When we left for Ghana, I was expecting to see the country and its culture through a lens of OT and disability culture, but I was surprised at how many issues could be traced directly back to education. We saw many differences between the Ghanaian education system and our own, and some of these differences were beneficial, but many were problematic enough to impact the way we carried out our projects. Some of these issues were smaller in scale like long walks to school and unreliable transportation for the Eugemot children. Others were more systemic, such as the design of the secondary education system.
Some of the immediate problems we noticed were at the Eugemot School. The orphanage and the school are on separate pieces of land about 3.5km apart (that’s about a 43 minute walk for an adult, thanks Google Maps). Eugemot sometimes has a bus to take the kids to school and back but it was being worked on when we were visiting and didn’t seem to be very reliable in general. The kids make this walk regularly, but it’s hard for the younger ones who ended up staying home one of the days the bus was broken. When the kids do have to walk to school, they’re likely to be hot and tired by the time they get there, which creates some obvious challenges for learning. This situation is normal in many developing areas, especially rural ones.
After spending several days at Eugemot’s school, the Peggy Good School of Hope International, we became more familiar with the style of education. The school teaches kindergarten through junior high school students from the orphanage and the surrounding community. We spent most of our time working on handwriting skills and health education in an elementary classroom with students ages four/five to eight. The most obvious challenge we ran into was the style of learning by rote. Good memorization skills can be helpful, especially for the preschool aged children we saw at the school, but when children are only asked to recite something they have memorized in class, this creates problems with independent and critical thinking. Lauren and I ran into this when trying to talk to the younger kids about their emotions for the mental health aspect of Jouette and Nava’s health education project. Our initial approach was to begin with questions like, “What makes you angry?” and “What makes you feel better when you are sad?” This was met by blank stares in nearly every group that came to our station. Obviously part of this had to do with the language barrier and the fact that Ghanaians tend not to show their emotions, but we also noticed that the kids were hardly ever asked open ended questions. If they were asked a simple yes/no or true/false question they could easily respond, but most were not used to vocalizing their own thoughts in front of all of their peers and adults. This problem was still evident in the junior high class. When the older kids were asked questions about preparing for college and writing formal essays, we were met with more blank stares.
The high school and college system has a different set of challenges for students, which was covered in an earlier blog. To recap, students have to test into high school as well as college. If they are not admitted they can still attend a vocational training school to gain skills for a particular job. Students who pass are placed into high schools depending on their entrance test score. They must select an elective track to study in addition to the core curriculum. After high school, students take the WASSCE to enter college. All students are tested on the core curriculum subjects, but they also have to select an elective area to be tested on. This should pertain to the area they want to study in college, but the design of the system pressures students into taking the exam on their high school elective area. It’s hard for a student who did not study a particular elective area in high school to get into that program in college. This means that many Ghanaian students have already chosen their basic career path by the time they’ve entered high school. This system restricts opportunities for discovery and experimentation.
This post can only scratch the surface of education challenges in Ghana. Many schools still use corporal punishment, lack textbooks and other resources for students, offer low teaching salaries, and have very high student to teacher ratios. It’s important to note that even in the US, many of our schools have the exact same problems. Fortunately, Ghana has recently begun working on education reform bills, which specifically target the lengthening of different phases of education, lowering student to teacher ratios, increasing the quality and quantity of technology training, and restructuring the high school system.