Author of this post:
CBS Project Manager Melanie
I’m a Madam again. Even though I’m the project manager, I still do spend quite some hours a week teaching the students. And they like saying “Ehhhhhh, Maaaaa-daaam!!!”. I have gotten used to it again, even though I don’t really like it. (In brackets: my names are many here. I listen to almost everything. Fela (white person), Kapon, Kapona, sister, sistooo, Madam, auntie. Since this stay now new is: Mommy (I hate it!! – especially when it comes from men older than me; and you can bet it normally comes in the same breath like a request for money or a shot of “Happy Man”. Definitely not a fan of it. Some of my little friends in the neighborhood call me “Hiiii!” and for a very long time, I thought they were just greeting, as when they address me directly, they say “Mommy” (ok when from them) or “auntie”. Recently they were looking at a photo album, and while in the kitchen cooking something for dinner, I overheard them say to each other: “eeehh look at Hiii! On this picture she is eating!!” while flipping through the pages. If not for that moment, I would not have known that they refer to me as “Hii!” . And else, people who know my name mostly say Melaaaania, Melony, Melaaaaani, Melon. I listen to all of it. Only when grown-up men I don’t know call me “White Woman!” I am very good at pretending I were profoundly deaf. But anyway, brackets closed).
So, very often when I am in the school office working on something, students will come knocking. “Excuse, Maa-daam, pleeease, what is the meaning of this word??”, holding papers with random words under my nose, at times even spelled wrongly. In the last past months, I have really improved the skill of explaining words to second-language-learners while not speaking their first language (and in addition, in a language that is not my first language either). Some words turn out to be a tough nut to crack: How for example do you explain the meaning of “quite” in an easy, understandable way???
Some words are really not easy to explain. On the other hand though, there are often words among where I am very very surprised that the students could get through nine or even twelve years of schooling without knowing the meaning of the word!! In fact, it does worry me, and that is why I introduced a daily dictation program at CBS. It is something so simple that does not take much time, but a bit of energy by someone to lead it, and even though the students did not like the idea in the beginning, I can see that it indeed is possible to motivate them for it. Every day, I give them words they can not prepare for, but always on Fridays, it’s a sure thing that words from Monday to Thursday will come. This means, whoever studies the words plus meanings well, gets a fair chance to score 10 over 10 on Fridays!! And this, I have come to see, they love it. We use TOEFL-flashcards for a 10 word dictation, but we do also use books for passage dictation. Of late, I am reading a book called “Peace is every step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. One of the boarding house students recently picked it from me and was so hooked about it, she even went to the local book store to see if she could get a copy of it (which was not the case). So we use passages from that book, for example. There are difficult words like “nourishing”, “consciousness”, “manifestations”, “favorable”, “zone” and it’s at the edge of their current capacity. But they love the messages the passages carry, and I think pushing them a little does not harm either. Find out why:
In Ghanaian education, the language policy has been fluctuating between English-only class rooms on the one hand (1957-1966; 2002-2005) and a Ghanaian language for the first three years of schooling on the other hand (1967-1969; 1974-2002). In the year 2002, an English-only policy for all grade levels, including early childhood, was introduced by the Ministry of Education. That means current students at CBS were most likely taught how to read in a language different from their mother tongue. This tension field is typical for countries with a colonial past. Indigenous languages are spoken by a majority of the people and are the means of communication for children in their homes and neighborhoods. At the point of school entry though, they are actually expected to command English in order to understand the teacher and to learn and write in English. In literacy research, there are studies that show that students who fail to master reading by the end of third grade (primary school) are four times more likely to drop out of school without earning a degree compared to proficient readers in third grade. Now, at CBS majority of students are not fluent readers. Same in many Senior High Schools. Even though at their level, they are expected to be “reading to learn”, they are still rather “learning to read”. As Kasem or other local languages remain their social language in the house and community, the missing English vocabulary is contributing to comprehension problems. But we will get there, dictation by dictation, essay by essay, comprehension reading by comprehension reading, scrabble game by scrabble game – we keep it rolling.
About the author:
Melanie is a social anthropologist and holds a MA in Development Studies with a focus on Local Development Strategies from the distinguished Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She is a qualified trainer of youth leaders in Africa-Europe Youth Cooperation and has led youth projects in Switzerland, Ghana and Kenya.
Melanie is a Co-Founder of CBS Business School and the Co-President of Sono