A Tale of Two Ghanas: "It's like a Human Being; after All It Can Think." Welcome to a Computer Class in Northern Ghana Where Successive Governments Have Continually Neglected the Provision of Educational Facilities. Marika Sherwood Was There Recently Revisiting Some Schools in the North and the Northeast

By Sherwood, Marika | New African, June 2009 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Ghanas: "It's like a Human Being; after All It Can Think." Welcome to a Computer Class in Northern Ghana Where Successive Governments Have Continually Neglected the Provision of Educational Facilities. Marika Sherwood Was There Recently Revisiting Some Schools in the North and the Northeast


Sherwood, Marika, New African


THOUGH, AS A HISTORIAN, I visit Ghana for the wealth of its archives, this was my fourth visit to the Northeast and the North as the secretary of a small charity, the Ghana Education Link (GEL). On my first visit I was amazed at the difference: I was, surely, in a different country to the South, I thought. Better read some more history ... and see what I can do to aid the schools.

I have now visited 14 schools and met headteachers and teachers, chiefs and members of the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), wherever possible. What I learned is, I think, very important. Partly because for Ghana to move forward, education provisions around the country must be equalised; the North must no longer be seen as a source of labour, forced or free.

As my neighbour on the bus to Tamale was as friendly and accommodating as most Ghanaians are, I asked him: "Shouldn't the children we see selling by the roadside be in school?" "Of course," he replied. "But there are many parents who cannot afford the school fees and compulsory uniforms, and the pencils, exercise and textbooks. And boys get preference over girls."

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I decide it would be undiplomatic to ask why uniforms are compulsory when so many parents cannot afford them. Is this a remnant of colonialism? Or do the parents able to afford it proudly show off that their children are able to attend school? But then how do the others feel?

In the morning I left for the town of Kpandai, on the new Metro bus. I am delighted that at long last there is public transport, especially as much of this "road" is not surfaced. The bus makes many stops, dropping and picking up passengers, so the journey is long. But I don't mind as I am happy that so many people can now get about with some degree of comfort and safety.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow passenger, a teacher at one of the schools along our route. He had to teach the compulsory computing course, but without access to computers (or electricity). Some weeks into the course, he asked his pupils to describe what a computer might look like. Two of them said "like a human being; after all it can think".

The next morning, we motorbiked to the village of Katiejeli where GEL has been trying to help. We first visit the Islamic Primary School. The 80 children in the Kindergarten class are taught under the trees. The only writing slates are the ones supplied by GEL. In the dirty-walled, dark classrooms with pitted floors, there are 60 boys and 72 girls; the number of girls has increased recently as GEL provided money for uniforms.

Some of the government's "capitation fee" has been used to purchase exercise books as most of the parents cannot afford to buy these. But as this fee also has to be used to buy textbooks, at best two pupils have to share one text; in some classes it is one between five and in others there are only old delapidated texts.

For the seven classes, there are only two trained teachers, while another two are working for their certificates. (This means giving up your holidays and paying the fees--a hefty GH[sent] 90-100 per module.)

I ask how many languages are spoken in the village and surrounding area? Ten, I am told. The school has no electricity, there is no nearby well for water, no toilets, and no accommodation for the teachers.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We then went to the village Primary and Junior Schools. Conditions are very similar, except that here pupils of the two Kindergarten classes sit on the floor. GEL has not yet provided sufficient slates. Textbooks are again shared between two pupils at least, while Primary 6, has no "new science" texts at all. The roof over Primary 5'S classroom is partly missing! For the 432 pupils, there are 8 teachers, of whom only one is trained. And the children in this village are better off than those in the next one along the road, where there is no school building: lessons are under the trees in the dry season only! …

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