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Thursday 23rd November
Mandeep In Ghana - Page Two
Fewer Children

The strike continued, but fewer children attended the school - I only had seven pupils. Not a successful day! I felt like going home after the first hour but ground out a further three more hours

Back To School

School was back on but very few children turned up. Six pupils from Primary 4 were present with two turning up half an hour later. I decided not to wait for more and worked on reading skills: phonetics and simple word games.

"Meet Me At Labadi Beach"

My first lesson with class SS3 was English. I prepared a role play based on meeting people aimed at descriptions and introductions. Nobody had the confidence to perform and only after about ten minutes of pushing a few boys acted out the work. They introduced themselves very well, their descriptions were great: everyone would be wearing designer clothes and were to meet at Labadi Beach hotel (Ghana's only 5-star hotel).

Learning Science

I realised when teaching Isaac (SS3 student who lives with me) that most of what was learned was in parrot fashion. I tried the biology first, everyone knew that a cell was 'a unit of life' word for word, exactly the same as in the text book. I went through cell organelles, rephrasing questions out of the book, e.g. everyone knew that the nucleus is the brain of the cell. But when I asked why the nucleus was important, no one seemed to be able to answer that. I tried the same with chemistry, atomic mass, asking why an electron was not used in the notation, even with the masses of sub atomic particles on the board - no one made the connection with it having virtually no mass compared to the other particles. Then I sprung my test which I had designed to test application of knowledge rather than definitions. As expected they all did very badly! I realised that all that they learned was in "copy-cat" fashion. I plan to discuss this with them next lesson to make them actively aware of this problem.

First Weeks' Impressions

Teaching has gone extremely well at times and other days I felt like burying myself away, but that's why I'm here to have a go at a challenge of teaching! The main problem is the lateness. No one was on time for the first two weeks: some were thirty minutes late; some a whole hour. Several times people walked in two hours late but I had put this down to the strike.

I spoke to the my host about this, I found out much of it was just village culture. School has never been very important as many of the children's parents and grandparents have never been to school, so the importance is not recognized by many villagers. No one from the village has made it to university level in recent years. Only students from the city seem to go to university. After talking about experiences with teachers in Accra I heard that the children there spoke to each other in English. My lot try to speak to me in Fante!

The lateness has improved so much over the last week and a half. I think for many it is because they seem to be enjoying the lessons a lot more. Children who I have sent out of the lessons for misbehaving - mainly for fighting - want to come back. One was even in tears for missing out of one of my active lessons.

Main Difficulties

There is such a huge mix in ability. Three of the pupils seem so far ahead of the rest of the students, reading and writing is of little problem to them. Another one seems just behind them when he's in the mood. Then there are two who cannot even spell their own names. At times I have got around this by using illustrations so everyone can take part in the lesson. Two of the more advanced children have helped me so much by translating work for the others in the class. I found out that one of them has only been in Attakwaa for two months, she's from Accra and only here for a month more. This shows the difference between village and city kids.

I've spent most of the first month trying to get them to improve their concentration span. It's certainly increased. My aim is to push on with the reading and science.

Computer Almost Lost!

I had to take Monday off school to get the computer donated to the village by World InfoZone from customs at Kota international airport. This was an experience and a half. I had to wait for the UPS man for 2 hours. Not bad Ghana time, only fifteen minutes late. I had to haggle for ages with the customs officer. He wanted me to pay import tax. Money I did not have! I eventually proved to him that it was a donation for the village. Problem sorted? No way! While I signed the documents people posing as porters ran off with the boxes to a taxi. I jumped into the taxi and did not tip them. I only had 10,000 cedis, which was just enough for the taxi fare, and so two angry blokes ran after me. Then the taxi man tried to get more money from me!

When I got the computer to the village John was the first to see! He was extremely excited thinking that I had bought him a TV. When I explained that it was not a TV his smile dropped. But I got the computer up and running and he was stunned at what he saw.

Samples of Lessons

Animal Adaptations!

I got Primary 4 to draw pictures of elephants, and naturally frogs followed. Then I tried to explain parts of the animals: trunks, webbed feet etc. I talked about these as adaptations for the life these animals lead. I started off well but then everything fell to pieces! So I took them outside and mimed being an elephant reaching to pull the leaf from a tree. This illustrated the point, but had them rolling around on the ground in fits off laughter. It was a new experience to have a teacher acting stuff out!!

Microscopes

I found out that they had microscopes and slides! I managed to find them with the help of the Deputy Head. They were covered in dust looking as if no one had used them recently. I got them set up but needed a torch for the light, so the Deputy Head sent a teacher out to find one.

I spent ages fiddling with it all to get the light correct. I set up an animal muscle cell and a plant cell for my lesson with SS3 to illustrate what we had been learning. I called them in and there was an immediate scrap to have a look at the slides!

Trees

I taught Primary 4 the importance of trees: wood for fire in their homes and animal habitats. (Ishmael kept stealing pens which was very obvious, so I made him stand in the corner on one leg which worked a treat!) The picture plan worked very well. I asked them to draw things for which trees were important, e.g. fruits that grew on trees and animals that live in them. Everyone drew what they could. Kofe drew an orange and a plantain showing his understanding; the more able pupils attempted the spellings. This was a successful day as everyone got involved and listened to each other.

Dropping Like Flies In The Heat

The SS School sports day was a house competition with a huge variety of events. I arrived in the middle of the 4 x 400m relay and some students were dropping like flies in the heat. There was no sand-pit for the long jump -just the ground which was dry and hard - hence the limping students. The atmosphere was alive with one house drumming and singing for their team.

