Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Out And Back Again

Not quite three weeks in Kukurantumi came to a close this past Sunday as I headed back to Hohoe and my house on the campus at St. Francis. It was good to get back to home sweet home as the saying goes, but I will miss having fun with all of the other trainers and of course the new trainees. Maybe the word "new" isn't appropriate, as they are settling in to the life in Ghana quite nicely and made for some fine teachers in the classes that I sat in on. Trainees is more than correct, they have met the new culture and have adapted just splendidly.

Being in the education group meant that our focus was primarily on getting the new volunteers-to-be up to speed on the Ghanaian education system and becoming acclimated to the environments that they will likely inhabit once they get to site. It meant that the Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) in my sector were always at colleges of education since that is where they are headed. I watched over them during the second week of my stay, but during the third week I got to observe those who were teaching at the Junior High School (JHS) level. That was quite the shock to me.

I had never been nor really watched how school is conducted in Ghana at that level. My training and my job have put me at the tertiary level of education with young adults who are looking to really excel at education so they may either follow the teaching career path or advance themselves to the full university level of education later on. They are nice and I have befriended many who habitually come to the lab and see me. But at the JHS level you will see students aged 10 to 15 (or older), and classrooms that have upwards of 40+ students assembled. The class size mirrors what I have, but the large age variation makes the class look somewhat comical with very small looking young students mixed in with high school-age students.

In addition to that, the school that I observed had no windows. A tin roof covering a room that consisted of three-foot-high walls along the left and right with a gap at the front of the room for an entrance, and two floor-to-ceiling walls at the front and the back. The chalkboard was concrete, a raised surface that spanned the width of the classroom which has to be constantly repainted black with a mixture that includes dry-cell battery acid. As the paint wears away from use, the chalk gets harder and harder to discern on the board, thus more battery acid is mixed up for a refresh. This is the bare minimum one needs to run a school, and that is how most will function.

Before going to far of course, there should be a point here about noise. The school is all at ground level, and the school rooms are just long blocks of rooms that encircle a grass field. That grass field is where recess takes place for the primary school located just across the way. The noise that the teachers had to contend with was monumental at times and I am not sure how the PCTs kept their voices for two straight weeks. One of the trainees even had to punish a young student who launched a soccer ball into his classroom, hitting a student in the head.

The struggles are different here. But in the end the teachers put forward lesson plans that the students could comprehend and memorize; and that is what the system is all about.

I feel like it would be good to give each volunteer a chance to see what the others are facing during training if possible, but knowing how tight the schedule is and how difficult it was to travel to some of these places where we trained at it seems very unlikely to do this. I enjoyed the perspective though.

Other than that, the trainers wrapped up the session with a movie and a review of the experience and that was the end of our part in the training. There are 36 PCTs who are more than ready to handle a classroom at their schools. Now they must go through the waiting period of language training in order to be ready for their oral test. That is probably the most difficult part of training, but one that must come in order to ease your way into the community.

After I got home I decided the best thing to do on my first day back was to stay at home, take a long shower, sweep up the house, and just take a day off. There are a few more stories to share on the trip which I will type up in the days ahead, but I think that the training went smoothly and that most had a good time during the weeks we were there. Only time will tell how well the group (all of us, trainees and trainers included) did, but I am ready to celebrate come the 30th of August when they all swear-in. It should be a great time.

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