"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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Some quick things before I travel

Ghana is going to Brazil for the Fifa World Cup 2014!!! Ghanaians love their Black Stars football squad, and when the Cup rolls around, it will be quite an exciting time here.

I FINALLY had the PTA meeting with the two leaders to talk about progress for the computer lab. They were busy, or headmaster was busy, and it never worked until this week. We convened in the afternoon under a tree, attempting to hide from the brutal star that nearly bakes us humans. They speak good English, so communication wasn’t really a problem, but getting my point across was a challenge. For this meeting, I just wanted to get their input on an amount of money they could contribute as parents of the children, when it could be contributed, and what it will be for. They refuse to work in “ballpark” numbers. I of course couldn’t use the term ballpark because they wouldn’t get, so I had to keep correcting to using the term estimate. I wanted them to estimate how many students are going to use the lab, and possibly how much each family could provide for funding. They kept saying “As for that, we can’t best tell until we count and get a number and talk to parents.” I had to push and push, gently of course, to get them to finally provide me with estimates and valuable insights. I found out that a family cannot contribute more than 1 Ghana Cedi for their child, and that it cannot be given before the holiday break because money is tight and they are paying for other things. Little by little I am putting the pieces together to get this lab from nada to, well, something more than nada.

Quicker than expected, I have the students reacting to my new system as if I were holding a cane and threatening them. Every day, the points chart for the teams gets hung on the wall, and I carry my green marker and red pen. For the good things, they get a green mark which signifies a point, but the magic happens when I so much as reach for my red pen out of my shirt pocket. “Do you want a red mark?” is seeming to have the same effect on students as raising a cane in the air, which the other teachers have to do. Really happy about this, I just have to make sure it continues to work.

I’ve been witnessing a pastime of the little boys on “recess” at primary school. While I sit under my tree between classes, I see the little boys go to one of the trash piles, find the small plastic water sachets that are so common here in Ghana, blow into them to fill fully with air, twist and seal off the hole, and then hit their other hand onto it to make a loud “POP” sound. It’s gross that their doing it, but funny that that is their entertainment. This also brings me back to middle school when we would flip over our Styrofoam bowls from the French fries and smash our hand down on them to make the popping noise. Boys will be boys.

So I may have explained before, but the JHS Form 3 students (8th graders) take the BECE exam at the end of the year to get into high school. I recently saw the results for about 41 JHS schools in our area, and Gbimsi ranked 17th overall! Unfortunately, along with providing that stat, I have to provide you with more to put it into perspective. We had about 108 students take the exam, majority males. Only about 67% of the males passed the exam, and a mere 50% of girls passed, resulting in a pass rate of about 57% for our school. You can only imagine the numbers for the more than half schools that ranked below us. Despite our egregious performance, and possibly due to a new political stunt, ALL of our students were “given placement” into a high school. The current president’s political campaign was to provide free high school to all. Well, that has failed, but somehow he is enabling all students to be entered into a high school even though they failed the entrance exam. As you may suspect, this is both good and bad.

I gave my second test of the semester and was shocked to see that many students have done better, and one student aced it and got the bonus. Maybe the material was easier, or maybe they’re actually catching on to my accent and teaching (this is what I’m hoping).  That being said, the vast majority still did poorly and not everyone improved. I rewarded the highest grades in each class again, so hopefully this catches on next term and they strive to get into that top tier; wishful thinking though I’m sure.

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