Living as a boarder at a Ghanaian school is just as rigorous an activity as anywhere in the world- commitment to choirs, sports, chapel, plays and competitions takes bigger precedence when you live where you study. There is less opportunity to be lax in your studies as the school thoughtfully allocates time for you to do homework and revision- at the weekends as well as the evenings. Prefect duties or head of class responsibilities spill over into spare time, and many students take even more time to form study groups and mentor younger students. In Ghana, unlike the British boarding school I worked at, there is no Matron washing your clothes for you, and no team of kitchen staff stacking plates into a dishwasher or cleaners swabbing your dorms. Weeding the grounds, handwashing clothes, cleaning and keeping your environment clean are extra duties that Ghanaian boarding students manage to fit into their full timetables.
At the prestigious boys Bishop Herman College there is a real commitment not just to academic achievement but also the creation of self-supporting adult men in a committed Christian school. Their prowess at sports, music and religion leaves the boys little time to visit the town or to socialise. Almost all the boys are boarders, even those from Kpando, as the boarders’ timetable ensures stricter adherence to the time allocated to be serious students. All of the Senior High Schools (SHS) in Kpando achieve really good results and all the SHS students I have met were committed to their studies and helpful and polite to a fault- but Bishop Herman’s reputation precedes it and the Headmaster we met was very keen not to allow any distraction to his boys when we met in January.
All of the schools have mandatory after-school extra classes in Kpando, so when we first arrived in town some hasty re-jigging took place and our P2P programme- which usually takes place twice weekly after school- now occurs on Saturday afternoons. In some schools these classes serve as revision time, or catch-up from time lost to students absent due to late fee payments. Sometimes they allow for pre-exam revision, and sometimes there is time to allow students creative practise of recent topics, particularly in English. We had hoped to work with Bishop Herman from the off when we came to Kpando, and it was from them we learned of the difficulties we would have fitting in P2P classes around the busy boarding schedule.
Between meeting the Bishop Herman headmaster for the first time and going back to hear the PTA and Senior Leadership Team’s decision on implementing the programme on Saturdays with their boys, we visited the boys’ JHS down the road, St Michael’s. The Headmaster there was incredibly enthusiastic and excited that we could come to offer extra catch-up to their second-form JHS boys. In Kpando, when the BECE results are released, they are written up outside the Ghana Education Services office on a large chalk leaderboard. All the heads and assistant heads will crowd around to find out the average grade for their school, the position in the municipality this gives them, and the highest achievement of the year for each school. This will fix funding for the upcoming year and there is definitely an element of competition between heads, where schools will overtake each other from year to year. St Michael’s headmaster outlined to us the commitment of his staff to putting his school higher up the municipality’s leaderboard and the boys’ efforts to achieve, but the struggles that are the reason we run the P2P programme at Exponential make progress difficult. After Bishop Herman regretfully said the programme wouldn’t work within their timetable, it was my worst task of the year to go and tell Mr Redman we wouldn’t be able to run our programme with St Michael’s. After a term working with Kpando Secondary and Aziave JHS we re-approached Bishop Herman armed with the blog post written by our fabulous intern Charles Amponsah, some statistics pulled together by Isabel from our tutor surveys, and the average score improvements for the JHS. The story I told of our fantastic tutors from KpaSec in my opinion ignited a little inter-school rivalry. Additionally the Headmaster had begun his retirement at the end of the term and I approached the Assistant Head for Academics who kindly heard all of my persuasion, showing off about my tutors, and took the paperwork to present to the board. I am so happy that the success of my tutors the last two terms alongside their positivity about the programme was able to shore up Charles’ story about his success through Expo; Since September we have been running a programme with Bishop Herman, their academically gifted Form 2 boys, and the eager and lovely St Michael’s JHS.
For the first time we are running a programme between two boys schools, whose profiles perfectly fit those for complementing schools in an Expo partnership. Alongside my happiness at being able to bring an initially negative institution on board to our programme I did have some small reservation at running a programme that structurally excluded girls when one of Exponential’s key aims is to promote girls’ education and empowerment. However, there are real benefits and alongside our other work we have a good balance. As I perpetually remind men, gender roles and expectations damage both sexes. The temptation to teenage boys to succumb to a skewed form of masculinity even through healthy and positive activities such as sports and music can damage mens’ relationships with themselves and with women in later life. Although being a teacher is a very common and respectable role for a man, the extra element of caring and mentoring that our tutors take on- at a young and formative age- is a brilliant opportunity to nurture caring and considerate qualities as well as the competitive academia that works so well in school and between students. Within Expo, we run a lot of programmes either focussing on girls or partnering girls schools, and we have received some comments about the perceptions of favouring girls’ education- although the Girls’ Leadership Programme and our girls schools partnerships are designed to promote equality rather than positive discrimination it will be good to show the community that we recognise that boys are often disadvantaged as well.
With our new PA Emily Nell, the Kpando team is now running two P2P programmes with 4 schools; across two partnerships. There is a new Assistant Headmaster at KpaSec, but since February I cannot fault the working relationship I have had with all KpaSec-Exponential liaison staff. I am very happy that we are able to continue this relationship with the school and have picked new tutors as the students moved up a form; I am able to watch my tutors from this year as they enter into their final, WASSCE exam year. My new Form 2 tutors are just as determined and committed as my tutors from the last two terms, I am a very happy PA. The only problem I foresaw with this term was the choice of whether to choose to run the new exciting boys’ programme or take new tutors at my old school and I think I made it right.
Before this term, my final one in Ghana, rolls to a close I have more progress to make with a workshoppable GLP curriculum for the Girls’ officer at the Ghana Education Services office and some reference material on ESL activities to use with students for future Programme Associates. That is work- of course I have a pile of fabric to take to my tailor before I go home and I have to make sure I leave time to go and say goodbye to all my friends around town too!