I had started telling my kids about the coming exams three weeks in advance. Nevertheless they all looked at me with wide-eyed astonishment on the said Friday before the begin of the examinations: “Next week? Ah Madame!”
It wasn’t entirely their fault. The wet season had started and the torrential rains poured down more frequently now, making teaching outside impossible for days. We had missed a lot of classes and hardly found time to revise.
But the exams had to be done. Whether in primary school or senior high school, children in Ghana have to pass exams in all subjects by the end of each of the three terms constituting a school year. So we did as much as we could to prepare the kids well and hoped that the rainfalls wouldn’t thwart our efforts.
The signs were good when we started on a sunny Monday morning with clear blue skies. The kids arrived excited and much too early, and for once did as they were told – they even brought a pen each!
However, writing exams outdoors, just as teaching, comes with challenges unknown to regular schools. The distractions are manifold: Cows and goats walking across the school compound, chickens searching for grains between the kids’ feet, constant noise from the nearby cement factory.
Moreover, as many kids have difficulties reading and writing, we had to rush from one student to the next, reading out loud the questions and helping them spelling the words which added to the general level of noise and tumult.
Taking into account all these hindrances, the exams went well – at least for the first three days. Yet on Thursday, 20 minutes after we had handed out the exam papers for Creative Art, dark clouds gathered on the horizon. A strong wind started blowing, whirling up the papers, and soon after the first heavy raindrops fell on the kids’ drawings.
We had to run for shelter and gathered underneath a little roof, crammed against each other, waiting for the rain to stop. Afterwards a thick layer of black, sticky mud covered the whole compound. There was no way to continue the exams that day, so we sent the kids home and, knowing that the mud would stay at least until the following day, postponed Math and Creative Art to Monday.
But the weather betrayed us again and after more rain falls, the compound was still muddy and hardly accessible on Monday. We put up benches and tables on a little piece of grass next to the compound for the kids showing up despite the weather conditions. Not everyone did though; one of the problems with a school that is dependent on the weather, and thus less reliable, is that its student become less reliable, too.
On the following Wednesday, the last day of school and fancy dress day in Ghana, the sun had finally dried the soaked soil. Instead of their worn out purple and white school uniforms, the girls came to school in colourful dresses and pretty sandals, the boys were wearing jeans and sneakers and extra cool sunglasses. Everyone brought food and drinks from home as well as little presents for their teachers, so we received lots of sugary soft drinks, sweet biscuits, and, for some reason, soap.
It was a fun day for the kids, but they also seemed in a hurry to leave for their holidays. It felt strange to see them walking away, a noisy bunch of skinny children, joking and laughing and fighting like always. Some of them I might never see again although I gave all of them my contact details. I’d love to stay in touch with them though, and to return to Ghana in three or five or ten years to see what they’ve become.
When I now look out of the window onto the school compound, a small dusty area underneath a few mango trees and a little piece of grassy land, it seems strangely deserted without the kids. Plastic rubbish from all the biscuits and snacks and dry leaves cover the soil, a broken school bench that has been forgotten is lying between the trees. When I wake up in the morning, there’s no shouting and screaming and laughing anymore. It’s quiet, just occasionally I hear the crowing of a cock or the bleating of a goat.