Students at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Boys JHS play a game to practice synonyms.
My boys are my boys. They're a product of everything you would expect from one of Ghana's leading boys schools, and not just the stereotypes that first spring to mind either. In my personal experience of single-sex education, a strong school-ethos can often implement the same characteristics into each individual, not unlike a factory churning out clones of the same action figure, each with their own string that you pull to make the arms flap up and down rather uncomfortably and say, in unison, 'reach for the sky' (yes- that is a Toy Story quote). Whether they mean this or not, the danger of strong ethos schools often propels the students who naturally follow such character traits that the school holds to heart, (such as leadership for example), into the limelight, whilst occasionally overlooking others who do not naturally possess such strengths, leaving them floundering in the shallows of a never-quite-there academic purgatory.
An accurate interpretation of strong ethos, single sex education is that one can either sink or swim. The impressionable ages so crucial to the development of young adults are founded from their daily exposure to things around them, from interactions with teachers and fellow students on school grounds, to people within their surrounding community. It is no news that children develop at their own pace, and providing they have the space to do so, one can develop vast changes in personality, attitude, receptivity and countless other things if given the right environment to do so. This is why, students that graduate from schools with such strong ethos' , often turn out to share the same sets of values with which they have been instilled from the very first day they showed up outside the school gate. It is not, however, necessarily the values they learned from a trial and error experience. Having attended a traditional strong ethos, single-sex school, this was the perception with which I naturally came to expect from working at Bishop Herman, which was, (contrary to my own experience) an all boys school. Yelp.
I talk about strong ethos because the motto of Bishop Herman College, the senior high school where my tutors study, is in my opinion (and this is another debate entirely) an exception to the general rule of personal development within school experience. Sicut Miles Christi- literally meaning as soldiers of Christ rings true if one were to allude to the development of oneself through religious practice, but does not necessarily incorporate a multi-dimensional angle for proposed self-improvement. No doubt school is about discovering and moulding who you are. The interests you harbour in these years will shape the rest of your life etc. ect. This struck me because, while the ethos of Bishop Herman is very much religiocentric, this was not what I discovered whilst getting to know these 5 young men over the last few months.
Maybe the thirst for knowledge and to improve ones future prospects through education, like a one way ticket to better things, trumps the idea of 'self-development' in an African school environment. Certainly, they are 5 very different individuals, but they all share one aim, which is to learn as much as possible so they can improve their futures indefinitely. There is something else more striking that they share however, and I'm sure my colleagues would agree that it is the general respect for superiority. As you would expect from teenage boys, they're shy and reserved around me; a white, sunburnt foreigner looking and (at the beginning) feeling out of place, trying to find her way to the headmasters office. It's true it takes a lot to get them to talk openly beyond the refrains of small talk which barely scratches the surface. There are so many questions I would love to ask them, but sometimes it's like getting blood from a stone.
Programme Assistant Emily Nell facilitating an activity with students of St. Michael's JHS
But their willingness to trust me above all else, without even knowing anything about me, astonishes me. It is enough to motivate you into the next galaxy, it makes you feel exceptional and most of all it makes you feel needed: to work harder, to lead by example. It's amazing looking back that I was initially afraid of cheek and brashness, and how I could handle this without losing my cool. (Cool being the top of every Ghanaian's natural-ability list). I suppose when the thirst for education is being quenched, however small the opportunity of a potential scholarship may seem in the grand scheme of things to me, for my 5 tutors it gives them reason and purpose, and with that comes control and power over their education and therefore their future.
There is no time for beating around the bush, save me your questioning, save me your speculation, save me your wondering, let's crack on with it. These boys are determined. And as we say in Ghana, these boys are serious-oh.