn’t leave the school pregnant. This disturbs me, but I wonder how far I can push them.

“It takes two to get pregnant, though,” I remind the group, “I think the expression should be: If a boy enters Tamasco, he should leave as a boy, and not a man.” The guys laugh, but when I probe them, they agree.

“And if you’re thinking of abandoning the values you grew up with,” I continue sternly, “you need to really consider if it’s worth abandoning everything you’ve known to be true since you could speak. Also, you should wear a condom.” I’m not sure if it’s my place to add the last part, but to give abstinence-only advice is diametrically opposed to many values I hold dear.

“Abstinence is the only method that’s 100%” Emmanuel reminds me smugly. Oliver nods and, pen in hand, says, “it’s like this. If I don’t remove the lid from this pen, then I can’t write with it.”

This kid is confusing. I ask him again what he means. He explains that if a girl keeps her legs closed, she can’t get pregnant. Once again, this man-centered view worries me. I tell them that God gave women and men self-control for many reasons and that unwanted pregnancy is one of them. They accept this and we move on to discuss Canadian weather after some closing remarks by the class prefect about the duties of Tamascans t0 stay pure.

Shit

When I first arrived at Wemah house, one of my initial questions was “Where’s the toilet?” The answer came from Jacob and was somehow cryptic. “Oh, you’ll find out about Morocco soon enough,” he told me with a grin. As far as I know, Morocco is a country in West Africa that I’d like to visit at some point in my life. I decided to put the question to rest and take a wait-and-see approach.

Un/Fortunately, the food at Tamasco is, in a word, disgusting. I was so backed up from it that I didn’t require a place to relieve myself until Friday. That’s right, I didn’t poop for almost 5 days. I’m fairly certain that that’s a new record for me, not that I’m keeping track. The last 2 of those 5 days were awful. My stomach hurt terribly and I was super nauseous at any strong scent.

This is why I can never eat garri again. We had garri and beans on Wednesday for dinner, so it was the last thing I ate before my horrid two-day, gut-busting experience. Even just writing about the meal now is literally making my dry-heave. It was bad.

Worse, though, was the fact that on Friday when things finally did loosen up, oh boy did they EVER loosen up. I think “release” is a better word. I had an immediate and absolute need to visit Morocco. I’d heard from Emmanuel that it was located “behind the headmaster’s house”. I found this hilariously ironic, but I also hoped that it would be enough information for me to find it on my own, for I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to direct me.

So, like an old elephant ready to die, I discreetly separated myself from the herd and went my own way. It turns out that Morocco was easy to find; I just had to search for the place infested with flies and littered with human turds and various butt-wiping implements. It was, in fact, behind the headmaster’s house.

I know I didn’t overtly mention it before, so I’ll do so now: Tamasco, the Shining Light of the North, doesn’t have any toilets for the students. They have to shit in the woods. That’s what Morocco is–their shitting place. I have to commend them for at the very least localizing their bowel movements. In some small way, I’m sure this is a way to prevent the spread of contamination.

Okay, so I arrived at Morocco and chose a place to do my business. In all honesty, this was the first time I’d ever shat in the woods. Sure, I’ve emptied my bowels in the bush before, but there was always an outhouse or at least one of those boxes that they build for campers. Yay for learning experiences!

I squatted, pushed, and promptly ruined my Tamasco uniform. I really tried to stay out of the splash radius, but no fluid mechanics class could help me predict the splatter pattern of liquid feces leaving my body at a seemingly very high flowrate. At least it was just a few drops that got on my shorts. After about 20 sweaty, thigh-busting minutes, I decided to call it quits. I wiped my butt, and my pride, and walked back to Wemah house.

The only thing is, having a BM didn’t make me feel any better. In fact it made me feel worse. My stomach went from a dull ache to feeling like it was about to explode within me. I lay down for an hour or two, but it was obvious that there was more to come and I just couldn’t stay in that environment, so I called it quits and ended my school stay early. The close proximity to Sagnarigu made it easy for me to get home to my VIP latrine quickly.

