Last week was spent in a flurry of school appointments and the required doctors check-ups, preparing and starting a new school, in Kumasi.
The school is only 3 years old, and is very well equipped, with computer room, art room, science lab and swimming pool (yipee, which families are able to use on the weekends). The teachers and headmistress seem very engaged, focused on not only good academic results, but also well mannered, happy children.
This school start happened sooner than I, and perhaps Lill and Jock were prepared for. Cecily was very keen to start, to be around her own contemporaries. Education is very serious business in Ghana, and perhaps rightly so. Ultimately, it was for this reason, that is was a rush to start school, as they do not accept term 3 enrollments. Within 10 minutes of the children arriving at our interview with the school, they were sitting an entrance exam, which included questions in French and Twi. Lill shocked us all by correctly answering several of the french questions, the only explanation which we can come up with, is that she had a french babysitter when she was a toddler, who spoke to her regularly in French.
While we are still in the very early days, we are noticing some differences between school here and in Australia. Some we find unsettling, some are great, some are a little perplexing, and some are just funny.
- We have gone from a 5 minute walk (or 41 second drive, thank you Cecily), to a hour commute, which starts at 6.30am. School assembly starts at 7.30am each day. Needless to say, we have not yet seen the beginning of the school assembly and I have doubts as to whether they will ever learn the school song or national anthem. Assembly is concluded with 6 drums setting a strong beat for everyone to march off into class. Parents do not attend assembly. (No more monday morning chats with school mums to set the week off on the right foot).
- Parents are not allowed into the children’s classrooms, except on one open day per term. We are, however, encouraged to speak to the teachers if need be, before and after school. There are multiple teachers for each class, with maths teachers, science teachers etc. The kindergarten class, while also having several teachers, seems to often have 2 teachers in the class at any given time.
- Most Ghanaian children learn to read in Nursery School, with some of the children (most?) in Jock’s class, already reading. I was thrilled to see though they use the same phonics programme as us, and I am sure that he will catch up soon.
- Two weeks of exams at the end of each term (!)
- Many schools in Ghana have classes of 35-45 children. Here class sizes are capped at 25, but as the school is so new (and relatively expensive by Ghanaian standards), our children’s classes seem between 12-15 children. As they are so small there doesn’t seem to be ‘groups’ in a class, and we are happy for all of that.
- Part of computer lessons is touch typing…a skill I wish I had.
- Manners are very important in Ghana, particularly in children. Our children have been treated very nicely by their classmates, and made to feel welcome.
- Religious and moral education (R.M.E) is compulsory, and we (Bill and myself included) are all learning alot reading through the R.M.E textbooks.
- There are a few ‘expat’ families at the school, but they seem to come from either cultures more similar to Ghanas, such as Nigeria; or English and American children who have a Ghanaian parent.
- Very different to school at home, is a culture of dropping off and picking up children off at the ‘gate’. The school has a very popular after school programme. The girls were asked if mummy had told them they wouldn’t be attending this term, and were they happy with that? I would estimate 90% of children attend the programme. It includes swimming one day/week for each class, and alternating weeks of mini golf (complete with compulsory polo shirt, chinos and cap), other sport, craft, and music.
- Cecily informs me that the girls still talk about all the same stuff as back home, shopping, tv shows, boys….you know.
I personally feel, as any mother would, a little apprehensive about a new school, in a new country; about cultural, language and pedagogy differences. Apart from kangaroos, Australia is a largely unknown entity in these parts, and we all have much to learn. But its a start…and a good one at that.