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How to Get to California and Other Questions – Stories from the Field

Hello, Akwesi Matthew here. I want to tell a few stories from the students in my Wonoo program.

On my first week with the students in the Wonoo program, I used one day for the students to get to know their tutors and get used to their groups. At 14:00 the bell rings for extra classes to start, I’m up. I walk in and greet the class and go over some basic stuff about the program and explain to them that I will break everyone up into three different groups with the different tutors. I planned it so that the tutors would read off the names, so that I wouldn’t have to pronounce the names. Well only two of the tutors showed up, so it looks like there will be a lot of laughing today. I tell the students that they are in the group with the tutor that reads off their name. Without even asking, as the tutors read off the names, each student stands up. Then it gets to me and I read off the first name. In the lessons with Twi teacher I have been learning pronunciations, so I’m feeling a bit confident. I get no correction or laughter and the first student stands up. The second student has an English name; this is going to be easy. Before I’m done pronouncing the name everyone bursts into laughter. I have the Twi pronunciations practice, but they pronounce English words slightly differently than we do. Didn’t see that one coming. I finish reading the names and the students break into their groups. I really want the groups to get to know each other and their tutors so I write down some topic ideas on the board. Little did I know, they went through each student in order and ask each of my questions, in order. This is a much different schooling system than I am used to.

I read from some Expo documents that the students have a hard time speaking up in front of groups. So I made sure that each student presented the answers in front their group to get a little practice. I will be coming back to this skill as the term progresses. My sixth grade teacher forced my class to give a speech every month and it has benefited me immensely in every part of my life. I picked the older student, who got a 0% on their pretest, out of the crowd pretty easily. He was four years older than the rest of the children. Four years is a very big deal when you’re 14. I watched him as he gave his answers. He was very shy and was harassed a little by the rest of the students to speak up. He walked to the front of the group and tried his best to project. He was able to laugh at himself and by the end you could tell he was a little bit more comfortable then when he started answering, sitting in his desk. I only asked them to be there for half the time today. The time flew by and with five minutes left, I answered the questions myself in front of the class. I told them I would be happy to answer any more questions about the program or my culture. I actually got very reasonable questions, like what is my surname and how many people live in California. When I was on a school trip to Tennessee, I was asked if I surf to school and how many celebrities were my close friends. These Ghanaian students seemed to have much more of a grip on reality. The session ended and I asked the tutors to stay after to discuss the JHS pretests.

Before the students left, most of them came up to me to ask me more questions. Then one of the students, who got a very low score, came up to me and asked a question that really caught my attention. The student asked my why we were meeting two days a week. Great, these students are already questioning why they have to be here. I said to the students that I want to make sure they are prepared for their tests at the end of the year and any less than two hours a week wouldn’t be enough. The student stared at me for a few seconds in confusion, without saying anything. Then, the student said “well yeah, but why don’t we meet everyday of the week?” I am so shocked by the question, that I am a bit speechless at first. Here is one of the weakest students in the class coming up to me and asking if they could have extra time studying. Wow, I don’t think that thought ever crossed my head when I was in Junior High School. That question is by far the most touching moment I have had on my trip here in Ghana. I have to try my hardest, standing there in front of the students, not to shed a tear. The terrible pass rates aren’t because the students are lazy, but they exist because of a lack of resources, teachers, motivation, or infrastructure. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, but I don’t think it comes from the students’ motivation. I tell this group of students that I would be happy to travel to Wonoo on Sundays to run extra sessions if they were able to round up the rest of class to attend. Now, this is extra time that will be well spent. I would travel to Wonoo if it were just one student, but there is a small group of them and I think I might be able to leverage them to get most of the other students in class.

Then one of the other students in this group asked me how they could get to California. I purposely repeated the question and then rephrased it back at the group. A bit exasperated they said “yes, that’s what we want to know!” I want to make sure I have all of their attention and some more students listening in the background. I tell them that it starts with their BECE exam. Then, they have to try their best in High School. Finally, put their best effort forth in University. When I heard this in school, I just rolled my eyes because I’d heard it too many times before. I expect these students to give me the same reaction. Well, as you’ve probably guessed, they didn’t give anywhere near the same reaction. As I began to answer they all leaned in a few inches. When I finished they all said in unison “ooohh.” It doesn’t sound like they get the same pressure to get educated.

This session was very important because it showed that the students want the Expo program to help them do better in school. I’m very excited knowing that such a great need is being mixed with a strong motivation from the students. It sounds like we’re going to make a big difference at this school. I will be sure to update everyone as the program progresses.

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Matt is a Program Manager working in two small villages – Antoa and Wonoo – about 30 kilometers from Kumasi. Here’s an update from him about his first few sessions in Wonoo. – Spencer.

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