Many of you, especially my work colleagues, may be wondering what I’m doing here besides collecting stories for this blog. I’ve hesitated to write anything regarding my job yet, primarily because the goals of my work are still a work in progress. But I thought that a good starting point might be my initial visits to two of the schools on my first Thursday in Kumasi (October 7). The links sprinkled throughout this post will take you to the pictures I’ve posted to date. (You can pick any link and get to the gallery of photos that I've posted, which I've also linked here.)
I visited these schools in the company of Liz Kubis, the project manager from MCI. She has a background teaching mathematics in urban schools in NYC and spent two years in the Peace Corps in South Africa, both of which make her extremely well-suited for managing this project, the goal of which is to create personal connections teachers in Kumasi and NYC to improve their teaching of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. (Side note to Dave: if you’re reading this blog, she also worked for Kaplan for a number of years.) She’s here for a very brief two weeks to get this project kicked off by visiting all the schools for a needs assessment, followed by a basic computer skills training course for the teachers. She spent the week of October 4th visiting the schools to gain an understanding of their readiness for this project, both from the viewpoint of their facilities (did they set up a computer lab with the required elements, like fans or A/C, bars on the windows, and a locking door?) and staff (how well-versed are the staff in using the Internet for teaching?). By Thursday, she had only two computer labs left to visit, so I joined her for those visits.
Our first stop, and my first experience with the African schools, was at Bantama Presby, where I met Kobi and Bernard, the two technology teachers, as well as a couple other teachers. Kobi and Bernard have started their own side business producing posters for teaching technology, as shown in this picture (Kobi is shown here with me). I found their computer room to be what I would have expected, with a few older PCs and the two new Dell Optiplex 380s provided by the Kumasi Metropolitan Authority (KMA) for this project. I also met Emelia, the Assistant Director of Education and Girls’ Education Officer from the Ghana Education Service. Leaving the computer lab, I had my camera out to take pictures of the school and the children and experienced the phenomenon of African children and cameras.
Time for a side story: The Ghanaian children don’t seem to know the word “camera-shy”. The moment a camera is whipped out, they start jumping in front of the lens, as shown in this series of pictures in which the number of children in subsequent photos increases in a matter of seconds. On Friday, October 8, when we made a visit to Opoku Ware, the site for the training that was held last week, I made an even bigger mistake and had my camera out when the students had been let out of school. Kids are the same the world over—once school is out of session, they become happy, shrieking lunatics running all over the place. We were mobbed like a scene out of “Night of the Living Dead” but with happy Ghanaian kids instead of zombies. Calls of “Obruni! Obruni!” were accompanied by kids wanting to touch our arms and talk to us. Even after we got into the car, the children were still mobbing us like we were rock stars. Emelia tried to shoo them away as Akmed drove us out of the school yard, but the red dirt road was so rough that the kids kept following us, including this one very persistent little boy. I can tell that happy African children will be a repeating theme in my pictures.
Back to Thursday’s school visits: Akmed (our driver) then drove Emelia, Liz and me to the last set of schools on the list. Their computer room was not quite ready, as it did not have the bars on the windows or the locking door, which meant that the computers had not been taken out of the boxes but were being stored in the headmaster’s office. When we took everything out, we learned that some of the cables needed to connect the PCs and monitors to the UPSs were missing. We planned to remedy those problems at the training course, since all the schools had to take their computers to it.
From Liz’s visits to all the schools, these two examples are representative of the extremes, which gives me a good idea of the starting point for this project. From these short visits, at least one of my worries about my support on this project has been put to rest. While this was listed as an “IT support” project, it seems that my experience with building and maintaining computers and home networks should be extensive enough to make a positive impact on the schools here.