School report

A sure sign that we are back into the swing of things, is that school is back.

There are some very siginificant differences between schooling in Ghana and in Australia. Within Ghana there are significant differences in schooling. The local (state) schools are crowded, chronically underfunded and unresourced. Class sizes hover between 30 and 50 students per teacher. Some children share desks. Children use cutlasses to cut the grass of the playground, as there is not enough money to pay for gardeners. Facilities beyond a blackboard painted on the wall, and a dusty football pitch, seem nonexistant. School fees are 2GHC/per term, local ‘international’ private schools are 40GHC/term, we pay significantly more per term, and the true International school in Kumasi pays more than us. Books and stationery are not included. Private schools do not recieve money from the government. With the December election looming, one of the election promises of the current opposition, is free education for all. While 2GHC is affordable for most Ghanaians, I asked one of our drivers, why didn’t the government promise to better fund schools rather than reduce fees to zero. His viewpoint was that if the school received more funding in the form of cash or resources, the money would go straight into the headmasters pocket, or the resources sold at market. I was shocked and profoundly saddened by this. In a country where so much emphasis is put on education, how will they get ahead? The drivers’ comment also goes a long way in explaining the popularity of private schools in Ghana. As he emphatically told me, if the school is private it is a business, and teachers who do not do their job properly can be sacked. So different to the ‘children, too precious for profit’ arguement in the public vs private debate in Australia.

In stark contrast to state schools, our children’s school is new and fabulously well equipped. Most teachers are dedicated. The school itself physically resembles a American school, although we follow the Ghanaian curriculum. Despite both sharing a basis in the British system, there are some big differences between schooling in Ghana and Australia. Some positive, some negative, and some just different. And many, that for us, swing across a profound cultural divide.

:: School starts at 7.30am; with half hour assembly. Parents are not welcome to attend, and most would not wish to.

:: P & C meetings are rare. Perhaps 2/year. We have our first one scheduled in a few weeks.

:: Lots of children are dropped off in taxi’s, without parents.
:: One school bus from the local University.

:: Parents are not allowed in the school block (our school policy, not standard for Ghana), but for 2-3 days/year. Our first open day was friday, a public holiday.

:: Parental involvement in our school life is very minimal. It is not expected or encouraged. Other parents are very polite to us, but not welcoming. There is certainly no standing around the school gate for a quick chat and catch up, not only not for us, but no one seems to do it. The thought we would make friends with other school parents is now laughable. I expect this may be different if we were at the International school (there is 1 true international school in Kumasi, an hour and a half from our house). We are the only expats at the school, although a fair number of the students have lived overseas.

:: Marks are announced to the class, no hiding behind your assesment paper. The local children do not seem overly bothered by the inherent critisism which comes from being low in the class ranking, and perhaps toughens them up.

:: Exams, from Kindergarten, which in itself doesn’t bother me too much. However, this term we have 3 weeks of major tests (practice exams), a week of practical exams, and a week of theory exams. In a 14 week term, 5 weeks of exams seems excessive, and to be honest, a waste of time.

:: Corporal punishment, which includes humiliation and fear. This is the cultural difference which we feel most uncomfortable with. A boy in Cecie’s class last year (year 5), accidently broke a school chair by rocking on the back legs (who hasn’t done that!), and was made to wear a ‘sandwich board’ with the words “Say, Shame on me, for I broke school property” on it. The children we encouraged by the teachers to repeat the mantra. Jock’s kindergarten class were constantly being threatened with the ‘dark room’. While the cane is officially banned in the school, some teachers resort to rulers, books etc. The problem lies in that the teachers have not been trained in other forms of punishment and resort to what they experienced in their own school days.

:: Having said this, many of the teachers are kind, dedicated professionals, who have made our children feel very welcome. Others unfortunately are short tempered and shouting is common. However, this certainly seems only an offence to our “European” sensibilities, as our children report the locals children do not seem overly bothered by it. As I’ve said before, Ghana is a country at high volume.

:: Computer lessons focus on the computer itself, definitions of hardward, software etc. Classes are not connected to the internet. There are lessons on typing, which I think is brilliant.

:: French is compulsory. With all of Ghana’s neighbours being French speakers, I think this is great. Cecie has 3 French lessons/week.

:: Religious and Moral education (R.M.E) is compulsory. The text book is quite good, presently Christianity, Islam and traditional beleifs in a very balanced manner, from a historical and moral point of view. What is said in class often causes significant bemusement (to us), and our children often come home with questions and stories. I do respect that we are now living in a profoundly religious society, which is very different to secular Australia.

:: Speaking of religion, one of Cecie’s teachers is a rastafarian. And I don’t mean someone who wears Bob Marley t-shirts and likes reggae (although I’m sure he does), but practises rastafarianism as he religion. He is kind, quick to smile, doesn’t shout and doesn’t hit. Needless to say, he is Cecie’s favourite teacher.

