Trials and Tribulation with Health Education by Nava

The lesson plan I was assigned to work on with Jouette was health education. Before leaving we planned a few different sessions that we hoped to be able to adapt for different age groups in different settings as we had no idea what age groups or in what setting we would be working with kids in before we left. We prepared these short sessions so that they could be grouped together in a variety of combinations with ice breakers and activities. As many others talked about in their posts, we did not anticipate the differences between American and Ghanaian culture in how classes are taught and how students are expected to behave. All of our plans involved student participation and that is where we experienced our biggest hurdles.

The classrooms for 7 and 8 year olds that we spent most of our time in had ample room with desks and chairs for each student and a large blackboard up front. The children mostly behaved according to the expectation that they would sit in their seats and perform rote memorization of the lesson.The lessons we observed consisted of the teacher explaining something and the students repeating it back. We didn’t see any examples of students being asked to provide answers demonstrating comprehension or critical analysis.

Kids at orphanage practicing handwriting

Kids at orphanage practicing handwriting

Jo and I created mini lesson plans on personal hygiene, basic emotions and coping skills, relationships and appropriate physical behaviour, smoking, and healthy eating/food pyramid. Most of it was geared towards the 7-9 year age range with the ability to simplify for younger kids or grade it up for 10-15 crowd. We also put together role playing and information on relationships and consent aimed at more of a teenage audience. We only had the opportunity to execute these lesson plans with the 7 and 8 year olds and decided, after teaching them the hokey pokey, to break them up into three groups. The groups rotated between three stations each lead by a pair of OT students that covered oral hygiene & taking care of your skin, emotion health and coping strategies, and how to stop germs.

After completing all the rotations, catching our breath, we headed back to our hostel on the way, had a little debrief of the experience. At each station, students had been responded with silence to simple open ended and we always eager to repeat a suggestion provided by us ‘teachers’. They appeared to listen and be somewhat engaged when learning about oral hygiene, skin care, and germs but were rather disengaged on the topics of emotions and coping strategies. The children to regularly perform teeth brushing of some sort and wound care but still struggled to tell me about it when prompted. Emotions seemed to be foreign concepts to them. The only responses they were able to provide were that they were sad when they “got beat” – a common parenting practice in Volta. Talking about putting names to feelings and the idea that one would discuss feelings with a confidant only brought blank stares and wiggly feet.

An interesting contrast to this experience was how the children behaved out of school. There was one 13 year old girl we met in the older classroom when some of my group-mates were teaching transitional skills who seems pretty quiet and disengaged. A day or two later when we visited a village to conduct interviews with mothers, she approached our tro tro (van) and chatted with us for probably about 30 minutes. She had so much to say and answered questions about what she wanted for her future, her favourite activities, her family, etc. She bounced around as she asked us tons of questions about our families, our favourite foods and shared her story. This was a drastic contrast to the personality she displayed in school. She was clearly bright, active, and inquisitive. Meeting her outside of the school context provided us with an interesting idea of how students adjust their behaviour and attitudes based on the expectations in the classroom.