Berekum, GH

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The Looking Glass

In their eyes was desperation, stoicism and anxiety , I could imagine that probably only a few had a proper breakfast but they still made it to school that morning. They stood in neat narrow files in classes and this brought memories of my childhood days when we used to say the Lord's prayer with some pupils mumbling the part that says 'give us this day our daily bread' , say the National pledge with our right hand boldly placed on our protruding chest.


The journey to the school was one that made me nostalgic of those days when we use to walk through the thicket of the bush road to get to the newly built Freeman Methodist school. This school (I visited), a catholic one, was situated on a hill in Kutre No 1 and the quietness surrounding the school gave me some surreal attachment to the place. The day before we actually visited the school, we had gone to see the chief of the place to notify him of our intentions to speak to one of the schools in the area. He was excited with the idea that we had chosen his town to be the first recipient of such a kind gesture, he did not fail to come along as we visited the school. It was shameful to think that this was where my ancestors actually hailed from but was my first time visiting. I was consumed internally with guilt of how alien the place seemed to me and how different I found my own people. I would see some children walking with barely any clothes on gazing as we passed through. One girl who kept on following us, was one whose memory would stay with me for a long time. The chief's linguist who was with us accused her of being a witch because of her eccentric behaviour of following strangers to beg for money and wondering in the town very untidy. I felt pity for the girl and to some extent for the linguist for his ignorance because this was a girl who had a condition which was purely medical but has been wrongly stigmatised as a witch. After given her 1 Gh cedis she asked God's blessings for us, this warmed my heart and had to  hold myself from shedding tears. The irony was that I had a so called witch asking God's blessings for me.

We drove on a bumpy bush road with gaping potholes, which leads to the school. Some villagers would pass us and mutter some words in twi which sounded like greetings but I heard it faintly. Walking in front of two elderly people, a man and a woman and a girl I guessed will be about 8 years old carrying a basket and clutching on to her machete. I  wondered why she was not in school but restlessly plying the farm road, I assumed, to satisfy the objectives of her parents. I wish I could confront the parents to inquire of why the girl was not in the classroom but felt I will be intruding into their life. Similar of such stories confronted me everyday namely: the young boy perilously moving through traffic to sell sachet water ; the young Muslim girl who sold her mother's waakye  ( rice and peas) at the lorry station and the young girl who I guessed will be barely 7 years old serving as a guide for her blind uncle who was a beggar. I grew increasingly worried for these children, getting scared about what future awaits them.

Our situations in this part of the world has made us become strongly attached to the words ; luck, hope, faith and miracle. These words undoubtedly can sometimes manifest themselves in some rare situations but I believe life is more about certainties and putting in the works that are jeered towards them. I could foresee most of these kids who were wandering the streets getting pregnant at their early teenage years; graduating in those childhood trades they have been involved with and never getting the opportunity to see what better life could be achieved through education ; and the worst case scenario falling prey to crime and probably ending their lives tragically. I believed their parents would have uncountable reasons for keeping them out of school, some of which will make total sense but considering the pace at which the world is developing if a child is deprived of education he/she will grow up with an intrinsic sick view of  the world and therefore absolutely lost in it. I spoke with the district social welfare director later in the day who expressed concern about the alarming rate of child labour in the district. He cited an example of a child who he has been trying to reinitiate back into the classroom. He explained how countless efforts has still been futile.

When we arrived at the school, classes had already started and I could hear claps which are typical of Ghanaian classrooms as a form of praise for outstanding effort; recitations of words after teachers and the whap!!! whap!!! sound of the cane probably on the buttocks of late comers or recalcitrant pupils. One of the teacher's quickly came on hand to help and led us to the head teacher's office. Mr Okine warmly welcomed us and asked for us to sit down. He brought out the time book for us to sign in and obviously sign out when we are leaving. I was overtaken by how organised he came across and how forthcoming he was about whatever mission brought us to the school. After narrating our reasons for coming to the school, he enumerated the different challenges the school is facing. Paramount among them were their library and computer laboratory which were short of books and computers respectively. He hastily pulled out the numerous letters he had sent to the municipal assembly and the Member of Parliament to help stock their facilities. The relief and smile on his face about  the fact that some group of people have come to offer help was infectious. He took us on a tour around the school. The first stop was the computer laboratory which was empty with no chairs, tables not to even talk of a computer. What was striking about the room was the computer monitor which had been meticulously drawn on the board. The children I supposed were learning ICT through imagery without having the opportunity to have a hands on approach to learning. The classrooms which were newly built lacked the basic accoutrements. The head teacher lamented that sometimes they have had to bring chairs and tables from their offices so some pupils can have seats to learn.

He organised an assembly of the school for us to meet  and speak to the students. The energy with which the pupils rushed and arranged themselves in a neat file was overwhelming. The head teacher introduced us to the pupils and I felt embarrassed by the praises he heaped.  I praised the pupils  for their strength and resilience in the face of their many challenges. I admonished them to strive hard to achieve their aspirations and dreams. They nodded in accordance to my utterances given me at least a sign that they were engaged in the interaction . When I did mention our intentions to help them furnish their library and ICT room, the nonverbal cues from some of the pupils communicated their desperation to have these resources to enhance their learning. I wished I could help them solve all the problems there and then but I knew that was wistful. We presented a token of books and A4 printing papers which they received with excitement. Inside, I knew that was not enough but their appreciation of the little we gave pleased me. At some point I thought I was empathising with them but I knew I can only try to but can never feel the way they are feeling. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to imagine the situation of someone like a looking glass in order to understand but it is not an easy one to do. Later I taught a 10 minutes lesson on streamlining to one of the classes. The smell , touch and the writing with a chalk on the board brought memories of my ‘pupil teacher’ days. I found myself having to draw the different streamlined shapes on the board rather than making models to show how the different shapes ease the movement of objects. I explained to the pupils how teaching of  science and for that matter all subjects should be made applicable to real life situations.

The problem with our education is that we still have not done a thorough revision of it to ensure that learning is now personalised and made practical in contrast to the rote method we have been stuck with since independence.

Written By

David Armah Mensah




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