In the Upper East region of Ghana where I grew up, climbing the educational ladder was often left to the fate of the individual. Teaching and learning was a challenge for students and teachers in my community due to few social amenities and poor infrastructure. Such were the unfavorable conditions I experienced during my early years of schooling, no desks, no text books or learning materials, and sometimes no teachers. I recall with sadness friends who were brilliant and with great potential who had to drop out of school just to survive.
This early experience pushes me to stretch a helping hand to those in similar conditions. I know there are a lot of excellent students whose education is curtailed in rural communities due to lack of support. I believe transformational leadership and changes in attitude are needed in Ghana, and for that matter Africa, to improve standards of living in rural communities across the continent.
The community engagement program at Ashesi strengthened my commitment to service. The leadership seminars for example, empowered me to identify the needs of the society and consider how to address them. I recall a striking statement made by one of our lecturers “Start where you are, with what you have.”This statement has kept me moving and engaging with the little that I have, especially in the area of education. For example, in my third year, I led a group of students to Bazua, in the Upper East region of Ghana, to support pupils with educational materials. I also helped a student group raise funds to provide books and bookcases for the Berekuso Basic School.
Ultimately, working on these and other service projects while a student deepened my commitment to make difference in society and influenced my decision to complete my National Service in Berekuso. For me, the opportunity to teach in the Berekuso Basic School for one year was a chance to aid Ashesi in its vision of leadership, citizenship and scholarship, to impact the education of students in a school with few resources, and to begin to put my own education to good use.
While teaching Form 1, 2, and 3, I encountered a series of challenges that further opened my eyes to struggles of students and teachers in Ghana today. The foremost is lack of parental involvement in their ward’s education. Most students are not given support or motivation by their parents to learn hard and become great people in the future. Furthermore, most students have weak basic knowledge from the nursery and primary level, which makes it difficult to build upon at the Junior High level. A poor grasp of basic arithmetic, spelling and subject-verb agreement, and even reading comprehension are common problems.
Another challenge is poor instructional methods used in basic schools in Ghana. Very frequent is the situation where students do not understand what is being taught and are not confident enough to ask the teacher, but sing with the chorus, 'do you understand?, Yes sir,!' This goes a long way toward explaining pupils’ poor results in exams. Additional challenges I experienced teaching in the Berekuso Basic School include; inadequate educational materials, large class sizes, teacher absenteeism, student absenteeism, and difficulty in handling poorly behaving students in class.
Despite these challenges, I have had many successes in my role as a teacher this year, in part due to the help of my supervisor, the school’s management and above all the intervention of almighty God. During the first month of my posting, I asked students to write down their dreams and aspiration in life. I introduced this initiative for students to consider their talents and areas that they can engage and develop in the future. I also introduced a sanitation program in the school where students now take full responsibility for a clean school environment. We put rubbish boxes at vantage points where students dump rubbish, and students empty them when they are full.
We are now living in a century where technology is key to all aspects of life. As part of my ICT class, I taught students how to use the internet to study, communicate electronically and develop themselves. Currently, more than fifty percent of the students at the Junior High have email addresses and can effective communicate through email. I gave them one project each term which required typing and submission via email. Because public speaking is a challenge for most students, I introduced group and individual presentations and an-inter-class quiz. Bringing the school farm back to life and taking students on their first field trip are among other success stories from the year.
My dream for the future is to become a successful farmer and philanthropist. I gained a lot from my service in Berekuso that will help me achieve these goals. For example, realizing that different students require different learning strategies to be successful and experiencing the importance of guidance in meeting targets and goals. This perspective will certainly come into play rallying farm workers to adopt new methods and working with development partners to achieve goals.
After ten months of service, I can conclude that Berekuso Basic School, like any rural school in Ghana, has talented students with great potential to become valuable citizens. But the experience also emphasizes the importance of helping the vulnerable in society and that more hands on deck are needed serving and engaging rural communities in Ghana.