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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 1, September 2004

Project Overseas: GHANA

by Garry Storsley

As part of a six-person team for the CTF Project Overseas, I was to be responsible for junior secondary science, Grades 5–9. There would be no reliable power, and things would be very basic, so we were to come with an open mind. That proved to be the best advice.

Janet Wilkinson (leader), Ron Ball, and Dean Kokanas, from Alberta, Dianna Van der Zalm and Phil Beveridge, from Ontario, and I were assigned to Ghana to share with the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) teaching skills, experiences, and culture. All project teams had a four-day orientation in Ottawa before departing.

GNAT officials met us late at night in Accra. The next day, we met the full team of nationals—three GNAT officials and an individual co-tutor for each of us. We were very warmly welcomed and wonderfully treated. For the next three days, we planned our schedules and topics for the sessions—administration and leadership, elementary and junior science, and Grade 4–12 math.

We saw much of the country as our schedule was at three teacher-training centres in remote areas far from the main cities. Our team for the next 23 days included 15 nationals and five trucks and drivers. We left Accra at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and after 14+ hours of dust, heat, blockades, mosquitoes, a lunch, rough roads, many small villages, and frequent stops to stretch we arrived in Wa, a small town in far northwest Ghana. An earlier storm wiped out all telecommunications to the outside for the next five days. About 160 teachers from as far as 380 km came, some triple bunked in the college dorms. Travel was mostly by walking and bicycle, often riding double, and occasionally a motorbike.

Sunday was a prep day. Monday we were officially introduced by the zone GNAT rep and then on to our specific sessions, about 25 to 30 in each, ages 18 to 50s, with from 0 to 30 years of teaching experience (most 0–3 years). Classes went from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then lunch, at the college cafeteria. Our sessions included labs, demonstrations, model lessons, lesson planning, practice teaching, teaching strategies, leadership styles, and classroom management. The sessions on administration and leadership with administrators (95% males) were at times controversial, especially when dealing with the decision-making models. The co-tutors held afternoon sessions. Our four evening sessions were on HIV/Aids, equality/gender equity, and human rights, a Canada night, and an awesome Ghana night, featuring national music and dancing.

Saturday was a travel day and sight-seeing time as we journeyed to Tamale, a larger town in north central Ghana. We repeated our program. A village chief—a junior secondary teacher—rode his old bike 7 km at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, on only a trail, just to see us off. Our final training college was in Berekum, in west central Ghana.

We met with over 450 Ghanaian educators, most from small-town and village schools, most without even the basic facilities, conveniences, and resources of our schools. The ministry had recently mandated public education to include the remote regions of the country.

The admin and leadership classes were 90% male; there were only 5% women in my junior secondary science, and none in the junior/senior math. The major concerns included low salaries, student difficulties with English, most class sizes of 50 to 65, no teacher incentives to do well, little or no input into the school’s operation, few women teachers in the sciences and math, very few teaching resources, books, and supplies, no other colleagues in the same subject area, high absenteeism among the women teachers and the students, most women omitting the elementary science and math curriculum, a heavy curriculum with reduced time for the sciences and math, and no opportunities for in-service education and professional development.

Many had few writing materials. Daily I gave out 15 sheets of lined paper and a blue or black pen. On Fridays, each received 25 sheets of paper and a red pen. For most this was their first sight of a red pen! Thanks to Staples and Office Depot for donating a full suitcase (32 kg) of paper and pens. On Friday afternoons, each participant received a certificate and we were presented with gifts of Ghanaian clothing.

The time went by too quickly, every day brought more cultural experiences to treasure. The participants openly expressed their appreciation to us and especially to the CTF and CIDA. I received several letters from participants, all expressing thanks and some requesting educational information. Our financial and volunteer support brings great educational returns! GNAT is highly respected in the communities. They are a wonderful people, very happy and patriotic and, enjoy their life fully. We can learn much by observing their appreciation, excitement, and exuberance to life. Thank you CTF, BCTF, CIDA, GNAT, and Ghana!

Garry Storsley is a retired Delta teacher and UBC faculty associate.

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