In northern Ghana, students begin school speaking their native language, Mampruli, and switch to the country's official language, English, in the fourth grade. Speaking the language and actually comprehending it, however, are two very different things, leading to a high dropout rate in one of the country's poorest regions.
PAMBE Ghana, a nonprofit founded by Ghana native and Oklahoma City resident Alice Azumi Iddi-Gubbels, hopes to make education more accessible by teaching both languages, and by creating a learning environment more relevant to the world in which these children live.
"In the long run, I certainly hope we'll contribute to higher rates of literacy and greater school retention," said Kathy Carey, president of the group's Oklahoma City-based board of directors.
Carey is a professor at Rose State College in family services and child development and an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City University, where she teaches Montessori training in the university's graduate education program. She spent 25 days in Ghana this summer training two teachers to lead the organization's first school, which opened in September in the Mamprusi district. The group also invited members of the Ghana Education Service to attend the training.
PAMBE Ghana will use the Montessori language curriculum for both the Mampruli dialect and English.
"If we can retain the children from the three-year period from four to six, they should start their elementary education with a leg up on the other children," Carey said.
She stayed in a guesthouse in the small town of Langbensi and, in addition to preparing the project's first teachers, met with members of the organization's Ghanaian advisory committee. Everyone she met was enthusiastic about the project, she said, even families whose children wouldn't be attending the school.
Carey met a few difficulties during the teacher training, however, including language. Although all of the teachers spoke English, they had learned British English, so Carey had to speak more slowly so everyone could understand; her Oklahoma accent, although slight, also hindered the process. And, the class materials didn't arrive until two days before her scheduled departure, so she had to improvise, putting together materials she wouldn't normally use in a classroom.
Carey also saw the health challenges facing Ghana's residents, specifically malaria, which nearly everyone has, leaving them vulnerable to periodic outbreaks. One of the teachers Carey was coaching had an episode on the second day of class, and took five days to recover, although she received medication immediately.
"Here, we kind of say, 'Go see a doctor, you'll be fine, come back in 24 hours, 48 hours.' Well, malaria puts you down " down down. And that's with medication," Carey said.
Despite the difficulties she encountered, she said she returned home convinced the PAMBE Ghana project is needed.
"There are challenges like there are in any nonprofit organization, but it would be well worth it to meet those challenges because I think the program we're proposing, the model we're trying to develop, really can be extraordinarily successful and really benefit children." "Lea Terry