Takeaways from Volunteering at a School in Ghana
Last week I returned from a volunteer trip with Wheelock College to Ghana, and the experience has touched me, not only personally, but also professionally as an educator and childcare provider.
As you can imagine, everything was totally different from what we know here (culture, climate, language, environment). We spent time working in a classroom at the Kpongunor Basic School, east of Accra. Like so many villages in Ghana, it is remote and has just one school, offering the equivalent of our kindergarten through grade 8. Reflecting on my weeks with the people there, I am determined to bring some of what I learned to my schools.
Here a few takeaways:
- Class size and make-up set the tone for learning: Our classrooms in Ghana had between 29 and 58 children in them – in the first grade ages spanned from 8 to 16 (some children stay home to herd cattle until 14 or 15 and then start school). Interestingly, age was not an issue for the children or teachers. Not surprisingly, class size was.
- Appreciation for education: Families must pay for schooling, so not everyone can go. It is entrenched in their culture that education is a privilege.
- Government-regulation limits flexibility: In Ghana, the government controls what is taught and provides books for the teachers, who teach straight from these textbooks. There are no textbooks for the children, and the only materials available in the classroom are a chalkboard and chalk.
- Supplies make a huge difference: As an add-on to the last point, it is amazing how these teachers make due with what they have. It is also unbelievable and a bit heart-wrenching to think about how much more they could do with more materials. For example, we had our laptops with us. Computer class is taught by talking only – there is no demonstrating. The children were thrilled to see our laptops.
- Teachers and individualized attention are key for learning: With up to 58 children in a classroom, there is clearly no time for any individualized support or attention. The children were excited to spend time with us after school to practice their reading, math and drawing skills. This “extra” attention does not exist in these schools.
- Feeling of community: We say it takes a village to raise our children. In Ghana, this has a different meaning: children as young as 2 or 3 would roam around with groups of older children – this was seen as normal, and the parents weren’t worried about their safety. They knew that people in the village would look out for them: by disciplining and caring for them.
Volunteering in Ghana opened my eyes to what we have in our educational system that is strong and inspiring. But it was also freeing to be disconnected from the incredibly fast pace we have here. In addition to sending supplies from our school to our new friends in Ghana, I will spend the next weeks and months thinking about what I brought back with me that could help our children here at Tobin Beaudet.