Jemima Has Pink Shoe

"Jemima has pink shoe". This was the chant started by Benjamin which brought the Headmaster to my class. I was teaching colours using flash cards and kept switching between pink and purple. They kept getting caught out. Then Benjamin stuck his hand up, and said "Sir, Jemima has pink shoe". I looked, and she did, along with a big smile. I said "Brilliant!". This was all the encouragement he needed to start something! So he began to start chanting "Jemima has pink shoe!" banging the table - this got the whole class chanting "Jemima has pink shoe!"

The Headmaster arrived from his office next door to see what was going on, only to smile at me and let it all continue!

Marching Practice

I decided to teach the importance of birds. I made a model using balloons, card and tape to illustrate the parts. It worked really well. I think it was a really new concept for them to have a model to look at so it held their attention for longer.

My last lesson was cancelled due to Marching Practice. Adam told me that the children would march for the District Commissioner on March 6th, the celebration of Ghana's independence. This was great to see, I sat under the tree with drummers and the younger children who did not take part while the Deputy Head and Adam lead the marching drills.

"Sooaft"

I tried to teach 'hard and soft' with a variety of different objects. Isaac was hilarious as usual, he wore white socks that covered his legs all the way. So I called him Obruni legs! (white man legs) Then I asked him to describe a sponge, the pronunciation of "Sooaft" had me choking with tears! Benjamin was his bad self again, and threw his shoe at Agatha! I went mad shouting at him which had the whole class in silence - this teaching thing's a piece of cake!

Football at lunch time was great to watch, Benjamin was great and tiny Stephen Donkoh scored 4! My class beat P5!

Plasticine Is Not Good To Eat

I taught floating and sinking using lots of different objects and got them to guess the outcome!! I introduced plasticine which nearly caused my first casualty as Kofe and Stephen attempted to eat it! It was a 50/50 guess to see if it floated or sank, but before we tried I encouraged them to make shapes! Everyone's sank!! Then I showed mine! The ball I made sank, the cup floated suprising the class! Then they all tried it.

Lizard Ball

I started the day by drawing on the blackboard, what I thought was, an impressive picture of a lizard. My opinion seemed to be confirmed by the attention the picture generated from the class. Surprisingly news of my artistic creation spread and by break had attracted the attention of other students and even members of staff.

After lunch, whilst teaching, I noticed a lizard running along the floor. Obviously it was not as wise as its brothers and sisters which normally crept along the walls or behind the furniture to avoid detection. I watched it while the class, unaware of its presence, continued to work quietly. It was only a question of time. Eric leaned his table so it balanced on only two legs and waited, the lizard unfortunately walked under the unsupported half. The weight of the table was swiftly dropped down on top of the lizard. The half-dead creature was met by Eric's bare foot and the lizard was kicked to the front of the room. Another pupil, Ben, who was eager not to be out-done, rushed out of his seat, scooped up the poor lizard and ran to me exclaiming "Look Sir!". The boy smiled and shook the lizard in front of me. Then he danced with it, put it on the ground and copied Eric's previous example. The rest of the class became involved and the boys began a 4-a-side football match with the lizard as the ball.

I cannot remember how I tried to stop it but it came to an abrupt end when someone sent the poor creature flying out of the classroom and landing in the long grass! Leaving me to continue teaching the class........

Independence Day (6 March)

Everyone was as smart as they could be and as clean as could be with shirts sewn up and those with socks had them pulled up. The march was brilliant. The band (three kids and a teacher) were between the primary section of the school and the juniors. At the front of the groups the children held school banners, with the motto 'god fearing below'. They marched in the heat pouring with sweat, the woman who sold groundnuts wiped the sweat off the face of a few of the children. The villages seemed really proud of the schools' effort. The children reached a plain area of ground and saluted the district man: they set off in groups of about fifteen and walked across where he was seated giving a salute. They had been working on the salute for many weeks to get the timing of hands up in sync. The district man gave a speech, most of which was in English about the importance of Independence Day.

The Day After The March

My lesson plan failed miserably! I think the class was exhausted from all the marching in the heat from yesterday. I was running out of ideas for reading work. My saviour was the Arsenal Squad, I wrote the names up - even split them "Sesame Street style" - to work on sound pronunciation. This rescued my English lesson from being a disaster.

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

In the middle of my lesson the heavens opened and the sound of the rain on the corrugated metal roof drowned out the sounds from my mouth. The children became excited and lost all concentration of the measurements lesson which was going well. I kept trying to get them back to it but as the rain continued they listened less and less. I ended up slouched on the front desk feeling very tired with a headache - the room had become really hot and stuffy. For some odd reason I was humming, then singing to myself "Raindrops keep falling on my head". Hawa was listening and eventually started to copy, which got a few people paying attention! I decided to force myself up and try singing with the class - A timeless experience. I got them singing but most ended up with "rain drops falling on head", missing chunks out. Eventually I taught them to hum to get the tune right and then to whistle it.

I wrote the words up on the blackboard and we began our singing lesson, not that I am very good at singing! Eventually the words became more complete with ninety per cent singing "raindrops falling on my head", struggling with the "keep"! But we got there eventually. Then we tried it deliberately out of sync and with individuals: Hawa and Naomi were far the most talented singers, Isaac tried his hardest with a croaky voice, and Ama giggled her way through it all.

Future Needs

On leaving Ekumfi the hardest thing was that there is still so much to do. Yes the reading has picked up but there are many more classes and more areas that need work.

I hope that the Library is successful, it could be the key for future success. There are thoughts of a phone line going in at some stage which could open the door to education from the Internet - the computer donated by World InfoZone has a modem. I hope that an Internet connection is established soon and with more volunteers going in I see a chance of a bright future.

If you have questions for Mandeep, you can mail us here, and we'll pass them to him.

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