I’m sitting underneath a mango tree on a wooden bench, sweating in the humid, tropical heat of Ghana, in a small rural neighborhood at the outskirts of Accra. Next to me at the table are sitting four kids in partly worn-out school uniforms, two boys and two girls, between 8 and 13 years old, watching me attentively (there should be 8 kids in my class, but after almost a month of vacation, the kids don’t seem to take school so seriously – most of them will only turn up next Monday I am told).
I am supposed to teach English, Math, Science, Religion and Creative Arts to these kids in grade 3. There are school books, but I had no time to look through them before my first lesson, hence I have no clue what to start with – what the hell do Ghanaian kids in grade 3 learn at school?
Getting kids excited with grammar
But four pairs of dark, curious eyes are directed towards me, full of expectation, and I need to come up with something. So I open the old, tattered textbook and while the kids are trying to decipher some story about Mr. and Mrs. Singh (the textbook is from India for some reason, so the names and places don’t really fit into the Ghanaian context), I have some time to search their notebooks for hints what they have been taught so far – simple past, alright.
So we start revising irregular verbs in the past tense – and surprisingly I manage to get the kids excited with dry, boring grammar: The trick is to use the blackboard and to make them repeat the verbs out loud altogether – I don’t remember having seen German kids in primary school being so enthusiastic about learning irregular verbs by heart. They also love to copy everything I write down on the board, they want me to correct what they’ve written, preferably using a red pen, and they remind me to write down the number of points they’ve reached in a test – not following these routines clearly leads to confusion.
School in Ghana is very strict and regulated (caning is still widely used to punish kids and learning by heart is the preferred method of teaching) and even though the Global Ghana Youth Network school uses much more humane and laidback teaching methods, it observes a strict routine. The kids are expected to be very obedient and respectful towards their teachers. Sending the kids to buy a pen or fetch water from the well for the teachers is perfectly fine here: As they are younger they have to do whatever the teachers tell them, and they don’t mind at all as it seems. Similarly I am expected to carry out little task for older people, respecting the elderly is extremely important in Ghana.
So the daily school ritual goes as follows: Some time before 8, the kids, most of them in school uniforms, a few in normal clothes (as money is scarce currently, the GGYN doesn’t have the means to provide all kids with school uniforms) and the three Ghanaian teachers drift in (together with another volunteer, Eliza, and me, we’re five teachers for the nursery and grades 1 to 4).
Cleaning and singing before class
Then the kids clean the dusty school area under the mango trees from leaves and plastic rubbish, arrange the wooden benches, tables and blackboards for class, line up in rank and file to sing and finally march in step to their respective class room – that is one of the five tables under the mango trees.
After two hours of school, the kids have a break and receive lunch (or breakfast or whatever, set times for eating don’t exist here, you just eat when you’re hungry): Every morning a woman called Ma cooks a huge pot of something, usually rice, kenkey (made from corn) or some other starchy staple with spicy stew and eggs or fish for the kids.
After the break – so after a lot of noise, playing, hitting each other, crying and jumping off trees, the kids return to class and attend lessons till 2 pm – admittedly with a little less attention than before lunch. But even if these kids sometimes don’t listen, get lost in their daydreams or try to sleep during my lesson (they are kids, after all!), they are just gorgeous – so far every single minute with these beautiful, intelligent, curious kids full of potential was enjoyable for me.