I spent Saturday resting and getting tested for Typhoid and Parasites. To be honest I think it was just the Tamasco food, but it’s never a bad idea to get tested in case treatment is required. By the time this post goes up, I will have found out what it was and will have taken the appropriate course of action.

Like I warned, this post was not written for the weak-stomached.

-C

Day 4 – Attempts at Goal

This is what my Thursday looked like at Tamasco:

Students...

...but no teacher

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.

-C

Day 3 – Different Perspectives

I sat down gingerly in my desk on Wednesday morning. By now, the flat and hard desk had taken its toll on my rear-end and I found just sitting quite painful. When I told my classmates why I was having difficulties, they laughed and told me, “it’s because your buttocks isn’t round-round like ours!”* This is probably true.

Still, I sat. The Master for that day was late, as usual. I’d come to the hypothesis that Masters being late for class was just a part of the culturally-driven phenomenon of Ghana Time. When he did arrive, he sat right in front of me, at a student’s desk. I thought this was curious, but what happened next was even more astounding.

“Okay, group 4,” he announced, reading from his notebook, “it seems as though it’s your turn to present.” Group presentations? Awesome! It got even better from there, though. The group who was doing the presentation had set it up as a mock episode of “Good Morning Ghana”, complete with a moderator and several panelists to discuss the topic at hand: How to Upgrade Oneself at Work. After a brief discussion, the panel opened up for “listeners to call in”–i.e. for the class to have a group discussion.

Students asked challenging questions of the group, both in attempts to catch them off-guard and with genuine interest in the subject. Afterwards, the Master told the students that they need to work together outside of class, too, in order to be successful. He also told them that next term he’d be incentavizing group presentations with prizes for the best group. Then he announced that he’d be forming a student parliament to “give the students a voice” on key issues and that he was looking for motivated students. I was honestly dying of excitement/curiousity/nerdiness. Who was this teacher? Where did his excess of awesome come from? I had to know.

I grabbed his attention after class, introduced myself, and set up a time to talk with him afterwards.

Immediately after class had finished for the day, my good friend Emmanuel found me and told me that he was going to take me on a tour of the campus. Even though I’d already had one tour, I figured another couldn’t hurt. After all, I’ve been at the U of O for three years now and I’m sure there are still parts I haven’t visited. We got on his bike–me riding and him on the back, armed with a camera–and rode around for maybe an hour and a half. Some highlights:

View of Tamakloe House. This guy (I forget his name) rode alongside us for a bit.

The Tamasco campus is beautiful.

The class farm. Each Agric class has their own farm where they learn practical skills as part of the General Agric class. I JUST missed the planting of maize 😦

The main auditorium. You'd probably never guess that this is a building in rural Ghana, right?

The Indomitable Nkrumah house. Ever Forward, Never Backward.

The dining hall, a.k.a. my worst enemy at Tamasco.

We ended at the house of the Master from the morning in time for my meeting with him. We talked for about an hour and a half about his experience with teaching, the issues he sees with education and what he thinks a solution looks like. His passion was phenomenal. He told me that he goes to every in-service training they offer, because he values dynamism in his teaching and sees the benefits it has on the students. His devotion to the students was really amazing, especially in such a demotivating environment (we talked about that, too).

Our conversation had to be cut short because it was time to dine, but he invited me back to talk with him any time. His last message to me was a piece of advice: he told me that any solution to the issue of quality in Ghanaian education must be holistic. He told me that the issue is complex, and many things have to change before teachers will be motivated and driven in their work.

I think he’s right, and I can’t wait to pick his brain for more insights.

-C

*Sidenote: in Ghana, if you want to show that there are multiple things, you just repeat the name. Ex. “one-one” refers to multiples of an individually-packed item.

Day 1 – The First Lesson

They told me that we’d have an assembly at 6:30, but when I wake up on Monday morning I can hear rain pounding the zinc roof of our hut in the Wemah House compound, so I assume that it will be cancelled. It seems that most things in Ghana are cancelled when it rains and rightly so. The rain is serious here. So I roll over and fall back asleep, hoping that my roomies will wake me when the time is right.

