Posted by: rumnet | February 2, 2010

“I Can Write My Name and My Father’s Name”

By Abdallah Kassim

Story published in January 2010 edition of The ADVOCATE:

It is 8 am. The morning sun is rising with explosive shades of red and pink across the horizon; its steady rays splash lavishly atop millet farms as we wobble on the rutted, muddy track to Kpubo. The track is so rugged and strewn with gulleys that, the pick-up vehicle in which we are traveling bumps and bounces and we bob and swing hither thither along with it.

Kpubo is a hamlet in the Karaga District of the Northern Region. It is located in an almost inaccessible area that is popularly known as “overseas”. Like most of the communities in the area, vehicles don’t ply the routes unless it is a market day-which comes weekly. The routes can best be described as farm tracks rather than roads. So tractors are the commonest vehicles for commuters.

We meander through farmlands with ears of ripe millet stalks smashing against, and bouncing off, the windscreen. After a seeming endless bumpy, murky ride, we appear onto an open, clean compound on which stands a ramshackle structure that happens to be the Kpubo primary school. Beneath the foliage of one of the trees in the compound, class is in session for primary one pupils. The pupils, most of them barely six years old and only fit for a day nursery, are reciting English alphabets after their teacher.

We cross over to primary two where a lesson on creative art is going on. There sits a huge boy, Mahamadu Alidu, behind a desk that is obviously too small for him. With his stature, he is like a giant among midgets, bigger and older than the rest of his classmates, many of who are not even above seven years of age. Alidu is 15 years old. He looks odd, but unperturbed, among his young, petit mates.

“I can write my name and my father’s name.” Alidu quips, grinning from ear to year, his eyes shimmering with palpable satisfaction. Alidu, who is not at home with the English language, recounts -in his mother tongue- how he came to be in school.

Alidu (with classmates) prepares to answer a question

“I live with my uncle and work on his farm. His children go to school but I don’t. Each time they come from school and talk about what they learnt and recite them off head, I felt pain and shame deep inside me, because I wished I had the opportunity to go to school too. Moreover, I saw a change in their behaviour- they were more respectful.

“Sometimes when I pass by the school and hear the children reading aloud, I become amused and fascinated. But I feared to tell my uncle that I was interested in going to school because he would accuse me of planning to abandon his farm.”

However, as Alidu’s desire to go to school increased and the idea gnawed at his mind, he approached one of the teachers to intercede. “After weeks of persuasion my uncle agreed to send me to school and here I am. I can write my name and my father’s name.” Beaming with a broad smile, Alidu adds, “I want to be a teacher in future.”

Alidu’s uncle, Adam Abdulai, said initially he was reluctant to send Alidu to school because he had six children in school already. “Moreover I did not have enough money to include Alidu. But when he kept pestering me and with the intervention of one of the teachers, I was compelled to send him to school. Anyway, I don’t regret it.”

Kpubo primary school is one of the Wing schools set up by IBIS , under its Alliance for Change in Education (ACE) programme. Wing schools are “schools that educate children in primary 1 to 3 in remote and scarcely populated rural areas. Such rural areas often lack sufficient children to feed an ordinary Ghana Education Service (GES) primary school. Administratively, wing schools are attached to fully-fledged schools that are closer.” The schools are community-based and managed by community teachers who are trained to use pupil-centered, context based tutorial approaches.

With the Wing school model, communities in which the school is located recruit their own teachers with the assistance of the ACE programme. The teachers are senior high school leavers with at least three passes. They are highly motivated to stay in the communities they teach. Teaching and learning are done in the communities’ mother-tongue; the participatory approach to teaching and learning is used in class and the pupils sit in groups rather than in plenary as done in the formal schools.

Alidu so appreciates the Wing school that he advices boys like him who are laboring in their relatives’ farms at the expense of education to go to school as it is not too late to learn. “I urge all parents and guardians who have limited the lives of their wards to farm activities to change their minds and send them to school. Farming is good but schooling is better, because with education you can learn more about farming. And going to school does not mean that we will not go to the farm. When we close from school, we can still go to the farm and help out.”

Alidu is not alone in his euphoria which has so engulfed members of the Kpubo community that, they don’t hesitate to brag about the benefit of the school to anyone who cares to listen. “The school is so dear to our hearts, because these days education is very vital. When we attend meetings or people come to meet us here, most of the time, they speak English which we don’t understand unless an outsider interprets to us. Also we are not able to give positive feedback.” Says Yakubu Bugli, chairman of the school management team.

According to Bugli, “We have been in darkness because our parents did not send us to school. We don’t want the same thing to happen to our children. So we are so happy about this school which is right in our village. Now our children can write our names whenever we are contributing money at our meetings.”

“I was so delighted when my daughter, Adeshetu, wrote my name!” Says Azaratu Adam, who heads the women in Kpubo. “First I was skeptical and asked another boy to read out what she had written to me. When he mentioned it, I was dumbfounded and begun to fret, though I managed to control myself, that night, I was just imagining her in a nurse’ uniform. Oh I thank God.

“It is very important to send our daughters to school, especially in these days that the emigration of girls to the big cities has become the vogue. When the girls go to the big cities, they do not have decent places to sleep; they do odd jobs and end up being promiscuous and coming home with pregnancy or even diseases. But when she is in school, you can monitor her and one day she could be the breadwinner of the family.”

But for the Wing schools, many children like Alidu and Adeshetu, in remote communities in the Gushegu and Karaga Districts of the Northern Region,would have been out of school forever. These two Districts are among the most educationally deprived in Ghana. They are always at the bottom of Ghana’s education league table.


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