I met Sarah at a Houston Community College Alief Early College HS Reception in 2013. She shared her dream of going back to her hometown in Ghana and teaching CS. When finding out she was interested in studying computer science I encouraged her to apply for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. That award led attending the University of Houston to major in CS where she just completed her first year. She helped me in my first Code.org Workshop at HCC. After learning about the unplugged lessons she shared her excitement that she could actually teach CS in Ghana where they do not have electricity. And this summer her dream happened. Her story is below.
Going to Ghana, my plan was to talk to the students at the schools I was going to visit about STREAM (Science Technology Research Engineering Arts and Mathematics), but that didn’t work out so well. On my first presentation, I started out with a game I Called “who knows”, but this game was cut very short, as none of the students knew about engineers and doctors and such people. A few more days of going through a moment of silence every time I asked whether anyone knew about people in the STREAM field, I decided to switch up my plan. Instead of a STREAM presentation, I was now talking about being an engineer in your own way, peer pressure, course selection, teenage pregnancy and how to rise above our cultural expectations.
Having a conversation about engineering/ computer science was like talking to myself, because no one knew what I was talking about. The only connection I could make was to mechanical engineering and connecting it to a man known as Kantanka making a car in Ghana. People still didn’t even understand mechanical engineering after the connection at times. My problem is that, as a developing country in a world where technology is used in every aspect of life, computer science and engineering shouldn’t be a mystery to teenagers. No one is willing to expose them to this technological world filled with excitement, and that is really sad.
The children seemed to be very interested in our presentation at first, as they had no idea what we were going to discuss or where the discussion was headed. As soon as they figured out what the discussion was going to be about, some of them lost interest and began to do other things. We divided the presentation into 2 parts. Part one was a talk given by one of the guys I was working with. He talked about determination, ambition, and time, and at the end, we split the kids into a group of 3 and we talked to them about our own individual topics.
In our culture, the Akan culture, parents hide certain things from their children. Certain things are ignored as if they do not exist in reality. Neither parents nor teachers talk about sexuality and sex with their children, because they believe if the kids are talked to about this, they will get interested and test it out. In reality, the kids find out about these things and get involved and get pregnant. There are a lot of teenage pregnancies than there was when I was there about 7 years ago. No one talks about teenage pregnancy and how to prevent it, and that was one thing I talked about. This got everyone’s attention, as it wasn’t a subject that was discussed.
It seems to me that everyone that ever talks to them pretended that feelings do not exist or that you have them if you want to have them. Abstinence is not taught and when it’s taught, it’s done wrongly, so the children were very interested in all the advice I had to give concerning that issue. There is a lot of gender role assignment in my culture and women usually are the ones who suffer when it comes to education, because we are to finish middle school, develop, look for a boyfriend and later get married. This may be changing slowly, but it still very much exist especially in villages and if people would discuss it more, I think the young women will start to see that they can go further than 14+ before having kids or that they can continue school even after having babies.
Discussing course selection got a lot of their attention as well, because they were not sure of which course to select for certain careers and explaining it to them clarified a lot of things. Peer pressure and cultural expectations made the students very comfortable and open with me. Teachers and Parents are on the same team and they don’t seem to see things from our point of view and talking to them as their older sister who had broken the cultural barrier was an inspiration to some of them.
I attended a private school when I was in Ghana, and when we spoke Twi, we were whipped with a cane. We were forced to speak English and this was 7 years ago. When we visited the schools, I was told by my team to speak Twi or to mix it because the children could not understand what I was saying. One might say, “Well, you might have been speaking fast.” I am from Ghana, so I know how it is over there, so I slowed down my speeches and spoke from with a Ghanaian accent so that they could understand, but it didn’t work out. I couldn’t believe with all the advancement and development, students still couldn’t speak English fluently.
We visited one private school and one public school in particular that was close to the private school’s acceptance. These two schools understood the importance and the benefits of our program and they were very welcoming and appreciative of our work. These two schools were headed by serious people who took education serious and understood our work. At these two particular schools, children took out their journals to record information down and they really paid attention to what was being said during the whole presentation. In fact, they even asked questions which none of the children from other schools did.
I would say every single school in Ghana has disciplined students. Students do not sit on teacher’s chairs, they wear certain color of socks and wear their uniforms a certain way. Students talk a certain way to their teachers and respond with so much respect to their teachers’ commands, but private school students are much disciplined. They are taught how to treat a visitor and how to conduct themselves should someone visit them. In the private school, my team and I spoke more English than we did Twi, and the children understood it. I always asked whether they wanted me to speak in English or Twi and at this particular private school, the children requested that I spoke English.
