"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vomiting and Illiteracy (What a ridiculous heading)

Whew, it’s been a rough past several days. I last posted Saturday, and now it is Wednesday. Saturday night I was up all night – excuse the details – expelling my insides out of all holes. That resulted in Sunday being my worst day yet in Ghana. It turned into a cold/sinus congestion/slight fever until today. I also think it has been the hottest out since I’ve been in Ghana, which didn’t help me coping with my sickness. I didn’t go to school Monday, and then Tuesday I went for our two-hour staff meeting in the afternoon.

So yes, a week after school officially began, we finally had our staff meeting. This consisted of recapping how last year finished up, some rules/new rules/regulations for the coming term, assigning various jobs to certain teachers, and assigning what we will be teaching. I will be the “form master” for form 1A. I’m not yet sure what exactly this means, but in general I will be in charge of assessing that particular group of students throughout the term on the basis of attitude, cooperation, grades, etc. I also found out I will be teaching Form 1 (the youngest in JHS) Maths for three separate classes A, B, and C. I will do the same for ICT (without computers). Having six classes makes me the teacher with the most classes to teach at our school. I’m not yet sure of the timetable though.

I spent the remainder of Tuesday recovering more. Today (Wednesday) I was feeling much better when I woke up and was able to fetch water and do my normal morning routine and get to school at the beginning of the day. The morning’s event: Who can read and who cannot! This was probably the most difficult and saddening thing I’ve had to watch since being in Ghana. How it all went down….

The teachers had the report cards of the primary school grade 6 kids. These are the kids that should be coming up from primary school to be in junior high school form 1 (who I am teaching). On the report cards, it was evident that many of the students had a mark of 30/100 or below on literacy. For some reason, the primary school is allowed to pass or graduate these students despite the fact that they give them a terrible grade on being able to read. These 100ish students were standing in their proper rows outside and the teachers called each row forward. When the row came forward, names were called out. If your name was called, you ran into a classroom. You knew you were safe. Somehow, the kids knew what was happening even though it had not been announced to them. If your name was not called, one by one you would walk over to the big tree and stand there. We were separating who could read and who couldn’t. It was sad to watch because the students knew what was happening, and they were ashamed when they had to walk to the tree and await what was to come.

There were about 60 under the tree. Yes, that means the majority of students who were supposed to enter JHS seemed to have quite difficulty reading. We had to double check to see if they would be able to enter form 1 or if they would have to go back to primary school to repeat. So the group stood in line under the tree and the teachers sat around the table nearby. One by one, the students would come forward, a teacher would open a primary grade 5 English book (we were even testing their reading skills on a grade lower book than they should be capable of) and they were asked to read. The kids were horrified, I could tell. They had to come forward and attempt to read in front of all the teachers even though they knew they couldn’t. Some of the kids who came first were able to spit out enough words that the teacher waved them on to go to the classroom. Whenever a student got the go-ahead, they ran into the classroom of their on looking peers, knowing that they are now safe. Students who attempted to read but couldn’t had to go stand separately. Another weeding out of who could read and who couldn’t. It was painful to watch a student try to read, fail, and then have to go stand in a separate group.

I’m not quite sure whose fault this is. Did these students not care enough or try hard enough in primary school? Did the primary school teachers not do their job and ensure that the students are able to read by form 3? How were they allowed to proceed grades if they weren’t able to read any words? And then it was also frustrating to watch how the JHS teachers handled the whole event. It could’ve been less out-in-the-open and horrifying and humiliating. I am not yet in a position to jump in and reorganize a process that they’ve been doing for a long time now. Maybe in the future I will be able to change the way it is all handled. There is one thing I cannot change, and that is ensuring that students in primary school are able to read or else they can’t graduate primary.

So what were the numbers? How many students do you think could not read a single word, or a full sentence in order to proceed into JHS?

10?

30 or half?

Try about 40 of the 60 students that had to be reassessed.

After this long drawn-out “who can read and who cannot” process, we had to return 40ish students back to primary school. They knew as they got called forward to try to read, that they would not be proceeding on to JHS. And off they went.

If that isn’t crazy enough, of the ones that are able to “read,” that really just means that they can stumble through a sentence and who knows if they know what it actually means. And these are now my students.

A particularly painful situation arose when a small boy came forward to read, and couldn’t read a word. He was told to go to the other group, and he walked off and threw his hands in the air in a gesture of waving the teachers away. This did not go over well. He got called back, and caned – hard. I felt terribly bad for him, but then again why did he start walking home and wave off the teachers? I was upset at the embarrassing circumstances he was placed in, but he also acted in the wrong way.

Anyway, Round 1 of “who can read and who cannot” was now completed…on to Round 2.

The next victims – I mean contestants – were last year’s form 1 students. We now got them in lines and one by one they came up to the teachers and had to read a low-level English book from primary school. These are students who completed one year of junior high school, and they were being tested on whether or not they could read a couple easy sentences. Once again, many students stuttered and mumbled and made words up. They couldn’t read. Plain and simple. They really should have to go back to primary school, but since they already had a year in JHS, they were just kept in form 1. Add them to my classes! Maybe they can’t read, but they could be math geniuses! I don’t know if it works like that…

I am not sure of the final numbers on how many students I will be teaching, I will probably find out tomorrow. I was given my maths and ICT textbooks to look at, and it seems that tomorrow I will be able to assemble a class and get things moving, ever so slowly. Hopefully I am back to almost-full health tomorrow, can start eating well again, and get out and about to town, although it’s so darn hot…

Oh yeah, one more thing. Remember how I was standing outside my latrine and a bat basically nicked my face flying by? Well on my expelling-liquids-from-all-holes-night, as I sat atop my wooden throne, a bat flew into my latrine and just about hit my head! I was so vulnerable sitting there and it could’ve just bitten me and given me rabies on the spot. The latrine is built such that the aluminum roofing sits on top of a 2by4 essentially, so there is a little gap for things like bats to fly in. If I get attacked by bats while innocently going number 2, I may have to throw in the towel. Kidding. Or maybe not.


So folks, illiteracy is the real deal. Both parents and kids, all across the board. Maybe my idea to start a library isn’t too wise…

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