October 21, 2017

How do you provide access to an excellent education?

“One day, all children in Ghana will have access to an excellent education”. The first time I heard this unique set of words, carefully crafted to communicate an idea, I was sitting in the office of the Teach For Ghana (TFG) CEO. The idea was one that resonated with me, providing access to an excellent education was what I did. Whether coaching a basketball group or teaching a Sunday school class, whether lecturing or mentoring, providing access to an excellent education was what I did. Seeking additional avenues to do so is how I ended up in Daniel’s office. Nothing could have prepared me for the follow up statement; “….and are going to achieve this in 35years”. I fully believe that given enough time anything that can happen, will happen; but 35 years……..
I left the office holding on to that statement like I just got served a plate of steak which I didn’t know what to do with. Here I was, a piece of this steak held up in mid air on a fork,  looking at it from every possible angle. Is it too raw? Can I partake in this? Will it sit well in my stomach? Once I take a bit of this, I have to eat the whole serving and I have only 35 years to do so.
Undeniably it looked like an impossible task but let me tell you this, 8 weeks after first hearing this statement I have well and truly dug in and here is how TFG made me a believer.
Final words before departure from the TFG Office
Final words before departure from the TFG Office
Two weeks after hearing this statement, I am on a bus with 6 colleagues and 34 university graduates headed for Ashesi University to run a six week training institute. The graduates were selected through a rigorous process to be the first cohort of Teach For Ghana fellows. The teach for Ghana model to achieve its goal is simple; train an increasing number of university graduates to become leaders with a particular interest in education. The education component is infused by placing fellows in classrooms for two years in rural communities as part of their leadership development programme. The training is grounded in three core values, the foundations for everything the fellows would be equipped with to ensure they succeeded as leaders in and out of the class room

Impossible is nothing

Experience is the best teacher and indeed somethings just have to be lived to be believed. Over the six week training period, fellows were faced with one impossible task after the other. Late nights and early motioning, heavy workloads with tight deadlines, baring their souls and sharing their dreams. Being vulnerable in a room full of your peers is not the easiest thing but it all served to create a cohort united in thought, deed and a newly found appreciation for the power of reflection.

Responsibility is mutual

After six weeks of such intimate and shared experiences how can you not feel responsible for one another? This responsibility spread beyond the TFG community to the schools where fellows put their teaching into practise and the entire Berekusu community where we were based. They endeavoured to know and understand their students. They endeavoured to share in students everyday struggles; whether it was walking long distances to school, tending the school farm or fetching water, TFG was in it. Throw in a couple of home visits to meet parents and the situation was created where tears were shed at the end of the training period by fellows and their students alike.

Innovation is simple

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Marshmallows and Spaghetti or Banku and broomsticks to create

For the next two years, fellows will be placed in underprivileged schools across three district’s in the Volta Region of Ghana. Their primary mission will be to provide pupils within their schools access to an excellent education. Their secondary mission, influence mindsets by being a beacon of leadership.  Both of these missions require innovative approaches; whether teaching in a resource limited setting or navigating beaurocracy, innovation is paramount and thus innovation must be simple……. Innovation is simple. Fellows were introduced to innovative teaching methods in Science, ICT, Maths and English. Their subject knowledge was supplemented, their creativity groomed, their expression of individuality encouraged, then we sat back and watched their innovation blossom. Indeed, innovation is simple.

It was not until the last week of institute, during one of the famed reflection that it hit me. All of a sudden taking a bite of that steak and committing to finishing it did not seem like such an insurmountable task. The change in perspective was fueled by the simple realisation that, I  will not be doing so alone. Here were 34 trained fellows with the same agenda. Over the next two years, their leadership development programme will bring them in contact with many persons in and out of the classroom. Every student they equipped to succeed, every teacher they inspired to improve, every community member they impacted, was another person joining us at the dinner table.
My name is Thomas Tagoe and I trained the first cohort of Teach For Ghana fellows as the STEM specialist. One day, all children in Ghana will have access to an excellent education. That one day will not be in 35 years, that one day will in 34 years, 8 months.
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