Friday, November 14, 2014

My Essential Question - What I Learned

Essential Question and Guiding Questions for International Travel
My original essential question focused on the effect of AIDS and other epidemics on student achievement. In other words, were students missing a significant amount of school as a result of a virus? This could include missing school because they were sick, or having to miss school because a family member is sick and they have to stay home to care for them or take on their responsibilities. I chose this question because I wanted to understand what the AIDS epidemic and other infections look like through the eyes of a student. Is it as much of a disruption to them as it is made out to be in the United States? When I teach AIDS viruses in my biology class, we look at statistics on sub-Saharan Africa and the numbers are astounding. Based on those numbers I was curious how it affects education, specifically student achievement. I have included some data about the AIDS epidemic specific to Ghana. The data was obtained from
Total Population
AIDS Prevalence among adults 15-49 (2014)
1.3 % *
AIDS Prevalence among adults 15-49 (2011)
2.1 %
AIDS prevelance in urban city Agomanya (2012)
AIDS prevelance among 15-24 year olds (2012)
# of adults and children living with HIV (2012)
# of children living with HIV (2012)
      * WHO categorizes anything over 1% as an epidemic
            When I got to Ghana, I knew this would be a sensitive subject so I was trying to be very careful about who I asked about the AIDS epidemic and how I asked about it. The conversations started with talking about why students miss or drop out of school and then I tried to steer it towards AIDS. As I did this, I started to realize several things. First, no one wants to talk about it. I never found anyone who volunteered any information or was willing to discuss it in detail with me. Second, when I probed a bit and asked them about AIDS no one thought it was a problem, and they do not really think about it. The most interesting part is that there were AIDS awareness posters all over, so at some point there was an awareness campaign, I just do not know how long ago and how effective it was. According to the statistics, it was effective because the prevalence has gone down, but I wonder if it will start to go up again or remain stable because no one wants to talk about it.
            AIDS was a dead end, but I thought certainly Malaria had to affect students and I thought people would be more willing to talk about it. I was right that people are more willing to talk about it, but I found out it does not affect students the way I thought it did. The most interesting conversation I had about Malaria was with a group of high school students from St. Francis. Basically, Malaria is like the flu for these students. If they get Malaria they get treated, miss a couple days of school and that is the end of it. The students even pointed out one of their friends who “gets Malaria all the time” and he is still in school and doing fine.
            Based on this information, I modified my essential question, and instead of focusing on one reason, I looked at the bigger picture and tried to find out what caused students to drop out of school.  The number one reason students drop out is teen pregnancy, and the number two is a broken home. After seeing the numbers and talking to the students, this made perfect sense. Relationships and dating are not allowed at the school, so I imagine that if a girl got pregnant she would have to leave the school. It also struck me that the reasons their students drop out of school are similar to the reasons our students drop out. We have similar problems, the difference is the frequency and how the problems are addressed.

            There are a couple of cautions that are important to understanding this essential question and what I found out. My sample size was very small and very specific. I did not have a chance to talk to a large number of people so I may not have the entire picture. Also, the school I was working with is located in a smaller city so they do not necessarily have the same issues as a larger city where something like AIDS might have a bigger impact. Finally, I was working with a senior high school which is equivalent to a U.S. high school. I wonder what this picture would look like if I focused on elementary aged children. The group of students that I talked to did not include the kids who did not even make it to senior high which could change this picture entirely.
 Above: This is one of the few signs I saw about AIDS awareness

Above: These are some examples of the use of mosquito netting. The first picture is a dormitory where students sleep. Students are required to bring their own mosquito netting from home, it is not provided by the school. The second picture shows a table set up for a home economics class final. The students were given a menu they had to prepare and set out for the judges. There are no screens on the windows so they used netting to keep the bugs off. 

Above: Everything the students do is outside or open to the outside. The first picture is a series of classrooms. The classrooms are open to the outside year round. The bottom picture is a shower at a new private school. Even in schools that have money, the students use facilities that are outside. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cape coast castle

Cape coast castle was used for the slave trade, sending slaves to Brazil, Carribean, and North America. The tour was fascinating and very moving. It was really interesting to hear about the slave trade from the other side. Slaves were taken mainly from the northern region and basically walked to the coast being sold by different tribes as they walked. The Europeans bought them in exchange for guns and other goods that the tribes needed. One of the things that our guide pointed out that I think is really important is that there was also slavery in Africa at the time, however the slaves were not treated inhumanely like they were in the states. Word never got back to Afirca about the conditions in the countries where the slaves were being taken which may also contribute to Africans trading their own people. 

Below: entrance to the men's dungeon. They had around 1000 slave packed into 5 very small rooms where they were only removed to eat once maybe twice a day. The women's dungeon was very similar. Interestingly enough, the chapel for the castle was directly above the dungeon. 

Below: this is the floor of the dungeon. The rut is for the human waste, however with 200 men in one room it got blocked and built up so that it was a couple inches deep. Of the five rooms they have only excavated one to reveal the bricks so if you were to excavate this floor and sample it you would find traces of human waste. 
Below: this is the last of the five rooms and the only one with any light and the last one before the tunnel leading out to the slave ship. It is the only one with light because this is where they "sorted" out the slave who were not healthy enough to make the long journey and they needed to be able to see them. The steps with bottles are part of the indigenous religion where they are honoring their ancestors who were traded as slaves. 
Below:The "door of no return". This is the last door the slaves went through before getting on the slave ship. Recently some ancestors of slaves that were traded from this castle exhumed their bones and brought them back to honor their ancestors. 
Below:Fisherman and a view down the coast. 
Below:A plaque to remember those who were traded into slavery...and our very nice tour guide.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My favorite far

Kakum national park

Kakum National park is a rainforest that is maintained and run by former poachers. The park has a canopy walk that puts you in the canopy of the forest. Unfortunately I did not see any animals because there was a very large group of teenagers in front of us and they were very noisy. 

St. Francis

This is the school I was working with for the past week. It is a public senior high school with around 1300 students. Most of the public schools on Ghana have a large number of students that board at school because they are from a different part of Ghana. When students are fine with junior high, they take a test to determine what senior high school they can go to and what their concentration at that high school will be (science, arts, humanities, etc). A student living in the Northern region may have to go to school on the other side of the country. 

Teachers do not apply to a specific school, but are posted to a school that has an opening. Teachers do not get to choose where they ate posted. 

This is a chemistry lesson in one of the science labs. 
Above - students eating breakfast in the "cafeteria" 
Below- this is where they make meals for the students. They have fresh bread every day. 
Below- a typical classroom. In Ghanaian schools the teacher switches rooms and the kids stay. Most classes have 30 -60 students per class. 
Below- outside view of the classrooms
Below-this should look familiar to my students. The topics they learn in science are very similar to the ones taught in the U.S. 

Visiting schools

The students at all of the schools have been very excited to see us. They are very curious about the U.S and they LOVE having their pictures taken. 

Streets of Ghana

This is our driver buying water from a street vendor.  They carry their goods on their heads! And walk in between cars in traffic. It's pretty amazing.