Again, I copy an article that unfortunately hits too many nails on the head describing life in this country..
In a recent post, A PLAYGROUND FOR THE CHILDREN OF THE BLOCKS, I wrote about three little girls not in school who face days,months, and years of sameness.
Actually, last Thursday was an eventful day. I guess I’ll start with early morning visitors the three little girls received. Three other little girls joined them in conversation. The visitors were dressed in crisp neat uniforms with shiny shoes and white socks and on their backs were school bags . I can only just imagine what was being said and what thoughts were running through each of the six little girls heads!
I do know what was going through this guy’s head! First was the fact that millennium goals 2 and 3 have to do with education with an eye toward women and girls. Second, two thirds of the illiterate people on the planet today are women and girls. and third, illiteracy breeds poverty and powerlessness.
So,I looked up education in Ghana and what did I discover but an article written by a Canadian woman who was living right here in Kumasi teaching in a secondary school and sending her step child to a public primary school. It sure is an eye opener. She starts by describing the experience of primary school children in school here in Kumasi enduring corporal punishment on a daily basis and the consequence it has on child and nation…..an interesting take and a connection I have often contemplated. She ends with describing life for those who don’t go to school, like my neighbours, the three little girls.
West African Journal: Ghana’s School of Hard Knocks
KUMASI, Ghana—Frankly, school is where childhood ends for children in Ghana. It is, however, the nicest place where innocence is crushed here. Those who can’t afford school quickly enter the world of work, with all its dangers.
Raising the Cane
From the first moment of junior kindergarten, at the tender age of four, the cane enters the life of Ghana’s school children. How else can teachers manage with classes ranging from 40 (the smallest I’ve heard) to 62? Teachers, breathe deeply.
The environment in Kumasi’s schools is punitory. If a class does poorly on an exam, all the students may be caned. If a child’s clothes aren’t neat, his nails aren’t trimmed, or he comes to school without a handkerchief, he may be caned. If he is late, it’s the cane for sure. Interestingly enough, putting the onus for lateness on the child seems to have killed before-school dawdling in my house.
I have heard stories from several Ghanaian adults who, during their childhoods, left school for a period because of corporal punishment. A certain teacher disliked them and beat them constantly. My 16-year-old stepson, for example, has taken to wearing two pairs of underwear and a pair of thick shorts under his uniform.
Having taught school here, I quickly noticed that the children are addicted to the cane. Without one in your hand, they feel it unnecessary to listen to you. They are like convicts in a prison, going wild when the guards are off the range.
It is surprising then, that children here are only slightly crueller and less sympathetic that Canadian children. I have noticed that children here often lie to avoid the harsh punishment. There is no emphasis on “goodness for goodness sake,” or on internalizing moral reasoning—the moral code is governed by the cane. I worry that this focus on external may be the tiny seed from which corruption springs, and the popular idea that “if you’re not caught, it wasn’t wrong.”
Extortion, No Other Word Will Do
Attending public school has a stigma in Ghana. The brown and orange uniform brands you as poor and the quality of teaching leaves much to be desired. Most working people opt for private school. Everyone wants the best for their child; the problem is the fees!
Indeed, at the school my stepson goes to, the unsavoury character who runs the place sends him home regularly for failure to pay this fee or that fee. There are no niceties like a letter detailing what I should pay and when. It is not uncommon for all the students to be sent home because their fees are only partially paid.
If a kid fails to bring canteen (cafeteria) money to school and you send him with a bag lunch, he will be sent home until you “pay canteen”—even if he doesn’t “eat canteen.”
Despite rumours of a school feeding program, in the public schools around here the canteen fee often keeps poor parents from sending children to public school (even though such schooling is supposedly free).
There are no janitors at the school where I work. The children arrive early, check the duty roster and sweep all the rooms and offices, bring the teacher water, arrange the textbooks, clean the blackboard, clean the grounds and pick up all the litter.
They are responsible for the upkeep of their own environment and they hold each other to task. Sometimes there isn’t even an adult in sight, yet things are busy as a hive. I know you North American parents are shaking your heads in disbelief. I’m telling you, I’m misty eyed right now myself.
