Practicum went better than I originally expected. Last week I was the middle school math (JHS Maths as it's known here) teacher, and this week I was the JHS integrated science teacher. I taught the JHS 1 students percentages and then about light energy, and I taught the JHS 2 students about rates, the circulatory system, and photosynthesis. Teaching is difficult; I want to give a special shoutout to all of my former teachers and all teachers everywhere. I had no idea how difficult it is to get students to work on their own and think for themselves. It's not just that the students here aren't quick learners, most of them don't try to learn (cheating on homework as nearly 100%) and they haven't been taught critical thinking.
As I was trying to teach percentages, I realized that the students had pretty much no idea how to multiply fractions and decimals. So that made even simple percentages difficult to explain, and the more difficult percentages that required long division...forget about it! Students here have to study for a big international test, most students take the West African Exam (think Iowa Test of Basic Skills, but way more important). This test makes up 50-70% of their cumulative grade for the year, and is supposed to determine whether they advance to the next grade. I say "supposed to" because in reality most students move on regardless of their grades; the reason being the parents would rather have their children obtain a degree from Senior High School (SHS) than actually learn. PTAs have a lot of power here.
A few years back, there were some teachers in Dodowa who held students back. The parents of those students came to the school and beat the teachers for holding their children back. All the schools in Dodowa's district promptly closed, and the parents have since had to beg to get schools and teachers to return. These days the teachers' unions uses Dodowa as an example of what is wrong with the education system.
Anyway, the test each student is supposed to pass covers way too much material, and I don't think teaching for a test is the best way to educate. I talked to a couple students privately today, and they said that sometimes there's material on the tests that they've never seen before. Even good teachers with excellent students are unable to get through all the material. It's a little nuts, and I tried to explain to the students that I feel it's more important that they understand the material than it is for them to cram before the test and not remember anything. I also told a girl who wanted to be a nurse that she should try to become a doctor instead because in America it doesn't matter if you are a boy or girl. If you are smart and get good grades (marks) then you can be a doctor regardless. I also learned that they can be caned for wrong answers. I heard about this, but didn't think it happened at our school. The girl told me that if they had a test worth 30 points, every point off could be a lashing. She also said that sometimes the teachers go easy on them and just make the test worth 20 points total. She said that some students still get 0s though. It's so messed up!
Some of these things are so engrained in the students they don't even realize how wrong it is. The students have a lot of difficulty applying concepts to different topics (a product of test memorization), and this makes science and math particularly difficult to teach. Providing real life examples is extremely difficult if you cannot relate even the previous topic to the current one.
Our students at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic JHS loved Victoria and me, I think they don't really like their teachers so anyone white and new is automatically cool. Today they brought fruit for us and were going to sing, but they had to meet with the church elders to discuss education and religion and how it relates to their lives. The headmaster went with them, and as protocol demands we had to say goodbye to the headmaster. We interrupted the church elder who was talking to the students, and we had to give mini speeches thanking everyone and saying how much we enjoyed ourselves (and we did actually enjoy in). This sort of thing is totally normal in Ghana. White people, especially Peace Corps teachers or well respected people, are often asked to make speeches or say prayers in front of random groups of people. Also, interruptions are also not a big deal at all. Ghanaians will be much more offended if you do not greet them or say goodbye than if you interrupt them or even wake them up from a nap.
After the end of practicum, Victoria and I rode back to Anyinasin and went to the Presbyterian Church (known as Presby) for our language announcements. Presby is where we've had a bunch of Peace Corps sessions, so I just want to let everyone know what it really is. It's a big, open-air, cement -frame of a church with an aluminum roof. There are no walls, there are no windows, and the floor is cement. There are maybe 20 benches/pews that are incredibly uncomfortable, and every day around 3:00pm, a herd of goats runs through the church to get to the pasture on the other side.
I found out that I'll be learning Ewe (pronounced like "evah" with a long a) which is spoken in the Volta region! I'm pretty excited about this because it means I'm going somewhere in the Volta region. As usual Peace Corps only tells us information on a need to know basis, so I don't know where in Volta I'll be going, but it's nice to narrow it down a bit. Ewe is not really like Twi, so I'm going to stop learning Twi at home so I can focus solely on Ewe.
That's all I have for now, I'll let you know about my life as it happens.