Thursday, March 3, 2011

Workshopping 9 to 5

We’re on day five of eight consecutive days of additional training of the forty-five teachers from the fifteen junior high schools in this MCI School-to-School Partnership program.  When I say “we”, I’m referring to myself and to Liz, the project manager from NYC.  Originally, Liz’s trip was going to be two weeks long, but even with her here for three weeks we’ll barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done. The key reasons for her visit are to see how the teachers are doing and to lead this additional training.  Even though all the teachers have her email address, very few of them email her.  Sometimes it’s because they can’t remember how to get to their email.  Even if they’re using their email, they’re still more likely to email her if they’ve had to chance to see her again.

Watching the teachers welcome her to Ghana has made me just the tiniest bit jealous that I’m not the one who left and came back.  Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.  Everyone she met in October has welcomed her with open arms, figuratively and in many cases literally, giving her big hugs and handshakes.  I, on the other hand, have been here long enough to have been considered almost a local, albeit a very light-skinned one.

The four two-day training sessions are broken down into three sessions that focus on a particular subject—math, science or ICT—and a fourth one for the Lead Teachers.  The division by subject is important both to limit the groups to 15 teachers and to help the teachers learn how to find lesson plans relevant to their particular subject.  If you look at the above list, you’ll see one of those trainings is not like the others.  The Lead Teacher role is the name we’ve given to the math or science teacher at a given school who is working with a group of fellow Ghanaian teachers and a NYC teacher.  This role is where the “School-to-School” in the program name comes from. 

None of these fifteen JHSs have enough computers to run the training without additional PCs.  At the head teacher meeting last Wednesday, we agreed [translation: Liz and I stated and no one disagreed] on a location for the training that had air conditioning and plenty of computer tables, which were built by the school as they optimistically wait for more PCs donated from the local government and businesses.  Last Thursday was the day designated for setting up the computer lab, which meant that every school needed to bring one of their two PCs to the training site.  We camped out at the school all day waiting for the schools to bring their PCs.  Unfortunately, we were without power for part of the afternoon, making it difficult to be sure that the PCs were working.  We hoped for the best for Friday.

Friday dawned with power at the school.  The training was scheduled to start at 8 am, but since Murphy’s law doesn’t know about Ghanaian time, the power went out at 7:45 am.  The following two hours were a complicated mess involving the need to purchase electricity credits and load them on the meter.  I was very puzzled by this process, but I’m sure it makes perfect sense to the Ghanaians who are used to buying top-up credits for their mobile phone minutes.  Why shouldn’t electricity be pre-paid?

After our late start at 10 am, Liz jumped right into the training with a re-introduction to Millennium Cities Initiative and why they are involved in a project like this.  In the past month, we’ve both come to realize that making these partnerships sustainable [read: the partnerships will still keep happening after I leave Ghana and, later on, after the MCI leaves this project] is helping the teachers here and in NYC get to know each other better as individuals.  It will also make it easier for them to work on the main goal of the partnership, developing lessons for their subject based on the Millennium Development Goals.  Liz had a stroke of genius: have the Ghanaian teachers tell us what they think of Americans as a way to get them to open up and start talking as a group.  She set the teachers up in the teams for their NYC partnership and asked them to discuss the first five words that come to mind when they think of Americans.

The sincere niceness of Ghanaians was on display when she asked them to report two of their answers to the class.  They started off with words like intelligent, helpful, kind, industrious, time-conscious, curious, generous, patriotic and confident.  I began to wonder what Americans they had met, as I know that I don’t have quite that high of an opinion of us.  Liz asked them to tell us more, hoping that we would get some variation in the answers.  Some of the later answers included “tourists” and “notorious”, both of which I found funny.   Perhaps the deepest answer was “influential, positive and negative”.

While it was interesting to hear their responses, the best part was the discussions within each group.  This exercise seemed to help the teacher groups to form bonds that lasted throughout the rest of that day and even carried over into the subject-specific trainings.  One of the math teacher groups became our stars at the subsequent math training, helping each other with the tasks and having fun while doing it. 

Without this exercise, I don’t think that the pre-work for the first project would have gone as well.  The first project is very simple: the teachers work with one of their classes to develop a list of questions to ask their teacher and his/her partner class across the ocean.  But there’s a catch: for every question they ask, they have to provide their answer to that question.  The teacher-to-teacher questions themselves were very telling.  Now that I have a feel for life in Ghana, some of the more poignant, little-bit-heart-breaking questions (with the likely Ghanaian answers provided) include:
-          How many libraries do you have at your school? None, since it’s not a senior high school.
-          How many students do you teach at one time? Forty-five or fifty.
-          How are public and private schools funded?  Not nearly well enough.
-          How many science and ICT labs do you have?  No science labs, but thanks to their participation in this program, at least one ICT lab that still needs more computers.
I will be very interested to see how the NYC teachers react to both the questions and the answers from this exercise.  I’m also fascinated by what sorts of questions the students will ask.  I can’t wait to see the next step of this project when the Lead Teachers come back for Day 2 of their training tomorrow.

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