By the time children here are 13, they have so many chores and so much homework piled onto them they have no time to breathe until they are 18 and out of the teenage danger zone.
Girls are forbidden to grow their hair during high school. A schoolgirl is immediately identifiable by her short hair. There will thus never be any doubt when a developed young girl is still off limits to interested young men. Naturally, there are no tears about bad hair days, bad haircuts, or the cost of hair products.
Though I trust the British have reformed long ago reformed such a practice in their educational system, fourteen-year-olds in Ghana decide their fate forever in grade 9 when they write the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). They are then streamed, and those who fail to do well are not allowed into high school. The high schools are ranked, sending the best students to the best schools and the poor students to the poorer schools. The students who fail can go to technical school or get on with their lives.
High School High Class?
High school is a dividing line between rich and poor. It is far more expensive than regular private school or public school, and most students are boarders. That’s right, boarding school, and the costs of fees, boarding, and feeding are too much for many people.
After university, new graduates serve one year of National Service. Those I’ve known starve somewhere in the boondocks teaching school on a tiny stipend, which is often late. You can also opt for military training, or occasional administrative work for the government.
I guess they can be counted as finishing childhood by then.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the 10-year-old porter I saw in Central Market today considers herself a child? Do the nine, 10, and 11-year-old farm workers carrying machetes in the wee hours of the morning feel childlike? How about the seven-year-old girl selling cold water from her head by the highway? I saw this tiny person and my eyes scanned in all directions looking for someone, anyone, watching her in case someone pulled her into a car and carried her away. There was no one.
For those in deep poverty, there is no National Service. Yet these young people literally carry the work of a nation on their shoulders every day, and for just a few pennies.
These children go straight into the world of work as soon as they can add well enough to make change. They are everywhere. Some of them have never gone to school. The uniform is too expensive, and their parents—who didn’t go either—fail to see the value of the added expense.
One could argue that insisting on a Western model of education in an African environment is an imposition of European values; after all, aren’t the children learning as they work?
Unfortunately, survival requires such pragmatism. But to understand the law and your rights, to know whether someone is cheating you, or to have your voice heard on a most basic level, education is required.
Only education has the power to kill corruption, and in Ghana corruption does kill. You will meet it everywhere, from the hospital to the police station. If you are uneducated, how can you read the instructions on medicine given to your child? How can you read court papers? On what basis will you stand up to your oppressors?
In my eyes, the most important battle in Ghana right now is the battle for the rights and welfare of poor children. No amount of charity or foreign aid will make a dent. It is a fight adults here must take up. What is required is a change of values, a change that is societal, fundamental—the most difficult kind of change.
Jul 13, 2008
Frank David Lord this is my prayer, defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hands of the wicked, for all the nations are your inheritance, amen
Rescue the weak and needy-today I went to the Department of Social Welfare. I think people were shocked to see me there. Ghana Immigration Service is on the next floor up, so people thought the ‘ole obroni’ (that’s me, the old white man )was a little confused. So I explained that this obroni was not interest in leaving Ghana, but only interested in the fate of three little girls living, sorry surviving next door in this first class residential neighbourhood.
Anyways I got shunted from one office to another and finally ended up in the LEAP office. LEAP stands for Livliehood Empowerment Against Poverty. Today actually, the Government of Ghana granted GH C7.5 million to the program. I hope that the three little girls next door get something.
After the officials asked me a couple of questions about the location and the nature of the situation, they surprisingly asked me if I wanted to help.Well, I fielded that as diplomatically as I could , saying I thought that the owner of the land could perhaps help. After all, the mother of the children had worked a long time on the plot carrying blocks -that word again-to build the building. She now permits the woman to live there with her three children, establishing a presence on the lot. You’d think that good church going woman owner would do more….Nobody does enough for children here and that, I believe, accounts for the way things are here and always will be. Yes, Zoe there has to be a fundamental change in values here. In other words children have to be valued…..
And to finish off last Thursday, that eventful day, the rich owner and her husband delivered a load of sand in a small truck. It’s not sand for that mythical playground I imagine, but rather sand for more block-that word again.
I’ll keep ya posted.