Friday, 26 October 2012

Education or Training ?

The thing about my Blog Posts is that you don't see one for weeks and then 2 come along together!

I must apologise again for the lack of Blog posts recently. The server connection is currently poorer than I have ever experienced here. I am told it is a small problem that the provider is working on….. for over 2 weeks!......., I have changed my provider but it doesn’t seem to be making much difference. I suppose I could just try and live with no contact through phone or internet and experience how it must have been for volunteers in the 1980’s! The trouble is, the rest of the developed world assumes I have the access, which makes the situation doubly difficult. Also, I am still hoping to reach my target of 200 blog postings before I leave here in February. Never mind, please don’t desert me. I’m trying my best.

I have had the opportunity to help with some training for teachers, qualified and un-qualified in recent weeks. This has allowed me to consider all sorts of issues related to “learning”, that confirm my feeling that I have been time travelling back to the British 1950s or beyond whilst here.
Increasingly, it occurs to me, hardly anyone in the world of Ghanaian Education in the Upper West, holds any beliefs or opinions about the profession in which they are employed. That may be due to the fact that they are never asked their opinions about anything educational!

If different strategies were employed in classrooms to enhance pupils’ learning, then comparisons could be made about effectiveness. However, there is only “chalk and talk”. Chalk is the only resource in most classrooms. Teachers are there to tell children what they need to know to pass the exams. Nobody needs to think, they just need to remember. Enquiries about their thoughts or opinions are not made to pupils or teachers. There is no discussion about theory or practice. Applying any information at the most basic level is a massive issue in teaching and learning for pupils and teachers.

All teacher and headteacher workshops are precisely the opposite. They are briefings. We tell you how to do it. Don’t ask questions other than for clarification of facts. The term “workshop” implies some activity, discovery and sharing of expertise. Well, the “trainers” have been told from Accra what they should impart and they follow instructions. Training is about “taking people through procedures”.

Teachers and pupils behave in the same way. They are programmed to sit, listen and don’t talk. Asking questions implies you don’t understand and that is a weakness that you wouldn’t want anyone to be aware of. I don’t think there is any political reason for denying teachers the right of personal opinion. They just haven’t got to that stage yet. When you take the openness of expressing opinions and ideas for granted, it is stifling and frustrating when you can’t get any out of a whole room full of educators! I just wish I had the opportunity to experience some teacher training to see what they do in college.

Misguidedly, I tried to suggest some groupwork in lessons, “talk partners”, discussing a simple issue and feeding back to the class. I explained how they worked and the value of these strategies to pupils and teachers. The blank sea of faces almost put me off but no, I forged ahead with examples and reasons why. The crunch came when I gave an example of a learning objective. (Remember the pupils are in ability grouped classes in Ghanaian schools. If you are not up to it you are not “promoted” to the next class and repeat a year.) “Most pupils will understand why a plant has roots.” There was a low mumbling in my audience. It was then quietly explained to me by an Education Officer, that “most” was too demanding and the African child cannot be put under this much pressure. It is testament to my new found tolerance that I remained in the room until the end of the session!

I wonder where creativity fits in anywhere in these parts of rural Ghana, except in terms of life skills, in making what you have fit the purpose. Basic problem solving in the home, I imagine, requires some creativity if it means you eat or not. So, is any other type of creativity unnecessary, time wasting, not even considered worthy?  Art, including live music is rarely evident. What is there is good and often intricate, making careful use of precious resources. In school, however, Art consists of, “make one that looks exactly like this.” So, Art is a luxury. Plenty of other tribal communities wouldn’t agree.

Of, course there is a difference between productive creativity and creative thinking. In schools in UK we aim for both, ideally. We give children a little knowledge and skill them in using a range of tools, then we allow them to explore within a framework of expected learning outcomes. Rarely is anything “wrong” unless it is a specific mathematical or scientific fact.

We are educating young children in the affluent developed world for a future we cannot imagine. They have to be able to think for themselves and solve unimaginable problems. We can probably imagine the future, possibly still reduced in life span, for most children here. It may not be much different from their present. At best, their future will be our present.

The education system here feels as though it covers what they think they should be providing without really thinking about it! For instance, English consists largely of remote and unnecessary grammar. Shades of my early years of French lessons with no conversation just declensions! I have got to 58 and think (although you may disagree) I can write reasonable English in a wide range of tenses without knowing the names of them as explained in a P2 textbook! Would there be harm in leaving that to degree level? It would be nice to think someone was learning from the mistakes of our frequently changed and modified education system.

So, what qualities does the Ghanaian system look for in their teachers? Bear in mind that there aren’t enough and they are all assigned a school somewhere in the country. No teacher is unemployed.  They are all posted. “Professionalism” is not a word you hear. However, “Appraisal” is one being mentioned more frequently. Through the “Handbook for Teachers” that I have produced and reproduced throughout the District, thanks to funding from friends in UK, I have highlighted a range of professional behaviour issues that would not need mentioning to teachers in UK. “Accountability” has not been realised yet. If your class achieve very poor exam results at the end of the year, a teacher will not assume they have any responsibility for them. It will be the children’s fault! They didn’t learn. There seems to be no correlation between teaching and learning. Teachers teach and children learn. That should just happen. Teachers are not responsible for considering other strategies than the chalkboard to improve or accelerate learning. Why should they? Nobody is holding them accountable!

I have hinted before at the “No Blame” culture I have encountered at all levels. You may be incompetent, however, woe betide anyone who points that out in any official capacity. Dark forces are very real here and you fear for your life, literally! Parents respect older teachers who come from their community. Whether the teacher attends school and their child is learning anything is a minor factor in many parents’ evaluations of the situation. As I remember writing a long time ago, it is “who you are and where you originate”, not “what you do and achieve”, that matters here. It is reassuring to stay with the familiar. Change is scary and there are enough frightening things that can happen to your family here without adding “educational development” to them!

This post continues a rambling of thoughts I have mentioned before. I am still realising the enormous canyon between a system I have grown with and the one I encounter here in Ghana. My feelings oscillate between fascination, frustration and horror. My short time here is beginning to run out but I continue to live in hope that there is hope for a better future for schools in northern Ghana.

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