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Comparing Classrooms in Ghana and the U.S.

I look around the classroom. Inspirational posters, bulletin boards filled with math facts, and children’s art projects line the walls. Near the window is a shelf filled with laptops. At the front of the room the teacher is utilizing her smartboard while teaching her students about topic sentences. I said goodbye to Ghana for the month of December to celebrate Christmas with my family back in Wisconsin. While home, I took a job as a substitute teacher. It was my first day, and I was back at my old elementary school. I look over the sub plans: worksheets, some group work. Nothing all that complicated and yet, even in my first five minutes on the job I can’t help but notice just how different this classroom is from my classroom in Ghana. Both countries have classrooms filled with students, desks, and a chalkboard, but that’s about where it ends. My American classroom is not only filled with technology and resources, but also with students who are not only used to, but expect lessons to be filled with group work, activities, discussions and practice time.

A classroom in Ejisu, Ghana. Student Franklin turns to ask a question while tutor Philemon leads the activity.

In Ghana, activity based learning is truly a foreign concept. When I introduced the idea to my tutors during their training, I was met with confused faces. I taught my tutors to lead several different games and activities, practicing the activities with them and giving them examples on when and how to best utilize the activities. Two terms in a row my tutors have blown me away with their ability to lead a classroom using a teaching style that is literally foreign to them.

I remember my first day facilitating a P2P tutoring program at my school in Ghana. I was equal parts nervous and excited and felt ready to handle the chaos. My tutors arrived and I split the students up into their tutor groups. I watched my tutors all go to the front of their classrooms and begin to lecture. I was struck by their amazing confidence, but I worried that when it came time to introduce the activities later on that confidence would waiver. As it turned out, I worried for no reason. Each tutor explained the game and led their students in an activity that was completely new for all involved, and I was blown away. Not only were activities and games used as learning tools new to my tutors, teaching was new to them as well. Their classrooms were without any extra supplies, and yet week after week they were able to teach their students the material in a completely new way, and impress me even more than they did the week before.

As I stand in the Wisconsin classroom looking around at the students, I cannot even begin to comprehend all the things that make this classroom so starkly different but also surprisingly similar to Ghana. Kids are kids everywhere, and so much of it is the same. My best conclusion is that it’s like comparing apples to oranges: both fruity, juicy, round, found on trees and packed with vitamins and yet so different. Comparing my Wisconsin and Ghanaian classrooms is about the same, and I all can do is feel even more grateful to my unbelievably impressive tutors.

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