Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why we are called to the challenge.... the situation is grim

From a report, Understandings of Education in an African Village: the Impact of ICTs, principal author John Pryor and Ghartey Ampiah J.... produced for DFID... This extract is from the executive summary- the team did an intense qualitative assessment of education in a single village in Ghana... everything in the executive summary is right on target for what I have seen in Burkina and Ghana, but may be quite different from eastern Africa.

This extract lists the "general [village] understanding of education" that emerged from the research:

• Most children are unable to follow the main ‘text’ of school lessons, which is constructed by the teacher assisted by one or two higher achieving pupils and by ritual responses from the rest of the class.
• Understanding is especially bad when English is used, as most children cannot speak more than a few basic phrases.
• Most children do not follow schoolwork because they do not possess the understanding from previous work that is a prerequisite for the syllabus of the higher grades of primary school and junior secondary school.
• Corporal punishment is frequent, routine and not administered according to official
guidelines. Though accepted as normal, it is very unpopular with children.
• Some children’s schooling is interrupted by migration and lack of clarity over whose responsibility their schooling is.
• Payment of school fees acts as a symbol for children that their parents value their education.
• Remaining in school is especially difficult for girls as they often receive less support from parents.
• Poverty is a strong constraint on children’s success in basic education, though still most of those who are relatively well off in the village fail to achieve good results.
• Facilities (especially light) and support for home study are a crucial factor in the success of the small number of children who are able to benefit from village schooling.
• Even where children perform relatively well, lack of facilities and opportunities in rural schools prevent children from gaining both vocational skills and academic advancement.
• Children see the amount of household chores as a constraint on school learning.
• Work on farms is used to supplement children’s income. For some this provides extra cash, for others it supports their basic needs and enables them to continue in schooling.
• Children are expected to provide payment in kind in the form of farm labour and
firewood for the teachers. This is also unpopular but accepted by most children.
• Children in Akurase choose to drop out or attend infrequently, because they can see few real returns to basic schooling.
• Teenagers find little social or cultural stimulation in Akurase and are keen to leave the village.

• The issues and conditions for teachers posted to rural areas have remained relatively stable throughout the last thirty years.
• Teachers find the material conditions, as well as the attitudes and expectations of pupils and parents demotivating and blame these for the lack of success of their work.
• Some of the teachers in Akurase are young men from an urban background who intend
to leave at the earliest possibility in order to move to a town. These teachers express disdain for the rural situation and are at pains to differentiate themselves from village people.
• Older men who have settled in the village tend to pursue work as farmers alongside, and sometimes in competition with, their school work.
• The two male teachers who no longer had hope of an urban future nor were the
assimilated into farming were consistently drunk.
• It is difficult to attract and retain women teachers in the village; the only established one has moved there with her husband and regrets it.
• There is a great deal of absenteeism amongst teachers, which is seen as normal and
justified as a necessary corollary to the problems of living in a rural village.
• It is difficult for heads to supervise teachers because of:
- the social costs to themselves of strict enforcement of the rules;
- fear of losing staff;
- fear of compromising their own position with the authorities.
• Lack of effective supervision means that teachers do not work to their potential. Thus, for example, they see lesson notes as a bureaucratic obligation rather than as a teaching aid.
• Teachers in Akurase do not rate the schools highly and educate their children privately when they can.
• Teachers consider the main advantage of private schools to be that they insist on English as the medium of instruction and of informal communication from the beginning. This enables children to understand the curriculum better.
• Teachers welcome opportunities for in-service education, especially where it encourages them to reflect on their practice and analyse actual classroom events. This kind of activity enables teachers to learn from each other.
• Understandings of professional practice articulated in workshop settings are not put into practice. Teacher centred pedagogy is seen as a coping strategy with pupils who do not understand the content of the lesson or the interaction which is supposed to carry it.
• More structured and planned peer interaction would give pupils a chance to practise the interaction of adults in a democratic society, rather than learning to be obedient children.
It would be a helpful way of making lessons more accessible for the majority.
• Education is not an aspect of village life that is seen to be particularly important by the majority of the adult population.
• There is a general perception that village schooling is failing and that standards are declining.
• Teachers’ lack of regard for the villagers is mirrored by the villagers’ low opinion of the teachers.
• Many villagers consider that education in Akurase is not worthwhile because:
- It is not relevant to the children’s future prospects as farmers.
- The schooling in the village is not of sufficiently good quality to warrant investment of time, energy and economic resources.
- People are too poor to afford the relative luxury of schooling.
- Some are indifferent to the progress of the children in their care.
• Migration and the policy of successive governments have eroded traditional matrilineal family structures, so that the responsibility for children’s care and education is blurred.
• Poor families often rely on child labour to survive, and even when they do not, expect a strong contribution from children who are often only loosely connected to their guardians.
• Many people question whether there are any returns to education for children who do not leave the village and gain post-basic education. Many are also contemptuous of those who ‘waste’ education by returning to engage in farming.
• Successful education is seen purely in terms of examination passes and migration out of the rural context.
• The failure of the system to address problems raised by parents is seen as a disincentive to parental participation. For example, the fact that two habitually drunk teachers have remained in post despite long-standing and numerous complaints, is especially resented by parents.
• Parents therefore feel that schools and teachers are responsible to the state, not to them.
• Many parents do not pay school fees and PTA dues, whereas a minority is keen for
contribution levels to be increased.
• Wider community involvement in schooling is not working because the notion of
community on which it is based does not conform to experience. Many people in Akurase
are settlers and owe allegiance to other places. They are therefore not keen to invest in the school or any other village structures.
• People’s lack of identification with the place where they stay and educate their children appears to be more common in Ghana than is generally recognised and militates against community participation.

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