Monday, 1 September 2014

Teaching is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get!

A word from our Team Leader:

Discussing the agenda for the meeting with the chief
under the shade of a tree in Ticheli Village
The heat of noon pounded against the mud-hut of the Ticheli chief. The stillness outside contrasted strangely with the hubbub of voices inside, where a thin film of sweat covered the foreheads of Ghanaians and Salimingas (‘white people’) alike. While the discussion was somewhat bewildering to an outside speaker, Dagbani was flowing freely out of everybody else’s mouths, loud and passionate. The Salimingas waited. It would have been out of order to speak while the chief and the elders were speaking, more so when they could barely utter a few faltering Dagbani phrases. The Summer School National Volunteer together with the literacy liaison staff from the Create Change took over – it was their time to shine - and shine they did! As a result, the ICS volunteers, both Saliminga and National, left with all suggestions accepted by the chief; the children of a suitable age at Ticheli school would be allowed to partake in a sex-education session that week.

That was on Monday morning.

My time in Ghana, albeit sadly fleeting, has taught me many, many things. One of the most important ones is the need for cooperation between UK and Ghanaian volunteers if the project is meant to be successful. We all have different skills, abilities and interests, and the gamut of these is what makes the project a combined effort – from that incredibly magnificent melting pot, we get a more beautiful, finely crafted product. I have worked cross-culturally before, but every single time, every single location, is different. I must admit that some things frustrate me in Ghana: the slowness with which anything remotely bureaucratic proceeds,  the fact that people want to go home early if it rains or even looks like it will rain, and the fact that they are not adverse to naps in the workplace. Likewise, there are many things I enjoy here: the fact that people really seem to care about their community, their dreams of helping their country progress, their overriding positivity, and the way they put up with hardships that we would baulk at back home. Ghana is beautiful, infuriating, warm and disorderly. And I love it. 

With this in mind, we decided that this week, instead of just talking about what we've done, we would actually like to give an insight on what it is like to work on the project. Sowah comes from Accra, Fatima and Hardi are Tamale natives, and Pooja is based in Harrow, near London (UK). They all decided to give us their individual perspectives on their own experiences of education, and how education in rural Tamale differs from these experiences. So,  I’ll also let them take it from here!



Fatima with her P1 and 2 class, enjoying some balloons!
Hello, my name is Fatima. As a Tamale native, I would like to discuss how my past experiences of education within the urban metropolis itself, compare with my new experiences of education within Tamale's rural village communities.

To my opinion, I think teaching and learning in the rural areas is very poor compared to within the more urban areas. I think one main reason for this is that there is a real lack of teaching and learning materials (TLMs) available. When they are available, they are normally very outdated, poor quality or in a bad condition. Whereas in my experience, urban schools have more teaching and learning materials available for the pupils to use. This is so important because without the TLMs, children don't have the tools they need to learn effectively.

Through ICS I have gotten to know that our rural community still needs development, especially in terms of education in villages. That is something I'd never considered before; if it wasn't for this ICS project I wouldn't have even known where Ticheli is! ICS has opened my eyes to the disparities in education here in Tamale, helped me develop skills in teaching and has made me learn more about our local rural communities. Despite their lack of materials, the pupils are always eager and ready to learn - it is so great to see!

Now, if I had the chance to teach in the future, I would always choose rural communities over urban.


Pupil’s of Tua Sunnia, Ticheli and Tawfikiya primary schools in suburbs of Tamale Metro, in the Northern Region of Ghana, have experienced a revival of their inborn talent of literacy in education. This is due to the partnership between International Citizen Service (ICS) Ghana and Create Change Ghana in the Summer School Project introduced by ICS this year. The aim of the project is to help solve the literacy challenge in the rural communities of Northern Ghana, and Ghana as whole, in the organization's attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goals. 

Hardi teaching some pupils from Tua Sunnia
Having been born, grown up, and schooled in Tamale central, I know that it is a place where parents and children of school going age identify education as a tool in life which opens all gates to success. They continue to believe this despite the fact that education has it challenges (and this was not an exception in my case). The most interesting thing about people of these communities is that both parents and pupils have concern about their educational affairs. Particularly on the part of the pupils; they always show their willingness to learn by trying their best to finish their domestic work on time. Even when they have other demands at home from their parents, like helping on the farm and taking care of farm animals, they always appear keen to learn. This is something I have learned through working on this ICS project.

I am most grateful to ICS for creating a platform like the Summer School Project; being part of it has boosted my level of social responsibility and my contribution to the betterment of literacy levels in Ghana.


A section of Ticheli community where Sowah teaches
Having lived in Accra my whole life, I never expected to be faced with a situation such as this. I'd always known that the literacy levels in the Northern parts of the country were low, but I'd never stopped to imagine just how low.

It's shocking enough that some of the schools don't have enough classrooms for the pupils, and that good quality TLMs are a rarity.
What's worse is that the few children that do attend school could be called out of class by parents and guardians at any time to assist them on the farm. This is something many of us have experienced with our own classes during the project.

Some parents even send their children to school as a form of "recreation"; passively leading them to believe that assisting on the farm is more important than having an education.

It's sometimes a struggle to even keep the children's attention on the lesson, as all they want to do is go out and play #ADHD. It can be frustrating and irritating but then again... #childhoodinnocence

It has been enlightening to realise how fortunate some people in Ghana are, and I am truly grateful to be given such an opportunity to help these children.


Having worked with an NGO called Plan International (who operate in Ghana) for over three years has always made me ponder what development work is truly like. Little did I know that working from the UK would be an entirely different experience to working on the field in Ghana with ICS.

Working in northern Ghana has not only given me an insight into the challenges of teaching, but has also put education into perspective for me. Whilst at times teaching has been extremely frustrating when students are unable to converse in English, it has nevertheless been extremely rewarding, especially when the students are so engaged and eager to learn. This in my experience is quite a stark contrast to the UK, where students find education a burden and thus neglect the system.

There is one thing that is certain – there is a huge disparity in the education standards in Ghana compared to the UK. I teach primary class 5 and 6, but the ages of my students range from nine to sixteen. As you can probably infer, some students in northern Ghana are extremely behind in education. It is also a sad fact that many of my students’ brothers and sisters do not attend school because they have to help their parents on the farm. In fact, farming is the main source of income in rural northern Ghana. What I also found is that far fewer girls attend the lessons compared to boys in the upper years. Whether this is because of gender inequality in the households, or simply a gender imbalance in the Tua village is not known.

In my classroom I have one very important ground rule: no Dagbani, always English. After weeks of failing to comply, I decided this week I would try something different. Instead of testing English reading, writing and listening skills, I would test their speaking. Each student individually came to the front and was interviewed. I was surprised by how those who always conversed in Dagbani were actually able to speak very good English, with just a little prompting. It is often said that confidence unlocks potential; and what I learned is that what many of the kids lack is confidence.

Hence, what I leave you is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“The only gift is a portion of thyself” – Imparting your own knowledge is the best gift a child could have; so from any corner of the world, spread the power of the word and, albeit small, make a difference to a generation of potential.

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