Namaskar School is Changing

By Erin Fudge  

Namaskar School is an International Neohumanist Primary School in Ejura , Ghana

Erin Fudge was a volunteer at the Neohumanist School in Ejura for four months. This article was written in June, 2005.

For over two months I have been volunteer teaching at the International Neohumanist School in Ejura , Ghana . Prior to coming here, I researched Neohumanism and the education system it stresses. I was particularly attracted, and continue to be, to the emphasis Neohumanism places on the education of young children. I was excited to take part in the project of influencing and educating the minds of younger students. It has proved to be as valuable and enjoyable an experience as I imagined it would be.

However, back in Canada , I could never have imagined the problems and hurdles of the education system here in Ghana . We face problems with the attendance of students who, some of the time, are needed to work in the home instead of going to school. We face problems with students not being able to afford pencils and notebooks. We face problems with lack of government assistance. For example, students do not receive adequate textbooks. We face disciplinary problems, as beating is culturally acceptable in many homes and many schools. We also, along with many other schools in the area, face problems with the dedication and motivation of the teachers. These problems surface themselves in many ways on a daily basis but do not deter us from continuing on to the best of our ability. Already, in only two months, I have seen many positive changes.

One of the bases of Neohumanist thought is that we are on a continuum from imperfection to perfection. Recently, at the International Neohumanist Primary School in Ejura , Ghana we have made many changes that we feel have helped move us along this continuum. Renovations, aesthetic additions and changes in disciplinary actions are proving to have a positive influence on students, teachers and the international volunteers. We hope these changes will not only encourage us to achieve our Neohumanist principles but we hope they can encourage other schools to do so as well.

Under the leadership of Dada Shivesh, Dada Haranath and international volunteers, beating as a form of discipline has been permanently banned from the school. The decision to implement the ban was discussed at a recent PTA meeting and was accepted by the parents. The process of eliminating beating was a slow and difficult process; one that is still not entirely complete. Although beating is no longer practiced at the school, there remain a few problems. It is very difficult to discipline the children with different strategies once they are accustomed to beating. This makes it a challenge for the teachers to maintain self-control and control of the class simultaneously. We are confident that our new forms of discipline will be both effective and will help promote conflict resolution and self control among the children. Already we have seen improvements in the behaviour of teachers and we are excited to see that these changes are being passed along to the students.

If you saw the International Neohumanist School (or Namaskar School as it is locally referred to) four months ago, you may not recognize it now. Construction began four months ago and is now almost complete. These new developments do not only affect the physical appearance of the school. They are part of Dada Shivesh’s strategy to improve the student’s learning, concentration and health. The most obvious new addition to Namaskar is the three new classrooms.

We feel that these classrooms will not only better accommodate the growing number of students at the school but will also allow for a better student to teacher ratio. Our Kindergarten and P2 classes are large; each consisting of over 40 students. Prior to construction these students shared one room and one teacher. It is our goal to remove the weaker students from these classes and place them in a class where their learning can be better monitored and attended to. The benefits of these new classrooms are many. We strongly believe that aggressive behaviour among the children during class will also diminish, making our new forms of discipline easier to employ. We feel that the impact on learning for the students, especially the weaker ones, will be immense.

Another new constructional development is a fence that spans the perimeter of the school. Again, we feel the benefits of the fence are many. Prior to its construction, the students and teachers faced disruptions from local food vendors and other passers by. To an outsider, a problem with food vendors may seem a little strange. Many of our students come from farming families where parents are not around during the day. Thus, the parents will give their children sufficient money to buy food everyday- including the food we provide at our own canteen. This makes our students a very attractive customer to the local food vendors. These vendors station themselves next to our school and do not mind interrupting class to make a sale through the window. The fence has been 100% effective in resolving these unnecessary intrusions and interruptions. Improved attention and concentration of both the students and the teachers have already been observed. Another problem we faced prior to the fence was the disappearance of students during break time. The fence is proving to be very successful in mending this problem as well.

Toilettes are another new addition to Namaskar School . In the past the students were forced to go home to use the toilets and many would often go on school property. This was an obvious sanitation issue and we are pleased to now be getting it under control.

We here at Namaskar School believe that art is an integral part of the curriculum. Our students love art class and international teachers enjoy giving them despite the challenges of controlling the children’s excitement and eagerness. Canadian volunteer Kate MacLennan accentuates our appreciation of art and in particular, the children’s art in a new mural that surrounds the school. Kate examined students’ artwork to look for common themes and then incorporated these themes and specific drawings into the mural.

The result is a colourful celebration of the children’s aesthetic and creative visions. Also, the combination of people, plants, stars and animals within the mural demonstrates the Neohumanist principle of interconnectedness. It is our hope that the mural will encourage the students’ love of art and give them freedom and confidence to be creative both in class and their daily lives.

Kate is not the only volunteer going out of their way to create a positive and practical learning environment. Belgian volunteer Geraldine Mabbe observed an enjoyment amongst our students to read and improve their reading skills. Unfortunately, reading resources were modest at the school and virtually non-existent in most of our students’ homes. Geraldine felt that a library would be the perfect system to nourish the love of reading and books she saw in the children. The library has just recently opened and already holds approximately 200 books that have been donated by volunteers. The books are organized by reading level and are accessible to all children in the community, not only those attending Namaskar School . Every child using the library will receive a membership card that monitors how many books they have read and when the books are due back. We are hopeful that this system will not only encourage the children to read more and develop their reading skills but will also promote skills of responsibility and organization, which we deem very important.

So, step by step we are making progress. We do not expect overnight success. Myself and other international volunteers who come to Ejura will continue to work hard in contributing to this progress along with Dada Haranath and Dada Shivesh. The school is not without its problems. A persistent and critical problem remains in acquiring a well-qualified and dedicated permanent staff. However, the construction, the mural and the library are very important additions to Namaskar School and we hope the changes continue to come. For, it is through these changes that we will better be able to apply the Circle of Love curriculum to our students. And it is through these changes that we better our ability to develop knowledgeable and active human beings.