No one ever told me that it would be easy to go to Ghana and teach disadvantaged children. Want to know why? Because they would have been lying if they had. While I don’t regret coming here and spending my time with these beautiful children in a remarkable culture, it certainly hasn’t been easy.
I’m not even talking about the work itself being difficult because quite honestly teaching a child how to write their letters or what a verb is, isn’t all that difficult. I’m not talking about adjusting to the culture being difficult either because although it’s a transition, it was to be expected and wasn’t the brute of adjustment. The most difficult part of me being here is how often and how quickly a struggling child gets left behind in the Ghanian education system.
The school that I’m teaching at has an accelerated education system which means they encourage teachers to teach curriculum of the grade ahead of them or even sometimes two grades ahead of them. While this may seem like a positive thing because it will advance the children, nine children out of ten, it is not. There is a reason that curriculum is based on grade level and why grade level generally correlates to age. As a brain develops they become more capable to solve complex problems and to be introduced to more elaborate ideas and thought processes. Pushing a child to learn information that their brain is physically not ready or capable of understanding is not helping them in any way, it only makes them struggle with the content and just like that they’re written off as slow and are left behind.
Poverty is another major reason why children are pushed to the side in Ghana’s education system. Children have to pay tuition to go to school, along with uniforms, lunch and their own books. In a country where many people are in poverty and barely able to feed their children, finding the extra money to send them to school is very difficult. Even if a parent finds enough money to send their child to school, it does not always equate that they also have enough money to buy the books that their children needs for class. I had so many children who were in primary 4 and still could not read a book that was intended for primary 1 students and the reading does not improve much as they get older because their teachers assume that by that age, they can already read proficiently. If a child does not have an English book to take home to practice reading outside of the classroom or with their parents, how will they ever learn to read? If a child does not have a math book of their own so they can’t take the book home to do their homework every night, how will they ever learn simple subtraction?
Special education is rarely talked about in Ghana’s education system and people are educated about it even less. I once had a teacher tell me not to bother working with a struggling student because she was ‘bad in the head’ so it was just a waste of the child and of my own time. Mind you, this child undoubtedly had a learning disability but that does not mean that she is incapable of learning. What she needed was extra time and care to teach her the same curriculum as the other students and for the information to be presented to her in a way that made sense for her. While I know that I make sure she is actively included in lessons while I’m here, I know that once I’m gone or in her future years of schooling, the teachers will not take the time to make sure that she is because they do not understand learning disabilities or special education.
So no, while I have loved my time working in the Ghana education system, it has not been easy to watch children fall behind because of unfair expectations, poverty and disabilities, all things out of the control of the child.