The rain stops in time for breakfast, which consists of bread and tea with lots of milk and sugar. Afterwards, I head with my room-and classmate Francis to General Agriculture. I’m excited for it, because I know nothing about agriculture, and because it’s my first class as a Ghanaian high school student. Francis shows me my desk, a misshapen contraption made of very hard, flat wood, and I sit down as students start to arrive.

The teacher, or Master (“Mastah” in Ghanenglish), is late. When he shows up, he doesn’t notice me and I wonder if it is unusual. It seems as though he doesn’t know any of the students’ names, so I guess that it’s probably not out of the ordinary for him not to realize that a new, and decidedly different, student is in his class. In any case, I learn plenty about market structure and function during the class which seems comprehensive.

The Mastah for the next class–Core Maths–is also late. When he does arrive, he wants to know what I’m doing in the class. He accepts that I’m a new student from Canada here to see what it’s like to be a Ghanaian student and we continue with the lesson. A student gives him a vector question that he reads to the class. It goes like this:

Given triangle PQR such that PR = u, PQ = v, the midpoint of PR = M, and the midpoint of RQ = L, show that PL = 1/2(u+v). Now, given that PX = 1/3(u+v) and PY = 2/3(u+v), express MX, RY, and XQ in terms of u and v. 

(If you’re vector-illiterate, have no fear. Please, continue reading.)

The Mastah goes through the first part of the question with no problem, but when we get to the second part he reads the question again and tells the class that there must be a typo which has rendered the question unsolvable. I’m shocked; in the time it has taken him to consider the problem, I’ve come to a complete solution. That the teacher hasn’t even attempted it surprises me. I raise my hand.

Before I know it, I’m at the blackboard, demonstrating that MX = -1/6u + 1/3v. Mastah considers my solution. “Ah, I understand,” he says after about a minute, “okay, let’s find RY then.” He reproduces the diagram sloppily, misplacing the point R then proceeds for a good ten minutes to mumble incoherently away from the students while he scratches away at the board with the chalk.

I feel bad. I’ve put the teacher on the spot and if I were in his position, I’d probably be equally challenged. I look back at the students from my desk at the front of the class and see a bunch of very confused faces. Now I’m torn; the students need to understand this, but I’m not a teacher. It’s not officially within my role to be the one to help them understand. Screw it, I think, the students are more important.

I get the Mastah’s attention and ask if I can show the solution. In two minutes, I’ve written the complete answer on the board and get many understanding nods from students. I’m still conflicted, but I tell myself that the students’ understanding rationalizes my not-so-humble behaviour. Mastah sits at the teacher’s desk at the front and stares at the solution wordlessly for the rest of the period.

After the class is over, Mastah calls me to speak with him. He tells me that the problem with the Ghanaian education system–the one in which he was educated–is a lack of practical use of the theory. He tells me that there is knowledge, but no skills.

He didn’t show up for his classes for the rest of the week.

This is why Striving for Humility is one of EWB’s core values. The actions I took in that class were not within my role to take, and taking such actions has likely had a bigger effect than what happened in the class that I cannot predict. Sure, maybe that effect will be positive. The important part, though, is that I don’t know whether it will be or not. The ripple effects are out of my hands and unmeasurable from where I stand. I didn’t correct a Master for the rest of the week, even when the errors they made were glaringly obvious.

It’s not surprising that my first lesson as a Ghanaian high school student had little to do with what was written on the blackboard. Funny, Isn’t that the case with most lessons in life?

-C

Day 0 – Speaking in Tongues

JFs are encouraged to stay with a rural farmer for a week of their placement in order to get an understanding of the realities faced by Dorothy–the peoplewho make up EWB’s bottom line. Since I’m working in Education, I chose to be a student for a week instead. This post is the first in a day-by-day review of my adventures. 

