The serious reality of education in Ghana

Sometimes what we think is happening isn't really happening.

Maybe I should start again.

Some days you have a routine that you don't think much of, then one-thing changes and your perception is altered.

This is what I realized in my Girl's Leadership Program (GLP).

This past term I have been working at Antoa SHS with 23 form 2 students in a woman’s leadership initiative program (GLP). After selecting the students from an application process, two amazing co-workers and myself have been meeting with the students once a month to address various issues. These range from self-esteem and values to sexual harassment and the need to educate young women. The sessions have been amazing and the conversations meaningful.

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However, there were little things that would drive me crazy. What you may ask?

Attendance.

Over the sessions I noticed my students coming in late. Strolling in sometimes an hour after we have started. I would lecture that they need to come in and be on time. That it is a characteristic of a leader leading by example. We even held officer elections, with one of the roles being that the vice president make sure the girls show up.

Don't get me wrong; the girls were always showing up, but not all at the same time.

Pulling hairs I tell you.

I realize they have other obligations. Sometimes with studies and talking to their teachers, other times with programs they are involved in. I recognized this and understood it.

That doesn't mean it didn't drive me insane.

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It all came to a closing point on our last program day. The term was ending for the students, and rather meeting one more time, we held a vote to determine if we should meet during exams or not. Being the studious students they are, they voted for the session to be the last. But the thing that drove me up the walls?

It was only 9 girls.

I was beyond annoyed. Considering we have 23 girls enrolled in the program.

The session went on as usual. We split the girl's up into two groups and they did a team building exercise that was entertaining and thoughtful. We all enjoyed our last session and said our goodbyes till the start of next term.

When the girls were leaving, I pulled the president and vice president aside to talk. Where were the girls? It is unacceptable that so many were out without informing me as was agreed upon when the group formed. I began to share my disappointment. How I thought more of each of the girls and how it saddens me that so many were not there. Then my students told me the reality.

The girls absent today were “sacked” from school. Exams were the in two days and the school has a policy that if you have yet to fully pay your school fees, you are not allowed back to school to finish your exams. This can have repercussions on finishing the term and repeating.

So what did that mean? That of my 23 students 13 of them still owe school fees and were dropped.

I felt like I was put in my place a bit. Here I was complaining about attendance for my program when my students are struggling to have the income to come to school alone. Students, who truly want to be in school, and tell me every time I see them. That it can be a large financial sacrifice to send a student to a boarding school. That the school is a boarding school because Antoa SHS is the closest school for over 15 villages in the area and getting there early and leaving late would have students getting home after dark. That families sometimes have children who want to go to school, who have the grades and ambition, but also have a parent who is sick and can't afford to be sell anything and in turn can't afford the fees.

I was in a routine. I was in such high spirits with the program and enjoying sharing dialogue and stories with the students that I think somewhere along the way I forgot the reality that my students live in. I forgot what system they were fighting against. And maybe as well, I forgot that the program isn't for me and numbers, but for working with inspiring young women to help them gain skills and access to resources to help them in the future.

It sunk in more when I left the program and I saw one of the girls walking on the road. She was in her day cloths kind of strolling around looking at her phone. I called her over, said hello, and asked why she wasn't in school. Her story was what I heard from the girls. She didn't have the money for school fees, so she was visiting her relatives in the neighboring villages to see if they could loan it to her family. She was upset she wasn't at school, but was optimistic that she would be back before exams.

I smiled and waved goodbye and hoped her optimism would payoff.

It didn't pay off the next day when I saw her walking around again.

It did on the day of exams though. She went back to school and took her exams as she believed would happen. I know she rocked it. But even though it has been a month since that day and the new term will start soon, I still don't know what happened to the other 12 girls. Did they take their exams? Will I see their smiling faces come May 11th?

I don't know. But I will know soon.

And I do know that I had a reality check. The program isn't for me. It isn't for attendance numbers. It is for the young female students that are there. Yes, they came in late, but they came when they could. People will come to something when they feel safe and feel like it is worth it. Like they will get something out of it. Be it feelings of happiness or a skill. I do believe the girls get something out of it, and that is why they show up and why even late they show up. Because they get something, hopefully positive, out of it.

The time there? It is for them and them alone.

And sometimes we need reality checks to help ourselves remember what things are really for.

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