Ananda Marga Neohumanist School Korle Gonno, Accra, Ghana

Making a Good Thing Even Better
By Sari Wood

In my classroom at the Ananda Marga Neohumanist School in Korle Gonno, my students were reviewing words that start with the letters of the alphabet. The children were trying to explain to me that they had been
taught a song to help them with this lesson. “Great!” Or so I thought. In unison the children began to sing, “A is for apple. B is for ball. C is for Cat…” They got all the way down to where X should have been and I heard the children say, “asassinfoss.” So you might have guessed that I had no idea what they were trying to say. Sometimes the accent can be tricky, but I’ve never had that much trouble deciphering. I called in the headmaster to translate and he didn’t know either.It turns out that they were trying to say “X as in fox.” But they couldn’t say the actual letter. They didn’t know what “as in” meant, nor could they tell me what a fox looked like. When I held up a magazine photo of a fox, they had no idea what it was. When I asked them if it was a fox, if it was what they were talking about, they shook their heads “no.” That, my friends, is one of the biggest problems with rote memorization. Children can memorize almost anything if you repeat it enough times. The problem is that very often they don’t understand what they have memorized. New teaching techniques need to be added to the curriculum to help the kids with the comprehension of new skills. It doesn’t do the children any good to memorize addition tables if they don’t understand what five added to five means concretely.Challenges like this are major obstacles for schools here in Ghana. In addition to poor teaching techniques, the schools experience problems like unpredictable attendance. You are never sure how many children will show up to school, or even at what time school will start exactly. Students are shuffled in and out of classrooms seemingly without much logic. Not all students have had exposure to the same information and/or teaching styles. This contributes to achievement gaps and inadequate knowledge foundations which smite any chance of comprehension. Without a solid foundation, it is very difficult to teach new skills. It is very rare that the whole class is on the same proverbial page. These problems are far above and beyond the typical lack of supplies and text materials.
As a result of my recent volunteer experience at the school in Korle Gonno, I have decided to tackle the root of all of these issues. Early this summer, volunteer-led discussion groups will be held to accomplish the necessary tasks of designing an appropriate curriculum, training and educating the teaching staff, establishing a school year schedule, and creating a better link between past, present, and future volunteers. All of these things will help to create a more consistent and sustainable learning
atmosphere for the students. Hopefully, they will then be able to continue on to primary school well-prepared for the skills they will have to learn there.Didi Shanta, the directress of the Lotus Children’s Centre in Soko, oversees the activities at the Lotus school and the school in Korle Gonno. Also a member of the educational committee for the schools, she is hopeful that some discussion and training will bring vast improvements to the existing student body and even attract new students and families to the program. The establishment of both the outreach schools was a major accomplishment, and vast improvement to the few early education opportunities that are available to the under privileged communities of Soko and Korle Gonno. But just the existence of the schools is not enough. Much has to be done to bring these schools up to the standards of their government funded and privately funded counterparts.This task is not too great. With a little collaboration and a little elbow grease, these children can have as good (or hopefully better) an education as their more well-to-do peers. The volunteers at the Lotus Centre and other friends of Ananda Marga are committed to the success of the program. All are pitching in to initiate change and maintain the progress. The current volunteers at Lotus will be heading up the forum to discuss what needs to improve and how it can be done. All the teachers have expressed an interest also.

Of the improvements to be made, the development of the curriculum is the most important. The curriculum needs to be standardized for all the classes in each school, and from school to school as well. This will ensure that the children are all being taught the same information, and that they will all be at relatively the same level when they reach primary school. This can be accomplished by gathering curriculum standards from other public and private nursery schools, and finding out what is expected of children to know when they reach the first form of primary school. The native Ghanaians will be the biggest help in this aspect, as they will be more familiar with the current expectations of the system. With a standardized curriculum no child will feel as though they missed anything. It will help them secure confidence in their learning abilities and ensure that they maintain their eagerness for learning in the future.

The enthusiasm of the students is already thriving. They respond amazingly well to volunteers as well as their usual teachers. That enthusiasm is a nice indicator of the potential of the program. Now is the time for the teachers and mentors to take the system to the next level while we still have the chance to preserve that early childhood attitude towards school: inquisitive, energetic, and optimistic, and even a little fun.