Blog Post #4
This is the second to the last week in Kumasi, Ghana. There’s a lot of things need to be unpacked. First, update about the church experience: the people I met from church called my teacher to ask to meet with me, and I told them not to because I found it weird to have a man come over to the house and just say Hi. But when I was teaching one day, the teacher came over to my classroom and said that “they are here”. So I went out of the school, and two people I met at church brought two other men. They really just said hi to me and asked how I am doing and left. They told me that it is expected for them to be nice to foreigners. The teacher, later on, said that it is common here to visit people who came to their church for the first time, and that the church people really strive to build a connection, a relationship, and a family. I think that might be part of the reason why the church is so prevalent and powerful in Kumasi. It is no longer a religious ritual, but also a social connection.
Educational System (The service site)
An overview of the educational system in Ghana :
New Curriculum for the KG: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/GES-to-roll-out-new-curriculum-for-primary-school-737703
I enjoy working in Louie Marie, and after sending six weeks in the school, I found myself processing some of the things I experienced, and trying to find a balance between what I know and what the school wants the students to know.
- Teaching materials
- The role of the instructor
- Expectations of the students
- Me, the students, and the school
1. Teaching Materials
Those six weeks, I mainly taught Math, English, and Science for Grade 2, and Rhymes for KG 2 (4-5 years old). From teaching and observing the lessons, I found myself questioning the purpose of education in Ghana.
The above are snapshots from the textbooks. It is interesting that although there’s enough textbook for each and every student, the teacher doesn’t always distribute the materials to the students. From my observation, it maybe because it is easier and saves time, but also a way to demonstrate their authority and superiority.
When I was trying to teach the students how to draw a cube, I mentioned about the line are the same in length. I found that students don’t understand me when I say “the length of the line”. They struggle to understand the concept of length. So I tried to teach them what is rectangular, square, and triangular, and how to measure with rulers. I had to teach some of the children one by one on how to measure with rulers though the teacher said they have already learned about it. I think it may be contributed to the fact that the teachers put more emphasis on the more practical application of math. For example, for addition, instead of introducing numbers 1+1= 2, the textbook will have goats, vegetables, and goods as illustrations and no numerical numbers on the textbook.
That makes me think about the purpose of education in Kumasi. For students who are not pursuing college because of their financial situations which are going to be a lot of the kids in Louie Marie, what how to measure the length of a theoretical line would not be applicable to their lives.
If those more advanced math concepts (eg. how to draw a cube) are not applicable to their lives, what would be their motivation to learn all the concepts then? If the wage of a primary school teacher is 8-10 cidi a day, about 50 dollars a month, lower than a doorman, what why would students be wanting to study? or to be a teacher?
The school stress about unison a lot. There’s not a lot of advocating for individual characteristics. But it’s understandable that there are so many children in the school and children can be very noisy and naughty. It would be a lot for the teachers to handle the kids. That relates to the second point I want to explore.
2. The role of the instructor
First of all, the gender difference is so obvious. All the teachers for primary school are male. For the KG, all the instructors are female and they are not expected to do any “real teaching”, they are expected to look after the kids, feed some of the kids, clean the room, and teach them rhymes, which does not meet the curriculum policy for KG in Ghana. [They did not even meet the old curriculum policy for KG in Ghana for having 7 subjects areas.
(https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/GES-to-roll-out-new-curriculum-for-primary-school-737703) But I wonder how much school will meet the standards based on the materials they have. Lead to my question about the effectiveness of the legal system in Ghana.] All the instructors are 19-21 years old in Louie Marie. They just finished Senior High School (SHS). Some of the female teachers are older, but they are put to younger kids (toddlers) room. The arrangement can reflect the expectation on the genders, which is corroborated by the sexist statements from the TECH teachers ( eg “changing diapers is the women’s job” “being gratitude is innate for women”). If the children are exposed and educated in this way since they are little, it will be harder for them to understand gender equality. The fact that they won’t be able to travel to other places other than Kumasi probably throughout their lives because of their financial situations makes it worse. But maybe if they live their whole lives in this mindset, they may be unaware of other possibilities, embracing the changing diapers as part of their identities, and being happy about their situations. So that relates to one of my struggles: how much should I put my thoughts into their brains. If I, as one single person trying to change things, cannot shift the whole paradigm and there are not enough people here trying to change the situations or aware of gender equality, physical abuse, and white supremacy, should I adapt into their system? or should I tell them what I believe to be more advanced (or more western)?
More about teachers in Ghana: http://www.create-rpc.org/pdf_documents/Ghana_%20teacherspaud.pdf
Data about % of trained teacher in Ghana :
3. Expectations of the students
Being in the classroom teaching, learning, organizing the class, I have struggled so much because I don’t want to punish the students physically. If I don’t punish the students, it is a sign of lack of authority, and the kids will think that they can bully you. Also, I had so many kids saying to me “punish that girl!” “cane her!” “lash him”. There are many cases when the most obedient kid in the class will hand me the sticks that the teachers have to cane students and indicate I should spank the children. It is so hard to not punish them or yell at them if they already have those mindsets about what a good teacher should be like. I’m struggling to find a balance between being a good teacher from my point of view and being a good teacher here.
Being here also makes me realize how hard it is being a teacher in Kumasi. We are here from 6 am to 4 pm. A teacher is responsible for the whole class from morning to evening as babysitters and also teaches all the class materials including Math, Religion studies, English, Grammar, Science, and so on. They are young too. Caning, yelling, and threatening students are the easiest ways to let a student listen to them. If the whole school even the whole society is like this (similar situations happen in New Mission, another primary school), then it is hard to do otherwise. And it comes to my last point (more now) about this experience.
https://www.pulse.com.gh/bi/strategy/ghanas-education-service-bans-caning-in-schools-and-puts-new-disciplinary-methods-in/xhdsvf4 Although new law just released this January that caning is illegal, the teachers still do this. The ineffectiveness of the legal system, the tension between the traditional culture and westernized thinking, or the resistance to change.
4. Me, the students, and the school
For me, it has been a lot because of my face. Although I came with an American school, I look Chinese and I am a Chinese. So kids come up to me and say “China”, “xiongqiongkiongtiong….”, “you know how to fight” “do you know about this (and then do a stereotypical Kongfu pose) etc. I understand that they are trying to get close to me and trying to build a connection between me and what they know about China. But still, sometimes I feel really uncomfortable when they start to mimic the way I say things, and when I have to explain over and over again that not everybody knows how to do Kongfu in China.
Another question I struggle with is what I mentioned above about how much should I bring to this school. Is what I know more advanced? More westernized? More politically correct? But what if they don’t work in this particular culture? What do I do? Force it on the students? Or adapt to their system? Essentially, I’m struggling to understand what am I doing here? Am I here to teach them about how Chinese education and America education works? Am I here to help the teachers with their unbelievable workload? Am I here for an exhibition that this school has white teachers (white here means the Ghanaian interpretation of skin white)? I’m struggling to understand all this. Maybe I’m here all the reasons above.
There are so many other things to unpack from those six weeks in Louie Marie. The above four are the main ones that I can formulate into words.