"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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Motivation by competition and reward…

I’m trying to figure out to what degree my students care about school, homework, passing, and moving on in life. In my head, I envisioned motivated students who knew that doing well in school would help them get out of the village and do something other than farming. From what I can tell so far, these young first year JHS students don’t think that far in advance. That’s also the case for kids everywhere. All that is on their minds is what is for lunch or what am I going to do after school. Another initial impression is that a 0 on a homework assignment doesn’t mean much to them. The fact of the matter is, they made it this far in school and some can’t even read, so they know that they will get pushed on no matter what. I thought that giving a 0 would motivate a kid or make them care to fix and improve, but they know they will move on even if they fail nearly everything. This means they’ll cheat and copy each other’s homework to no avail. Now, this may be an irrational first impression, and it certainly isn’t true for ALL the students, but it does seem like the majority. So since I thought that giving a 0 or telling them they would fail exams and fail the grade would motivate them, I’m having to change to a better approach: competitions with reward and recognition. Threatening isn’t fun anyway, so I will now turn things into little competitions for them. For example, I’m teaching lessons where background knowledge of the multiplication table is absolutely necessary; however, some of the students can’t respond when I ask them 3x4! Therefore, I’ve created a competition involving all the students and the three classes separately will compete as well. I’ve presented them with an easy way to learn the times tables, and now it is up to them to memorize and come to me when they get little sections of it memorized so I can give a sticker and recognize their accomplishments. So far, they seem excited. There is zero chance I could get them to memorize the table by making it homework or a test, because they would cheat or just fail and not care. Good thing they go crazy for tiny stickers, because that’s about all I have for prizes!

The results came in for last year’s students who took the high school entrance exam. About half passed, but most of the passing scores were at the low end. A student will apply to certain high schools that are separated into the best, the OK, and the not-so-great. We only have one student who will maybe be accepted into the best, and the majority will be entered into the latter category of high schools. That is, if they can afford the fees. It is roughly 450 Ghana Cedis for the first year of high school, which is about 225 USD. Some of the teachers were telling me that it isn’t uncommon for a family to sell nearly all its possessions in order to pay for their child’s high school fees. Free SHS for all is in the political agenda here, but I don’t know how soon it will actually happen. For now, many of the students aren’t able to pay, or can pay but then struggle to get by since they spent all that money. Creating a sponsorship plan or scholarship fund comes to mind, but I don’t quite know where to start, so I will wait and see what I can figure out along the way.

Luckily I’ve been quite healthy (knock on wood, watch me puke tonight) and things are going third-world-smoothly. I’m quite worn out by managing a million kids in the sweltering heat all day, but I’ll save my complaining for the hot season.  

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