What's in the language?
Expo works in Kumasi area of Ghana: the so-called Garden City, the historical centre of the vibrant Ashanti culture. The Akans are very proud of Ashanti cultural heritage, especially of their language (Twi). However, even though Twi and other local languages (Ewe, Ga, Dagbani, Dangme, Nzemaa, Kasem, Gonja, Hausa etc.) are widely spoken in day-to-day life, English is still the official language in Ghana. It is the language of instruction throughout the Ghanaian educational system and the language of business communication as well.
Ghana is not unique in this regard. Unfortunately, this situation represents a challenge to education in most sub-Saharan African countries, as African states it's a mosaic of interrelated but still diverse cultures, languages and traditions.
90% of kids do not get educated in their mother tongue though English (French, Portuguese or Spanish) is not necessarily spoken in their environment. Thus, students do not necessarily master English to the extent that they can grasp complex concepts taught in school which significantly affects students’ academic performance. Level of English proficiency in Ghana is higher in big cities but it declines in rural areas.
Experts have proven that it is best if children are educated in their mother tongue. Expo after-school tutoring programs (Pee-to-Peer) involve SHS and JHS students. The idea of P2P is that SHS students teach their peers from JHS English and Maths. We encourage our tutors to use local languages in the classroom to reach those students who don’t feel comfortable speaking and understanding English. Even if tutors do not have formal teaching background, they demonstrate good results when they explain in the language students are most comfortable with.
As practicing English is still important, we are currently working to introduce literacy component to our P2P programs. We are in process of redesigning our approach to English lessons to complement grammatical element with reading and discussions, thus building critical thinking and creative writing skills.
Last term we launched a pilot reading program carried out by our Program Associate Maggie. Next term, in line with our participatory approach, reading sessions will be facilitated by SHS tutors. It is a common situation when students try to say what teachers want to hear at the expense of their self-expression, but as our previous experience proved, JHS students feel more comfortable to express themselves in presence of their SHS role models who are only few years older than they are and experiencing the same challenges. Learning is not only important but fun and not at all scary, after all.
Expo's reading session: JHS students reading Holes by Louis Sachar