In which our intrepid hero (hippie?) gets to teach

I’m in the middle of my 2 week teaching practicum, and I actually have something to write about.

In a word: It’s fantastic. Ghanaian students more than make up for what Ghanaian schools lack in technology. I teach 12 40-minute periods per week. However, ICT is almost alway taught with double periods, so my classes are actually 80 minutes long. I teach 2 sections of the form 1 students, and my practicum school (Ghana Senior Secondary School, or GHANASS) divides students into sections of roughly 50 students. This is a fairly typical class size for Ghana, if not on the small side. The classrooms are constructed in buildings not unlike dormitories, although they are screened to allow for airflow, and the blackboards are painted directly on the walls.

The classes are big, but Ghanaian Senior High students are very different from their American counterparts. For starters, they are paying to go to school. Public education is free through the junior high level. Once you finish  junior high, you take a test called the BECE which determines whether or not you will be admitted to go on to senior high school. If you pass, you get the option of placement at one of Ghana’s Senior High Schools. The better you score on the BECE, the better your school placement is. However, you have to pay school fees (tuition, housing/board, books, etc.) in addition to providing your own uniforms. Nobody goes to senior school unless their parents think it’s a prudent use of money, and misbehavior is not tolerated. Therefore, Ghanaian students are there because they want to be, and for the most part, they are very well behaved.

The downside is the facilities; not the buildings themselves, but the technology and resources available to teachers. The Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service have decided to make ICT a core (read: mandatory) class for all Form 1 students beginning this year, and has *in theory* budgeted money to pay for computers and equipment. In practice, however, the money for computers has not yet made it to the schools. Therefore, we make due with what we can get our hands on, and wait for the money to show up Real Soon Now.  The same is true for textbooks: in theory, the Ministry of Education and GES provides textbooks for all core subjects, with an option for electives. In practice, students end up buying their own textbooks. Therefore, you end up giving your students notes which they can use as a textbook/reference.

As an example: my practicum school has a computer lab with about 30 computers; at last count, 8 of them were functional.  In a class with 50 students, you end up with 6-8 kids per machine. They make it work, but nobody ends up getting any meaningful amount of computer time. I only wish I had more time to spend fixing computers so that the school had more functional machines with which to teach.

The actual teaching itself tends to take place in two parts: explanation/lecture and practical/lab. The first part happens in a classroom, away from the computers. I put notes on the board, ask questions, explain theories, and otherwise describe what they’ll actually be doing. The second part happens in the computer lab, where I employ the 5-5-5 rule: 5 minutes for assigning a task, 5 minutes of verifying their understanding, and 5 minutes of checking on their ability to do it. Wash, rinse, repeat. It works out very well, as long as you’re well prepared.

Hopefully, I’ll have GPRS enabled on my phone Real Soon Now (GMT = Ghana Maybe Time) so I can quit hauling my laptop into the internet cafes for email. In the meantime, however, I’m limited to what I can type in advance. I look forward to your responses, and will write more soon.

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