In IB, there’s this thing called CAS, which stands for Creativity, Action and Service. Explaining it in detail is tedious, especially since that is not the goal of this particular post, so go to ibo.org or something. I’ll just say here that in essence, what it is is community service in an attempt to better the world.
My class’ CAS project, dubbed REACH, is a plan to better a certain small school in Aklamador, by building classrooms to accommodate more pupils, since the school has been ‘successful’ so far, and more students are enrolling, and the facilities are just not enough. So, you see, that’s a problem that we’re trying to solve.
To familiarise ourselves with the people we are working for, my class took a trip to Aklamador, which is in the Volta Region, where we were scheduled to teach the kids in the classrooms about hygiene or friendship, depending on where we were designated.
My group was teaching JHS 1 about hygiene, never mind that this was all Class 2 Environmental Studies stuff, and that these kids were as old as we were. And you know what I learnt from this experience? I learnt that Accra is a metropolis, despite all its shortcomings, and it’s a fraction of the country I live in, which happens to be a better fraction than Ghana’s other fractions. Accra is not Ghana. (Neither is Kumasi, by the way, according to my grandfather.)
The children we were teaching’s frist language was Ewe, and none of my classmates in my group knew how to speak it. Their English was very limited, and explaining things to them required rather a lot of simplification. Even then, you’d see ten out of the twenty faces still blissfully vacant. When we asked them questions and I heard their answers, I was just like, “Oh my goodness. What do these people actually know?” Given their mostly uninformed answers to questions that were really more of common knowledge, I wondered what they were wasting their time with in the classrooms. I mean, they didn’t know that burning rubbish was a bad or unhealthy thing for themselves and for the environment. Their solution to everything was the phrase “community labour” without an inkling of what it actually meant.
Wanting to discover some answers, I went to make friends with a girl in the class called Rebecca. She looked really young. I asked her how old she was. She said fifteen. I’m sixteen. There was barely a difference. I asked her if she enjoyed school. She smiled and said yes. I asked her what her favourite subject was. She said science and math. I asked her what topics they were studying in science. She gave very vague answers like “Just…like…integrated science…like plants and the environment and like…integrated science.” After a while, I realised that my questioning was going nowhere.
I noticed a couple of posters at the front of the classroom with detailed, labelled diagrams of plant and animal cells, and if a student in that classroom had done it, unlikely as that was, I was going to be very impressed. I asked Rebecca who had made those posters. She said the teacher had. There we go. I wanted to know if she herself knew the parts of a plant cell. Rebecca was a beautiful kid, but she could barely pronounce any of the words. I helped her, prompting her, as she struggles to pronounce words like “thy-to-plazin.” That, by the way, was meant to be cytoplasm.
And I wondered, as I listened, what relevance at all cytoplasm and chloroplast had in her life, when people in the class didn’t even have a clean toilet to defecate in, and no clue that washing your hands with water alone was not enough.
After the lessons, we told the kids to write essays. Every essay was basically the same, just like the way all of their answers to our questions were the same. There were definitely a few over-averagely bright kids, more confident, knowledgeable and eloquent than the others – but the essays? They were all the same.
I stopped wondering how these kids were taught, because it was easy to guess. They were taught technical things that I was taught in primary school – but not as well as they were taught to me. They were taught things that didn’t actually matter to them. It’s like they skipped everything basic and moved on to elementary. They were taught to be the same, begin the answer to every question in the same style, answer every question with the same thing, write every essay with the same words, think inside the frame of a textbook, because everything outside of a textbook is “wrong.”
And after everything, I thought: when we leave this place, we’re going to work towards improving its infrastructure. Then I’m going to go back to school and learn the history of complex numbers and other stuff about impulse and momentum. Maybe, by the time we’re done, Rebecca will know the distance in kilometres between the Sun and the Earth. But will she understand why hundreds of Ghanaians, in the present day, are still dying from easily preventable diseases such as cholera? Will she be urinating into water bodies the village drinks from? What about the other kids in that school?
We can make the poor school look like paradise if we tried hard enough. But I think I’d much rather like to monitor what goes into kids’ heads as they sit in this “paradise” and whether the knowledge is doing anything to better their lives. Goodness knows the whole concept of school has bored me for years.
Anyway, this is all a very good cause, and if you want to know how you can donate to REACH, all you have to do is contact me. We really need and value your support.
Here, have a video: REACH