39 x 11 = ?
That was the equation that Alana had written on the worn chalkboard when I entered the classroom at Cape Deaf. The students, not a year or two younger than me, gawked at the board. “They’ve been working on this one for awhile,” sighed Alana. Under the equation, I glanced at their work:
9 x 1 = ?
The students did not posses the fundamental skills necessary to do elementary level arithmetic. They worked and worked and tried every one of the few techniques they knew, but still could not solve the equation. The sight was disheartening, but I was not upset until I turned my head to the back of the classroom.
Partially blocked by the clusters of uniformly dressed students, I spotted the teacher of the class, sitting at his desk, aimlessly fiddling with his cell phone. I was instantly reminded of a piece of art that I studied when I was the same age as the students before me.
Peter Buregel’s The Blind Leading the Blind: Although the disability is different, the message remains the same. I don’t claim to be an expert on education, but if these children — who are overwhelmingly eager to learn — are ignored and not encouraged, that spark will diminish and they will become as complacent as the teacher.
I want to have conversations with these students — granted they’d be through sign language or written word — that extend beyond the realm of “You facebook?” and “number phone have?” A language barrier, and a disability, are enough hurdles to conquer as it is. Basic spelling and arithmetic are not only essential skills, but fundamental skills for any higher level field of study.
I should clarify that this was not the first example of this environment of learning. Days ago, Alana and I shadowed a class in which the children (13-15 year-olds) were learning how to measure a line with a ruler. However, the students were instructed to ignore the ruler to instead focus on the use of a compass. Students practiced drawing the picture of the compass on the board, since there weren’t any compasses present in the room. To top it off, the teacher was sitting at his desk, watching a television show.
The children at Cape Deaf desire to learn. They work together, encourage one another, and correct each other’s mistakes to work towards a common goal. However, they are not provided with the basic concepts necessary to learn. Alana, Joel, and I can only do so much. The teachers — the people who know sign language, know Fanti, and know Ghanaians — can do much more.
Taking a step back, situations like this make me incredibly grateful for the education that I have received and continue to receive. Motivation from my teachers, parents, and mentors appear less of an annoyance and more of a blessing after witnessing the apathy towards the Cape Deaf students.
I hope that, through the continuation of the Davidson in Ghana program, the students of Cape Deaf can attain more resources, funding, and encouragement to achieve their potential.