One thing that I noticed was that, Public school teachers were not serious like private school teachers. They didn’t seem to care about their style of teaching or about helping the kids. The teaching styles were very different in public schools, and my team spoke Twi a lot more here than we did at the private school. The children were very loud at times and the teachers didn’t seem to care.
The story is on her blog: teachghana.com
Building a Non-profit … Her Story
Now a third-year computer science student and an education enthusiast, I have been blessed with knowledge of the path I would like to follow for the future, but it has not always been that way. Growing up in the Brong Ahafo region in Ghana, not many opportunities were provided aside going to school and aspiring to be one of the few career choices that everyone seemed to be choosing from. The most popular career choices were doctor, nurse, business man/woman, a teacher, and a farmer. I always wanted to be more than these options, I always wanted to work in fields that were male dominated even at an early age, and I didn’t know what career I would be pursuing, but that is what I wanted to do. In 2008, I was brought to the United States to continue my education, and I began to feel like I would be able to accomplish my dreams here better than I could if I was back home. I may have left my friends and family behind, but one thing that I never stopped thinking about was returning home one day and making a change through education. My father, one of the most intelligent people I know did not start school till he was about 13 years old. While many of his peers were learning new things at school, he was at the farm with his parents. This went on until my uncle decided to take him to school. At school, he could skip a couple of grades as he passed the exams for those grade levels. He went on to become a teacher before coming to America and the rest is history. My mother who also became a teacher did not start school until around the same age. This is what inspired me to return to Ghana and start promoting STEAM education and computer science in particular, because I believe that every child, every student deserves a chance at quality education regardless of where the student lives.
In the summer of 2015, I visited Ghana for the first time since leaving and went to about 10 middle schools in the Sunyani Odumase area in the Brong Ahafo area in Ghana with two of my friends. Upon leaving the United States for Ghana, I prepared several presentations about STEM that I was going to use to engage the students in conversations. Things did not go as planned, as many of the students, about 95% did not know anything at all about engineering or most of the fields in STEM. I regrouped and spoke to the students about the importance of education, overcoming cultural barriers, being and becoming innovative thinkers and many more. Upon returning from Ghana in 2015, I decided to embark on another journey to Ghana to do another project. I returned to Ghana in 2016 and taught an introduction to computer science course using web developing in 3 high schools, 2 boys’ school and 1 girls’ school. Visiting my country again and examining the education system carefully brought me to the realization of how behind my country is.
Speaking to most ICT teachers, I learned that the reason why most schools are not able to incorporate new materials into their teaching is because, they must prepare their students for the West African Examination in high school or the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in middle school. This makes it hard for them to introduce new material, because they are barely able to get through what is required of them in most cases. I have been extremely blessed in my educational career, I attended Alief Early College High School and received my associates degree even before my high school diploma. This gave me a very strong foundation going into university and I think about how it’s like for my peers and the students in Ghana who do not have access to quality education like I do. All this motivated me to start my organization TeachGhana which is a platform that allows myself and other young women and men to help and educate Ghana about STEAM. I speak about and teach computer science in addition to promoting STEAM, because I believe in STEAM education, because every child deserves quality education, because Ghana needs to be known for a positive advancement in the STEAM field. The problem I am working to address is the lack of participation in STEAM field among Ghanaian students. Our target groups are middle and high school students who live in Ghana where access to such exposures are limited; students who have very little or no knowledge about the STEAM field.
I am currently taking a social entrepreneurship class at University of Houston which is meant to help me with managing a non-profit and learning the legal ways to run a non-profit. Part of my class project for the semester is to collect laptops and raise funds to ship them to a primary school(s) in need in Ghana before the second week of May. An organization known as Reboot For Youth has given me 10 laptops to ship to Ghana, but I am still collecting laptops and raising funds to ship them. The link to my GoFundMe page is www.gofundme.com/charitylaptops .
I will be completing university in December 2017, and I have decided to travel to Ghana for six months to a year and do a project that is about the STEAM field after graduation. I have recruited a few people and we will be teaching computer science in different middle and high schools, we will be teaching mathematics to students preparing for WASSCE and BECE as most students who take these two tests struggle in mathematics. We will also be having educational seminars in different school where we will be discussing what the STEAM field is, how to get involved, nurturing talent, and many more things. I have also been invited to attend CGI U 2017 at Northeastern University in Boston, and I am more than excited attend and meet other young women and men who are working hard to change the world.