Having gained valuable teaching experience in Ghana with Lattitude, Georgia is back from a trip-of-a-lifetime, and is about to join the workforce as a teacher in New Zealand. Her placement taught her a lot about the role of culture in education, and she believes it will make her a better teacher – we believe so too!
What made you volunteer in Ghana?
During my time at university, we learned a lot about the significance education holds in society. Understanding the impact of education inspired me to share what I had learned with others.
I chose Ghana because it was a culture and way of life completely different from my own. I saw it as an opportunity to have a really hands-on experience that would widen my perspective and teach me about African values.
Can you describe your placement in detail?
We lived on the outskirts of Kumasi, which is the second biggest and most populated city in Ghana. The area we lived in had huge socioeconomic contrasts: we had extreme wealth and extreme poverty within a hundred-meter radius.
The school we worked at was a private school, however, 80%- 90% of the families there couldn’t afford the school fees. This meant that even though it was a private school, they were still really low on resources and weren’t always able to employ enough qualified teachers.
At the school, there were 200 kids starting from 3 and going up to 14. The class sizes were pretty manageable, having around 15-20 kids per class. The school didn’t have many facilities, they had a big beautiful field, a few computers (however, the software was really dated) and we started a small library. The school also has cooks who prepare breakfast and lunch for the students and staff.
I was the class teacher for the year 2 class and I also taught English to the upper primary students. Since leaving I have kept in contact with the school’s manager and have been helping him to construct some long-term plans.
I lived with another volunteer at the school managers house. It was just the three of us staying there. Comparatively, our accommodation was the most western, we had a proper kitchen and an inside bathroom. We were also really lucky to have running water. We lived in a secure compound which was a short five-minute walk from the school.
Most people spoke English, however, the way they Ghanaians phrase things are very different to the way westerners talk. At first, although we were speaking the same language, it was pretty difficult to understand, but that didn’t last long. We all got used to it pretty quickly and the people we were working with got used to the way we spoke too. It helped to put on a bit of an accent, use some of the native language and explain things the way that they do.
What kind of things did you do during orientation?
Orientation was a really great opportunity to get to know all of the other volunteers before branching off to our placements. The organisers ensured we had plenty of time to socialise and get to know each other. Orientation was two days and in that time they helped us to set some goals and think about what we wanted to achieve. We learned some of the local languages, they talked to us about Ghanaian customs and culture, set us up with a Ghanaian sim card and helped us to change our money over and offered advice on the best ways to do that.
We visited a few places around Accra like the art market and some of the city monuments. This was a really nice way to ease us into the culture without it being too overwhelming. While we were on orientation a group of the volunteers that were already there came and stayed with us. They made themselves available for us to ask them a million and one questions.
Some of the big differences between Ghana and home?
I think the biggest difference between Ghana and New Zealand is the people. People in Ghana are really friendly, you can’t go anywhere without someone stopping you for a chat. They are also very proud and open about religion. Most Ghanaians are religious and it’s a huge part of their life, many people will go to church every day.
Thankfully the food didn’t taste as scary as it looked! It was a lot of starchy carbs and Ghanaian portion sizes are huge, so you will never be hungry. A typical dinner at our placement would be some kind of stew and either boiled plantain or yam. Ghanaian food was pretty good, but when you did need something familiar western food wasn’t too hard to find.
Favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst on placement?
I don’t think I could pick a favourite moment, I had so many great experiences there. There was one lesson though that did stand out to me a lot. I had one wee boy who had special needs and was bullied a lot, especially by the older kids. I tried to talk to them about it and explain that it wasn’t fair to him but I didn’t feel like it got through at all. The kids started questioning me and were obviously quite disappointed that I was sticking up for him.
On my second to last week at the school he wandered into my year eight English class. The year eights, for the first time that I had seen, didn’t push him or yell at him. They started talking to him and asked what he had learned that day. Earlier I had taught his class a song and dance. He ended up standing at the front of the class singing and teaching the kids the moves. The year eights were all applauding him and cheering him on. It was unbelievable to see the transition in their attitudes and regain that family feeling in the school.
What positive impact do you think you made?
The school I was working at felt that their English classes weren’t as effective as they should’ve been. Part of the reason they chose to take in volunteers was because English was our first language. The students were learning all of their English out of textbooks. The books weren’t very good, there were a lot of mistakes and not every child had one.
When I was teaching I got rid of the textbooks and had a lot of discussion with the manager about how I was teaching and what we learned in New Zealand regarding teaching English. I talked to him a lot about the power of reading and he brought a big stack of books to the school. With these books, were able to make a small library and every child was given time to read books during class and visit the library each week. It is now his goal to expand the library and have every student have time to go to the library every day.
In terms of teaching, I also worked with him to create a long term English plan for the lower primary school. When we got there they didn’t have any plans like, that they were just making their way through the textbooks.
Did you travel much in Ghana?
We did a lot of travelling in Ghana, my partner and I spent most weekends travelling and meeting up with the other volunteers. Ghana is a pretty diverse place. Every region you go to is almost like being in a new country. Being able to travel taught us so much more about the history and culture of Ghana.
We were also really lucky to have school holidays when we were there, so all of the volunteers got together and went backpacking around Ghana. We had some truly amazing experiences: going on a safari, seeing the floating village, climbing Ghana’s tallest mountain and so much more.
Did you get on well with the other volunteers?
Before leaving I was a little bit nervous about getting on with the other volunteers because I was a bit older than them, but I truly had nothing to be worried about. We were all like-minded people and going through the same experiences which made it really easy to get along. We all became really close and were a huge part of each other’s support systems. I’ve definitely made a few life-long friends during my experience.
Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained?
One of my biggest challenges in teaching before I left, was behaviour management. During my time there and being the only teacher in the room, I gained a lot of confidence managing the different behaviours in the room and was able to use a wide range of strategies to positively reinforce good behaviour.
By the time I left the kids in my class were very noticeably more respectful of their environment and focused on their learning. It was something that I really had to persevere with because most of the things I tried didn’t work and the things that did, didn’t work straight away. Having this experience has definitely given me the confidence to face challenges like this in the classroom. It has also taught me how to deal with children and where and how to get help and find new strategies.
Has your Lattitude experience helped or influenced your career path in any way?
Now that I’m home, I’m going to start teaching in New Zealand. My teaching experience in Ghana with Lattitude has taught me a lot about the role of culture in education and has made me a better teacher. As a beginning teacher, having overseas experience has given me an interesting point of difference which is attractive to employers.