The most profound cultural difference in the education between Australia and Ghana is one of attitude.  A good education for the vast majority of Australians is a given (I don’t include remote or Aboriginal education in this), while a good education in Ghana is something to aspire to. Education in both countries is serious business, but this seriousness is manifest in different ways. Education is serious in Ghana. Fullstop. You are at school to learn. Lunchtime is quick, time for eating, and not for playing. Classrooms are clean, but very plain, and hands-on resources are very minimal. There is none of the children’s work pinned to the walls. There seems to me no celebration of the children’s acheivements, only a profound seriousness to learn. But why are teachers so often absent from class? I find this irritating and confusing, particularly within such a serious environment.

In Australian schools I find a real effort to make school, and by default learning, enjoyable. To celebrate acheivments, to pin work on the walls and make school fun. To allow time for play.  Perhaps Australian schools have taken this celebration of acheivment too far with the chronic ‘Everyone gets a prize’ syndrome.

I think I spent the month in Australia boring my friends senseless with my seemingly endless monologue about the relative merits of being part of a school which we all have some issues with, but provides the best link for the children to interact with other children (who do not stare and shout obruni) and the merits of homeschooling, where we have all the choice in what they learn, have no commute, but miss out on the social aspect. For the time being, we have decided, as we moved to another country to experience another culture, that it is more important for the children to interact with others in a formal school environment, and persist with the travel and the frustrations which come as part of the school package.

This has been a difficuilt post to write (and probably a pretty dull one to read), as comparisons always result in an inherent ‘better-worse’ result. But this is not my intent. It is as much about making peace with some of the issues we feel uncomfortable with, highlighting the positives and illustrating cultural differences. I am really proud of our children with how they have settled into a very different educational environment and culture.

7 responses to “School report

  1. That was really interesting to read Chrissie! I find it interesting no work of the kids is put on the walls, maybe that is the better way to do things as I think the “everyone gets a prize” attitude we have in western culture is not beneficial to kids in the long run.

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  2. Very interesting …..sounds a bit like my early schooling….we are very proud of Cecily , Lillian and Jock too….happy birthday to cecily next week xxx granny

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  3. Hi Chris! I just found your blog via Expats Blog and am always drawn in to those who are in West Africa. My husband and I spent 2 years in Gabon – an interesting experience that is so difficult to sum up!
    In any case, I found this post so interesting! We’re from Canada which I hear has similar beliefs to Australia in regards to education. I think I would be bothered by the punishment and the announcing of marks. I imagine as the kids get older they would face a bit more response from their peers. (My heart breaks for the poor kid who has a learning disability or is behind a big cognitively.)

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    • Hi Jay, It’s great to hear from you. My husband and I (before we were married) lived in Canada for 2 years; winters in Vancouver and summers working in the NWT. It was wonderful, and we seriously considered emigration, and now 15 years later we are living in Ghana. Who would have thought it? I’ve just spent a happy half hour reading through your blogs. What a change Norway must have been after Gabon. And your photographs of Gabon could easily have been Ghana, strikingly so. I think you did a great job of summarising the differences in being a tourist and being an expat in your blog post (http://intowestafrica.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/expatriate-vs-tourist/). I think most people (myself included) romantisies a place when on holidays, but these quirks on holidays can quickly become major frustrations when you are faced with it everyday! Living here has certainly changed the way we view so many things, but I would say, most significantly, while I love beautiful things, the desire to have more ‘stuff’ has decreased; we are much, MUCH more patient and know things down’t always (ever?) go according to plan and of course, an appreciation for how lucky we are simply for being born in a wealthy country. Take care, C

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  4. Wow, great post. I could not stop reading. What a plane ride of life you have set for yourselves and especially your kids. They will view the world totally different than you could have ever imagined from smells, sights, skin color, language, being a minority and being part of the world. Their mind and view of life and the world will never be limited. You have set their mind to be elastic from the very beginning. Oh! and me to. I got to read into and share in a lil bit of your world also.

    More photos please..and increase your back light.

    That is what its all about…isn’t it?
    Thanks and thanks again

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    • Hi Donald, Thanks for your really nice comment. Some people think we are mad for what we have done! But to be honest, what you have written is exactly the reasons why we chose this particular path. Although, of course there are days leaving you shaking your head and wondering why? It has been really interesting to see how each of our children have respondd to the move (particaulry when we went back to Australia for a holiday a few months ago), and will be interesting to see how they respond and change as they get older too. Thanks for the tips re photos. There is so much to talke photos of here, but when I do, its usually out the car window! And that’s not great! Thanks again, Chrissie

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