Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Booster Classes

I reported some time ago that the Basic Education Certificate Exam results were diabolically poor in the last academic year across Ghana. These are “written” by students at the end of Junior High School during the Easter Holidays! JHS covers the 3 years after Primary (Key Stage 3 in England) and mark the end of compulsory basic schooling. Normally the students would be about 15years old but in reality can be any age above that.

Last years’ results for our District showed 33% of students reaching the required level to pass BECE. Yes, that bad! The government have, understandably, seen the need to respond. I am wondering how much thought went into their decision making. All Y3 JHS classes are now running Booster sessions after school each day for 2 hours and 6 hours on Saturdays. Some are in school by 7am each morning. The only funding offered to schools has been to promise the students and teachers lunch. Of course there is no system to distribute this money through Regions to Districts and down to schools. Then the schools need to find someone to cook it daily. To set one up would take months so, if the funds are really there our students will receive none of it to satisfy their hunger. I wonder where that money is!!? More affluent areas of the south, closer to the Capital, have more access to funding and availability of food sources.

It is important to comply with governmental demands so the JHSs in Nadowli District are doing their best. The students & teachers leave school to find refreshment at the end of the normal day and are expected to return 30 mins later for 2 hours extra lessons. Amazingly, it seems most do in Nadowli town. In the north of Ghana we don’t really do snacks! The pupils who are fortunate enough to be given food to bring to school carry small packages of Banku, TZ etc. Others may bring a few peshwas to buy something similar from a street stall or one of the women who gather under trees near schools to sell food and sachet water. The school day begins between 7am and 8am depending on your age and most finish around 1.30pm. Many children eat nothing before they leave home and bring nothing with them!

I was in a JHS today where the headteacher was telling me, “All our students live a long walk from the school. It is between villages and there is nowhere nearby to find food or water. By the time they are home it is too late to eat and get back in 30 mins so many don’t return. If they need to drink water they have to walk halfway home to the borehole and many don’t return from there either.” I also learned that this school and the Primary next door have no toilet facilities at all.

As I have mentioned before, teachers are poorly motivated here and receive precious little in the way of rewards. Headteachers have no training, poor support and are given very little power and authority. These classes will continue to be offered until the middle of April and it will be monitored how many students attend and how successful they have been ultimately. For about 13 weeks teachers and some pupils will have worked five days for 9 hours with 3 short breaks and another 6 hours on Saturdays. There is no Booster Programme of Work. They are just bashing away at the same syllabus. Students are already bored in some schools after 2 weeks. The main problem with the BECE is that subjects are taught and tested in English and, particularly in the north, most people’s grasp of English is poor. Some teachers also have limited English! Often, it is not that the students don’t know the answers to the questions, they just can’t read & understand them!

I am trying to organise training for the JHS teachers in Nadowli to help them to improve students’ English in test situations through some alternative strategies. My belief is that this may raise pass levels above 33%. I fear that tired teachers drilling exhausted students with uninspiring textbooks for all their waking hours will have no positive difference at all to test results.

(This photo shows a class of JHS students having a rare experience of good practical science with resources they brought themselves.)

 Some of you may be wondering what GNAT (Teachers’ Union) are saying about it. Well, as far as I can ascertain………nothing at all!

I hope the government ministers in Accra feel satisfied with the wisdom of this new policy. Most will never visit the north of their country and few will be aware of even a few of the impossibilities endured by schools up here. 

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