Thursday, 17 November 2011

Alternative Agenda

Progress, as far as work goes, is “slow slow”. However, that is the Ghanaian way of things. A conversation with a staff colleague outside the office may lead to a new contact or the news that something is happening of interest but about which I wasn’t informed. Lines of communication are very poor and nobody keeps a diary. Consequently, meetings and training are arranged with little or no notice so people don’t have time to forget! Letters and notification of training sessions are delivered by hand so there are always absentees who didn’t receive them in time. Frantic phone calls to boost attendance are normal. Similarly, meetings are cancelled and postponed with as little notice and no explanation. Nobody admits or accepts responsibility for any omissions, lapses in memory or mistakes.

I have been fortunate enough this week to be able to deliver some training to a Circuit of Headteachers, numbering about 18. I attended their previous meeting and we agreed that they needed guidance on “Monitoring & Evaluation”. We gathered slowly over a period of an hour, under the shade of an Acacia tree whilst the schools in the vicinity continued with their lessons very quietly. They must have been warned!
My session was received well and the headteachers were grateful for the evidence sheet I gave each of them to use back in school. Other items on the agenda followed, including a pep talk by the Director to encourage them to inspire their teachers. There was the inevitable discussion about “Welfare”, which is on all agendas for all meetings of all groups from the Education, and I imagine any other, department. This one focussed on the cost of hiring the store of Education Office plastic chairs for funerals. As I have said before, funerals are the main focus of discussion at meetings and there have been numerous funerals in the area this week. The final contribution was from the Circuit Supervisor who reminded Heads that the practice of making pupils bring large bundles of sticks to school as a punishment (presumably for them to burn as fuel) was “Child Labour” and must stop!

Throughout this I was entranced by a headteacher in the centre of the group who had arrived over an hour late, sporting a head full of fluorescent green curlers! She had a few things to contribute during the time she was awake. The orderly rows of chairs didn’t last long as people frequently moved out of the sun to a shadier spot. Nobody sits in the sun here and are vigilant in ensuring we don’t either. It was like musical chairs around the tree.

I was just beginning to lose the will to live after some long time listening to the “Chair Hiring” discussion, when I noticed large clouds of smoke behind a school. There is a lot of burning going on currently around the town and most of it is deliberate to raze long grass and the remains of maize and other plants after harvesting. Out of a classroom came an older Primary School boy, who reached up into a tree and broke off a sizeable branch. He went over to the fire which had really taken hold by now and proficiently put out the flames with deft strokes of the branch. He calmly walked back into the classroom and within a few minutes the smoke ceased to exist. I wondered how this would have been managed at schools in UK. I have said previously, childhood here is a preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood. Children learn how to wield sharp tools safely, respect and use resources sparingly and take early responsibility for their siblings, environment and home. They may have very little time to play but this is the life they know and we can learn much from it.

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