When I grow up, I want to be a Teacher…

Our new blogger, Joely Harris, takes the opportunity to introduce herself in her first blog for KickStart Ghana and explain about the importance of education in reducing inequalities so that SDG 10 can be achieved.

My name is Joely Francesca Harris. I am a 22 year old vegetarian prospective Secondary English Teacher about to begin my teacher training at Oxford University in September. At Christmas I cut off ten inches of hair to give away to The Little Princess Trust, raising over £400 for the charity in the process. I regularly volunteer with Frank Water, a fantastic charity that supports clean water sanitation projects in India. My connection with KickStart Ghana began in the summer of 2013 when, through their volunteer programme, I taught at St Cecelia’s Summer School in Ho. I am about to embark on a trip to New York to work with World Merit in their programme Merit360 to help tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These blogs are aiming to look at SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities and how KickStart Ghana is already working towards this goal.

I was nine. I was sat at the back of my mum’s history class waiting for her to finish teaching. She had drawn a spider diagram on the boarding and was gesticulating at the front of the classroom, student’s hands shooting up and down as she encouraged them to add their ideas to the discussion. Her own animation was reflected in the faces of her students and I was fascinated by how her classroom seemed so intriguing and exciting, whereas many I had sat in were boring or even scary. I began to realise that you could have great teachers, and my mum was one of them.

As I wound my way through secondary school each fantastic teacher instilled in me a confidence in my academic abilities and a desire to learn more. Yet even more than this, when the typical social strains of teenage years caused me to despise my school life, I still found a refuge in my lessons and the teachers I looked up to were a great support. So I began to wonder to myself, what happens to the children who don’t have this? I have been blessed with two wonderful, caring and inspirational parents, but what about the children who don’t have a happy home life and yet their teachers also fall short? In the formative years that stretch from being a toddler to a teen, the role models around you are enormously influential and it is often in these most difficult and important years of their lives that children are let down.

Having reached University I began volunteering for a society called Community Action and ran a project called SAM (Students Achieving More), offering an arts and crafts club for children between 5 to 8 years old. Despite the realisation that children of this age are exhausting, those lessons were always the best part of my week. Teaching was a job that felt fulfilling, meaningful and enormously important.

Enter KickStart Ghana. Community Action advertised for volunteers to go to Ghana to teach in a summer school with the charity KickStart Ghana and I leapt at the opportunity. KickStart Ghana caused me to think of a whole new facet of teaching. So far I had only considered how a good teacher vs. a bad teacher could make a difference on a child’s upbringing and prosperity in future life. Yet what about the places where poverty causes good teaching practise to be a luxury because lack of resources and opportunities leave schools falling far short of even the least ambitious first world institutions. I am your typical middle-class white female and, as such, am privileged above and beyond a vast percentage of the world. Yet I am painfully aware that the comfortable life I lead is largely based on chance: I happened to be born into a family in England which has a safe environment with a stable economy and long established institutions. What about the children who aren’t? KickStart Ghana was an opportunity for me to not only practise my teaching skills, but also gain a realistic, first-hand view of the inequality gap (I will address this further in future blogs). The teachers in the summer school worked hard, yet they were thinly spread. Their resources were minor, their classrooms sparse with no displays of many colours, projectors or screens, just desks, chairs, chalk and a black board.

Nonetheless, the children were something else. I will elucidate a couple of examples:

* When playing a team building game outside, one boy fell down, then stood up and limped over to me. I could see a strip of white on his knee which looked like chalk until I realised it was his knee cap. I couldn’t comprehend how there had been no scream, no rolling around on the floor like an injured footballer. Needless to say if this had happened in England it would have been hospital and stitches and a whole lot of wailing. Hastily sitting him down in a chair I called for the allocated teacher who conducted first aid. Taking some forceps and some cotton wool he dabbed (and by no means gently) iodine into the open wound and various other antiseptics before slapping a large white plaster on it. Two tears had trickled down the boy’s face during the entire process and then he limped back to class. The next day he was playing football…

* One day we awoke in our bunks to find a torrential rain storm, and this is a Ghanaian rain storm where the water droplets hammer down like fists. We all sat in our hall way unable to reach a taxi until the rain had ceased. This led to us being two hours late for school and, as all the children walk over an hour to school, usually more, we assumed none would have been able to make it. Yet when we arrived, our classes were, and had always been, there, waiting for us patiently, so keen were they to be at school that not even hours of walking in such violent weather would deter them.

So what did this teach me? Ghanian children take nothing for granted, they grasp the opportunities they are given with both hands and refuse to miss a moment. They are brave, and strong, and possibly more deserving of the opportunities that we in the UK are so freely given. Yet what will happen to these children who deserve so much more? And should we be changing the way our own children view education and the possibilities it provides?

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