Tamale Senior Secondary School, or Tamasco, is just outside of Tamale proper and has been in existence since before Ghana gained independence. It is known as the “Shining Light of the North” and has educated some very important Ghanaians. I chose to go there for my school stay last week because the data show that the quality of education at Tamasco is declining rapidly. What better a place then to understand some of the barriers to good education that are currently plaguing Ghana’s system? I was slightly concerned that the close proximity of Tamasco to Sagnarigu would mean that I wouldn’t be pushing outside of my bubble enough, but I soon found out that this concern was wholly unfounded.

I arrived at the assistant headmaster’s house at around 1 p.m. on Sunday. The headmaster grabbed the attention of a passing prefect named Jacob and told him to give me a quick tour of campus. After introductions, Jacob said to me in a serious voice, “so, are you Christian or Muslim?” This has been a really common question posed of me by Ghanaians immediately upon introduction, but I’m still somewhat taken aback when I hear it. Religion is certainly more of a private matter in Canada than it is in Ghana, and no matter what answer I give, the follow-up questions are always more difficult.

“Uh, I’m a Christian,” I told him. “What church?” He probed. I knew that was coming. “Uh, as for me, I don’t go to a church,” I told him. “Then we’ll go to the PenSA service tonight,” he commanded. (I later found out that Jacob is the commander of the Tamasco Cadets). I had no idea what PenSA is, but I decided that I was game. Saying yes to (contractually-allowed) new experiences has been my default in Ghana anyway.

We continued our tour of campus to Jacob’s dormitory, Hayfron House. As we passed by the rooms of the other students living there I received many stares and calls of “obruni, obruni, how are you?” At first, I was taken aback by their use of that word; it’s an expression for a white person in the south of Ghana. In the north, they use “souleminga” instead. Besides that everyone in Jacob’s dorm spoke in Twi, a language of the south. As a Dagomba man myself, I immediately felt out of place. And I loved it.

The high school system in Ghana is such that a student’s performance on the BECE dictates which bracket of schools they can attend. Better score = better school opportunities. A random computer system places students at schools based on their score and the bracket accepted by schools. This is something I hadn’t considered before coming to Tamasco, but I realized then that it meant I would be living with many southerners for the week.

I missed dinner that night because the students were intensely interested in me and they kept me busy with all their questions. Thankfully, Jacob shared his garri and shito with me. Shito is a wonderful, fish-based sauce that adds flavour and spice to whatever you want. I actually love it. Garri is a sort-of edible sand made of fermented, dried, ground cassava. It’s basically the equivalent of ramen for students in Ghana, because it’s super cheap and can be easily prepared in about a gazillion different ways with simple ingredients (read: water). It was my saviour that night, but now I can’t even type the word without my stomach turning (why? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out!)

Jacob wanted help with some Maths work, so after dinner we went to one of the classrooms and talked about… high school girl crushes! We didn’t end up doing any math at taallll. Instead, Jacob told me about this girl he likes–his first crush, actually–and the troubles he was having with approaching her. It seemed really familiar a topic to be discussing, but at the same time there were some strange differences that made advice-giving difficult. The most notable of these was Jacob’s guilt caused by his feelings. This is something I’ve never encountered in any previous infatuations and seems unnatural to me. Still, I answered his questions as neutrally as I could.

From there, things got a whole lot different. We went straight to the PenSA service from the class. It turns out that PenSA means Pentecostal Students’ Association. I was immediately worried that the service might end up being somewhat intense for my first religious service of any kind. I couldn’t back out once I was already seated in the auditorium, though. Yay for learning experiences!

The service started out as I expected it to: sit, stand, “hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”, sing, sit, repeat. However, after about two rounds of this, the preacher (a student) began to get very fervent and started riling the entire congregation to follow him in his passion. Then they all started speaking/yelling/chanting in tongues and pacing about the room randomly while the preacher interjected wildly. I just stood there, unsure of what to do as I have little to no experience in speaking in tongues. I’m sure the scene would have looked comical to an outside viewer, but I was just scared, to be honest. Thankfully that part didn’t last too long and soon a different preacher took to the podium to talk about the importance of studying hard. I heartily approved of his message (and Jesus does, too).

