Through Technology, Rural Ghanaian Students Gain Access to the World
Perched on a lush green hill overlooking a valley of palm trees, the Samsam Odumase M/A Junior High School (JHS) boasts a new, state-of-the-art classroom located within its plaster walls. In a rural community in the Ga West District of Ghana, not far from the capital of Accra, the school just received a new computer lab and library.
The USAID-funded Transition and Persistence (TAP) Project, implemented by Plan Ghana, recognized one school in each of the project’s 13 districts with a School Excellence Award. As an award recipient, the TAP education project outfitted the school with a brand new classroom, 21 new desktop computers, furniture, reliable electrical and internet connections, a library, and additional hardware and software.
The TAP Project selected the Schools of Excellence using five criteria: student performance, effective teaching practices, quality upkeep of the school campus and facilities, daily attendance by teachers and students, and the participation of community committees in school management and operations. As the centers intend to benefit the wider community, TAP strongly valued community participation. To officially mark the transition of the management of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/library centers to the local community, government, and school, Samsam Odumase M/A JHS hosted a handing-over ceremony in July 2013.
The Head Teacher of the school, Ms. Thelma Caesar, explained how the addition of the joint ICT Center and library enhanced the school’s image in the community. “We cannot use the ICT Center alone, it must be shared with the community,” she stated. Ms. Caesar and her staff planned to create a timetable to set aside times for the community and neighboring schools to utilize the lab. While two teachers were already trained in ICT skills through the TAP Project, another workshop was scheduled to train other teachers and administrators.
According to the International Telecommunications Union, only 17 percent of Ghanaians use the internet (2012). With its recent launch, the ICT center will now enable students to be part of this inter-connected world, especially important as ICT is tested in the nation-wide standardized Basic Education Certificate Examinations. Without ICT skills, Ghanaian children and youth will not be able to adequately compete in the global marketplace or participate fully in society. Conversely, if students are equipped with the skills and resources to engage with technology, they will be empowered to manage their own learning process, discover new interests and passions, and strengthen their own capacities.
In fact, the students at Samsam Odumase M/A JHS had been attending ICT classes even before the computers arrived. A young boy explained how computers helped people to do their work faster and easier. A female student commented on the ability of computers to search for and store information. Maybe most simply and eloquently, a male student said, “We don’t need to go to the post office now to send a letter – we can send an email.”
The students explained how technology skills would be important for many of their future careers, including positions such as bank managers, teachers, or medical doctors. Students’ safety on the internet arose as a concern in the class, and the need to protect oneself and appropriately use technology was discussed. Unlike situations in many communities, the students believed that both boys and girls would enjoy equal access to the computers in the lab.
While these students could recite functions of the computer with ease, it became evident that their practical ICT skills left room for improvement. Many students asked for clarifications on what the internet looks like or on how it is used. Among the classroom of 20 students, only three students had ever sent an email.
Now students, teachers, and the administration will finally have the ability to make full use of their newly acquired resources. While the new ICT center appeared ready for use, the permanent electrical connection at the school had only recently been connected. With the electrical connection secured, students were able to transition from a world of ICT theory to one of actual application in time for the new academic year.
“ICT is a working tool— before the students were cut off. Now they can communicate with other parts of the world,” explained Ms. Caesar. She shared that the students were excited about the ICT Center, and that TAP was “a great intervention for us.” Showing her appreciation, she concluded, “All that we can say is that we are most grateful.” On the precipice of great opportunity, the students and staff of Samsam Odumase M/A JHS will now explore the world of ICTs, and beyond, together.