Education at a Ghanaian Kindergarten and Nursery
On the very first day of my volunteer project, I found myself experiencing a billion waves of emotions: glad, amazed, shocked, heartbroken, angry, loved, exhausted…
I was glad that the director gave us a one-hour car ride from busy Medina to rural Taifa. As a first time European traveller to a developing nation back then, I was immobilised.
Besides being grateful for surviving what could be described as the craziest traffic on earth, I was amazed. When I arrived at Emmanuel School Complex in Taifa-North, nearly 100 little babies, in their cute blue uniforms were standing in line, singing the national anthem of Ghana and impressively repeating from memory the oath of the nation. In Hungary, we don’t pay attention to teach things like that to little ones. Moreover, doing that every single day is not a habit, either.
Unlike me, some kids didn’t find this daily routine amusing. They were more interested in running towards their best friends or just talking with them when their teachers rigorously interrupted to discipline them. Sometimes with scary facial expressions, they even whipped them with canes.
Just then, I had a flashback to my primary school days. Back in the 1990s in barely post-communist Hungary, my music teacher grabbed my hair to turn me towards the board to stop me talking to my best friend behind me. The order was to face the board and learn what my teacher stated, no matter whether I appreciated it or not.
Regulations have changed in the last three decades, and today we prefer not to use physical discipline on our kids across the Western World. So my eyes and my soul were no longer used to seeing such scenes. Being abused at school or on the streets—where mothers used to try instantly rewarding their kids with a slap for swearing, being disrespectful, or something like that—are almost entirely unfamiliar nowadays.
To me, as a first impression of educating the next generation of Ghanaians wasn’t coming across quite well. Having been in that school for only five minutes, I was already afraid of facing the six upcoming weeks.
And the students knew it well. They were well aware that I was different, and I was afraid of harsh actions. So they manipulated me, in my very first class.
In the classroom, I was left alone with 35 infants aged between 4-5. Antie Nina did everything she could to introduce me and establish my authority. She even left me alone, placing the cane in my hand.
Alas, street smart kids don’t fall for this…
Shortly after, Little Kaziah came up to be excused to use the bathroom: “Madam, I need to wee-wee”. I naively let her walk out of the classroom door, which opens straight into the inside garden (the place where we gathered for the morning routine on my arrival). Then, I started the lesson.
We were halfway through learning how to fold a page into a square when I realized the toilet-break-kids were still out for seemingly way too long in the garden. I stared out of the door, as we always kept them wide open, and I saw my pupils playing in the dust together with stones. I smiled because I noticed how smart they were to recognise opportunities to get up to mischief.
After that, when I asked them to get some paper out to fold a few basic shapes, I noticed that some of them didn’t have any, so I quickly took several pages out of my notebook for them to use.
In my country, it wasn’t a big deal, nobody would have even noticed it. But in Taifa district, where kids need to walk hours to school between rusty, old cars on mud roads with gigantic potholes, circumstances are different.
All the other kids stood up to see what they had received. It seemed like they were not used to anyone giving out anything freely. I realized later on that if some students get something, then all of them should.
After quickly getting them back to their seats, John raised his hand: “Madam, I need to wee-wee”, so I let him go. Then, one by one, a few more kids wanted to go too, so I let three more go, and asked the 4th one to wait for Kaziah to return.
The headteacher was temporarily in the kitchen to assist other teachers in cooking lunch for the entire school. They could not afford a separate crew member for duties like that. If Madam Gloria had been sitting in her usual place in the garden, she would have made the kids return instantly. Or actually, the kids would have never even thought to do otherwise.
I was just smiling at myself and shouted out to call the kids back. They waited till I held up the cane. Then, with a huge smile and giggles, the little group ran back to find their seats and finally listen to my lesson.
I couldn’t help but love how smart and cute they were, but also realised how exhausting it was to keep them all in order. By break time, I was already exhausted, even though the teacher came to observe the class every 15 minutes to keep the kids’ voices down.
Snack time was always around 10 am. I was told to go to assist with feeding the smallest kids who were aged between a few months old and 2 years old. I noticed the teacher took everyone’s bag off the little shelves and searched for their snacks. Some had nice bottles for their water, some had biscuits, others were sent off to school with a piece of bread—a few only had their change of clothes with them, in an otherwise empty bag.
Teachers were told to serve everyone with what had been brought from home explaining to me why it was not permissible to serve food to some, and not to others.
So, we usually put everyone’s food together to reallocate it a little bit less unfairly—at least everyone received something—consequently, all of them shared something with their community.
I loved feeding the kids. They were not picky at all. Rice in tomato sauce with bits of fish in it was their favourite. I spooned it in tiny portions to the bigger ones, and they enjoyed it even with fish bones. They already knew how to separate them, unlike the toddlers. We had so many rules to follow for them, such as not serving certain foods like beans or fish, especially with bones in it as they could potentially suffocate.
After returning to my class, the teacher came with me. The kids were still playing with the folded flowers I made for each of them—for which, by the way, they rewarded me with millions of hugs—when I heard Antie Nina shouting at them. She didn’t like the idea of “wasting” paper. Later on, I realized the kids have to skip almost all of their art classes due to the lack of teaching materials. They focus mainly on learning the basics of reading, writing and counting instead.
Going back home, tired, dirty, and overwhelmed made the boot of the jeep seem like a limousine. That day, I experienced more quality education about people, personalities, what life is, and how to lead and manage situations than through my leadership and management master at university.
I’m truly grateful for Emmanuel Complex School in Accra, AIESEC in Ghana, and all the others enabling my two months of moving life-changing experiences.
Calls to Action:
- Read more on the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.
- Discuss the following topic with your sympathizers: How would our world change if we were to reach all SDG 4 targets? What are the consequences of the lack of Quality Education to those who have no access to it? How come we understand the importance of SDG 4, but still have giant gaps in delivering its targets?
- Find a project and reach out to the host entity to support them with advice or funds to deliver it, especially West African entities as there is an urgent need to provide SDG-related changes there.
- Sponsor and motivate someone in your world to take on a Global Volunteer project with AIESEC. I suggest Creative Mind in the Benin Republic.
– Krisztina Kapuvari
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The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.