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