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Sunday, October 30, 2011

African Style Teaching

WARNING: Long post. Only for those who want to get an insider perspective on how I find teaching in Ghana. 

I have only taught "officially" for one year but I've done a number of teaching "stints" since sophmore year in college so I still add those bits in the classroom to my teaching resume. I've been in the classroom long enough to know that to be a teacher... is to be someone special. Noble profession, yes, but it takes a lot out of you if you want your students to do well. I'm the kind of person that pours myself into my work in order for it come out great. So with teaching, I work twice as hard because I'm dealing with someone's mind, the way they think and see things. It's a load of responsibility and I take it with pride.

When I applied to IFESH, I mentioned in my personal statement that I wanted to experience how students school in Ghana, especially since my mother schooled here and... survived. Agreeing to come to Ghana to teach, I knew I had to be open to anything they ask me to do. There was a vacancy in the English Department at ABETICOE so they asked me to take up two classes. No biggie.


Biggie big deal. The thing is that, I'm still learning about the Ghana Educational System and how it works and how it "doesn't" work. But from what I have observed, it has some sore spots. But then again, what educational system doesn't? (Insert: Waiting for Superman film)

ABETICOE is a teacher training college. I am teaching teachers how to apply various methodologies and practices in their classroom. Training colleges have a 3 year course work: first year is almost like a remediation course. The students take approximately 7 classes that include the 4 core and 3 electives. Second year students study teaching application in the classroom. Third years spend their time doing their internship on the field.

What happens is that, Ghana has a limited amount of students who can gain admission to the university. It is extremely competitive and expensive and at most, based on who you know. Upon finishing high school, you have to take an examination (like how we do SATs) and pass with flying colors to be considered for university admission. Even if your scores are stupendous, it doesn't guarantee immediate admission. For the most part, upon finishing high school, if you don't get admission to the university, you wait. You can rewrite the exam (which will take another year's worth of remediation classes). You can pick up a trade at an apprenticeship. You can apply to training colleges (nursing or teaching) but those are equally as competitive due to high application volume. So what seems to be happening is that students who are not getting what they initially want (which is to study on a collegiate level) are settling with training colleges. MANY of these students are using their time at the training colleges to pass time, get the government monthly allowance for teachers in training, and do their civil duty until they get a better chance to pursue their true passion. They really don't want to teach. But then some of these students do want to teach but they approach it with reluctance and worry. Reluctant because teaching barely pays the bills in Africa. Worry because the government can place you anywhere in the country to teach and if it's too far for comfort or the environment is destitute, many teachers stall on the job and don't show up to work.

When teachers do not show up to work the children truly suffer here. I have heard stories from some of my students that when they were in secondary school, the didn't have an English teacher for a whole year. And they still had to write examinations. They barely passed then. In the training colleges, they still struggle in passing their core examinations. When they start teaching, they will be expected to help another kid pass their school exams but at times, the teacher barely knows the content.

First years in teacher training colleges spend the year taking the same classes they took in high school because, in essence, they need it. However, the curriculum is packed into a 7 month program and literally, they are covering everything in just that short time period. I'm teaching English Language and expected to cover writing, speech, phonetics, linguistics, writing, paragraph development, note taking, etc... All of this without one reference book, no overhead projector, not a worksheet...The teachers here shrug their shoulders and suggest I just lecture.... I love to talk but damn. Lecture and write on the board for 2 hours?


I know what you're saying.
This is what I asked for.

I'm not so much complaining. I'm just trying to think of how I can possibly do this without my "tools" and still provide a fair amount of knowledge to my class... When they wrote their "strength and weakness in English language" papers for me, I wanted to cry. These students really want to learn. They really want to make their mark in society. They really want to get the best education. And they are just determined to get it right. I just want to make my time here well served and I want them to see a difference in the way they learn and the way they teach.

I'm really thankful for this experience because I can see education from a new perspective. Teaching English as a second language is no joke! And studying how an education system effects a society, an economy, is so  eye-opening and thought provoking to me. I just hope I can remain positive, open-minded, hopeful, and observant through it all.


James Bash said...

Its amazing how our kids are still extremely bright when you consider the short comings our our nations. When will our governments finally understand that providing a better educational system for the masses will give path for a better future in the nations? This is why after all these years, African nations are still looking for "aid" from everybody, despite our resources.

Lol at the "over head" projector.

Amy T. said...

I can't even fathom lecturing for 2 hours. I'm only teaching 1 hour classes, and I don't even lecture the whole time in those. I do a quick mini-lesson and then some sort of group work, and if time, presentations or a culminating discussion. Have you thought about developing learning centers for the students to rotate through? I know you have a ton of students, but it's a thought and I bet the students would love it. Keep chuggin' Mabel. You got this girl ;)

Ama Kyei said...

@ James- I think they've realized it. They're just dragging their feet....

@ Amy T.- I haven't even attempted to lecture for 2 hours; I get the kids moving so much, they don't realize that the time has flown by. Let's talk about this learning center, I think you're on to something. Thanks!

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