After the service, I went back to my room which I would be sharing with 5 other guys. I lay down on the thin mattress of my bottom bunk, exhausted and excited at the same time. My brain raced, but my body desperately wanted sleep after the intellectually exhausting day.

It’s like all of Tamasco is speaking in tongues, I thought before passing out, whether inspired by God, high school crushes, or their upbringing. And I’ve got one week to translate their message. 

-C

The Biggest Stakeholders

“I beg, tell me if this graph makes you happy or sad, and why,” I instruct a group of teachers in my very best Ghanenglish. They’re seated in one of their own classrooms as Alhassan and I present data on staffing, enrolment, and BECE results for their schools for the past five years.

Alhassan delivers the results of a survey on teachers' perceptions of data use, student performance, and their influence on student performance.

“It makes me sad,” begins one of the teachers, “because it tells me that teachers are not performing.”

It’s a valid answer; the graph clearly shows that the school is overstaffed and that performance is decreasing. His answer is incomplete, though.

“It makes me sad, because it means that parents don’t value education,” suggests another teacher.

It’s good that she’s thinking of potential causes for the data I’ve presented, but still she’s missing something.

“Basically, it means that the stakeholders-government, parents, NGOs-are not taking responsibility,” says a third teacher.

The group buzzes with agreement like a bunch of satisfied bees. I sense that they have accepted this as a complete and final answer deserving of 10/10 on a test. This seriously concerns me and I have trouble controlling my voice as I ask my next question.

“And what of the students?”

The buzzing stops and some of the teachers perk up.

I continue, “this graph makes me sad because it tells me that 60% of students who come through these schools won’t even have a chance at going to high school. It makes me sad when I think of the futures that these kids will have.”

The teachers remain quiet. I hope I’ve had some impact with that statement, but the teacher sleeping in the back tells me otherwise.

I’m starting to realize from my research, both academic and on the ground, that there’s a missing bottom line in Ghanaian education. Alhassan and I have only hit 4 junior high schools with 2/5 presentations so far, but the attitude that we’ve seen is one of a near-complete disregard for the biggest stakeholders in education: the students. I wonder: why?

Is it because donors want to see numbers telling them that 100% of children are enrolled in basic schooling? Or is it because the job market in Ghana is so crappy? Believe me, these things are definitely part of the multifaceted cause of the issue. The first because donor focus dictates policy focus, and focussing strictly on enrolment means that students are in school, but not learning. The second because teaching is a lucrative career that includes a nice steady paycheque and infinite job security. These, and not delivery of good education, are the motivations for many people to become teachers in Ghana.

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that these things (and more) certainly play a causative role. So, then where is my value-add in all of this? That question filled my head for the rest of the presentation.

Teachers give us feedback on what they can do to improve the quality of their teaching.

It’s something I’m still working on, but getting the teachers’ thoughts has been invaluable in informing me of my potential role. From my interactions with them so far, I can tell that the context in which they work is extremely demotivating. They are used to being blamed for low performance, but don’t have the managerial support they ought to in order to be effective. They see their colleagues treating the job trivially and feel powerless to change that.

At the end of the day, how can I blame them for wanting to wash their hands of a problem that they believe is unsolvable by any action they might be able to take? It would be overwhelming for me to accept responsibility, even in part, if I were in their shoes.

All of these things were swimming through my head as I packed up after the presentation. The demotivation of the teachers had rubbed off on me, I won’t lie, and I was feeling pretty blue.

“Excuse me,” probed a teacher, breaking the concentration I held on packing up the projector. He put out his hand for me to shake and said genuinely, “thank you for this. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and not once have we ever gotten this kind of feedback. I had no idea that my students were doing so poorly. You asked if the presentation had any impact on us. Well, it has impacted me in a way that I can’t even describe. So, thank you.”

His words contained such validation, reinforcement, and–best of all–hope that I couldn’t help but break into a huge smile as I shook his hand.

-C