Nick Wood at Westminster Comprehensive School
I have spent three months volunteering at Westminster Comprehensive School. The school itself is impressive. It's a good functional building, has a well-stocked library, computers on hand, and the class sizes are around 30 pupils in each. The teaching staff is a lot younger than I expected - but this gives the place an energetic, can-do feel to it. I taught English and Social Studies in J.H.S. I would go through the text books/syllabus and the subject teacher and I would decide which topics I should take - for example, as an International Relations student at university, I loved the opportunity to be able to take lessons on the UN and the British Commonwealth in Social Studies classes.
The schedule for a volunteer is very flexible. At the start of my time here I was given free choice on which subjects I wished to teach. Not only that, but towards the end of my time here, I was allowed to take a few days off school when needed, in order to travel for extended weekends - giving me the opportunity to go to places that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to visit.
Whilst I had teaching experience from a year spent in France directly before I came to Ghana, don't let it put you off if you haven't taught before. The school will ease you in. Not that there's anything to brace yourself for - I found the students here to be even more well behaved than in my other experiences. They are a bright, fun bunch of people, eager to learn - both about their subjects in school, but also about you.
Notes from Ashanti town...
For the next three months I'll be working at a school in Fumesua in the Ashanti region of Ghana.
As would be the case, Fumesua is just about the only part of Ghana that Google Earth has decided isn't really worth the effort. But any keen geographers out there can momentarily put down their felt-tips and check out Kumasi - the second largest city in Ghana - and have a squint for some vague, blurry and pixelated settlements about 15km to the east, on the Accra-Kumasi road....
As for discipline, the issue of caning is brought up a lot by volunteers - it's embedded in the school system here in Ghana. But fear not! You won't be forced into having to do it! I never caned, but more importantly, there was never an incident where I thought a student needed to be disciplined, at least with nothing more serious than a gentle word to calm down! At the most, they'll get noisy - generally because someone has made a joke (or, on unfortunate occasions, a smell!) - so you laugh with them, and it's easy to settle them down and get on with the lesson.
The style of learning is very different to that which I'm used to. There is a tendency to learn by rote - you'll hear plenty of textbook definitions whilst you're here! I wanted to try and get them to really think about the topics they were studying rather than simply learning what to say from out of a book. So I tried to put an emphasis on using their own opinions and for them to come up with their own solutions when writing about pressing issues (ie. AIDS, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, corruption etc).
A typical school day consists of leaving the boarding house at 06.00 and doing rounds on the minibus to pick up students in the nearby towns and villages. School itself starts at 08.30, there's a mid-morning break, and lunch starts at 12.15. After afternoon lessons, school finishes at 15.00 (14.00 on Fridays!) so there's a bit of free time at the end of the day as well. It's a good routine that never once seemed to drag. When you're teaching, planning and marking during the day, it's always a rewarding feeling to have contributed in some way.
At the time of writing, we've nearly reached the exam period - the syllabus is finished and there's a week or so of revision before the students sit an exam for each subject. The revision lessons allow us to offer any useful advice and I've used them to try to explain the necessity of 'exam technique'. The ability to share the time allowed proportionally to the marks on offer, the importance of checking work at the end of the exam and so on. Despite the fact that I loathe doing these things myself in exams at university, it's a nice perk of being 'on the other side of the desk', that I can offer the advice, without necessarily having to subject myself to it!
All in all, I've learnt an awful lot from my three months at Westminster Comprehensive. I've made a lot of friends, I've gained a lot of experience, and I've had a wonderful insight into life and work in Ghana. To anyone interested in throwing themselves into something 'different', in working in a school and in experiencing life in a Ghana, I would whole-heartedly recommend a stint here in Fumesua.
Nick Wood - July 2012