Saturday, August 22, 2009

Out in Africa

Since 2007 when I started this blog, I don’t think I’ve let a month go by without a post. This year I’ve found it difficult to keep up. I’d like to post at least once a week, but working on National Board Certification took its toll and posts dwindled in number and last month I was in Ghana on a Fulbright-Hays group project abroad with little chance to stop at the rare Internet cafes.

Our group of twelve educators participated in fifteen lectures by top experts and visited four regions of Ghana, a country that is a vibrant mix of old and new, urban and rural, a democracy that is reaching toward the future, while remembering its past.

For all Ghananians’ optimism and earnest endeavor to become one of the leading countries of Africa (and a population that is nearly fifty-percent under the age of eighteen), their government apparently underfunds its schools. I found in all of the half dozen schools, students seated at wooden desks, chairs attached that look as if they were there when Ghana achieved independence in 1957. Although a few fluorescent tubes were mounted on the walls and fans hung from the ceilings, all were off to conserve electricity. Students wore bright, clean uniforms and carried oak tag covered notebooks; these I understand are supplied by themselves and not the school.

As much as one can tell from a tour of schools, the students seemed earnest and the teachers dedicated, and they all had the trademark Ghanaian good humor toward life and its problems. Of course, insomuch as bricks and books don’t make a school, the teachers and students achieve despite the lack of both. I saw elementary student notebooks that were printed and illustrated nearly as neatly as a Word document and a high school class of boys studying science unattended while they waited for their teacher to arrive, delayed because of heavy rains.

Yet, in a country that is freckled with cellular phone company kiosks and billboards, I fear the lack of technology in the schools is once again going to leave Ghanaian students without digital skills and more importantly digital paradigms—ways for thinking about and connecting in the world—as my home school wavers over glass and copper fibers for its ethernet.

The contrasts between the schools I visited pale somewhat when compared with the kinship of teachers brought about by the challenges we face, the work we do, and the students we love. When it comes to what these schools lack versus what I find missing in my own classroom, I’m not convinced we’d agree to exchange U.S. electricity and Internet access for the high-valuing education, triumphant sense of community, and focus of mission that I met with the lights out in Africa.


Cate Euston said...

What a gorgeous blog. Very refreshing. I found a similar scene in rurual Jamaican schools--bright and freshly-pressed uniforms but often no shoes to carry them the miles of muddy roads from their homes. It's heartbreaking and beautiful to see how they cherish their schools.

I've just entered the blog world and have scanned for good exmaples. Yours is a shining one.


ceyo said...

What a generous comment! Thanks.

Cat said...

I'd gladly give up some of our technology and comfort for some of their dedication and drive. The question is - how do we build those qualities in our children? What can we, as people who work with children, do to help their character-building?