Sunday, July 5

Q & A: Part 1

Okay, so once again I find myself apologizing for being late with yet another blog post. Those of you following my twitter or facebook updates may have caught the one mentioning a lack of power at the internet cafe last weekend. So I’ve had to go another week with no email, no research and no blog updates. I hope that this one might help make up for it.

I’ve learned how to make videos! And my laptop is working properly after some creative repairs. So here is my first creation, a short showcase of our visit to Rome. I apologize for the quality, but that had to happen if I wanted to upload it with this internet connection.

And now I’d like to post the answers to those questions that I shared in my last post. I had to divide them up amongst two posts because you’d be reading forever if I put them up together. I’ll post them both at the same time so you don’t have to wait another week for the second half. I’ve also chosen to group them together in what, to me, seems a logical way. I hope to see lots of comments and clarifying questions. So if anything seems confusing or unclear please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to clear it up in my next post.

1. What types of people are attending the college you are working at? (background/sex/age/numbers etc.)

There are around 150 students in total with about 50 students in each of the three levels. There were 20 females this last year with 5-7 in each class.The ages range from 19-37 with the majority being 20-23. A large number of the students were from the southern parts of Ghana, and a number of these were somewhat better off than their northern counterparts. Many students come from farming backgrounds, since most families seem to have a least a little land and a few animals, regardless of financial status. They have all completed Secondary School, the equivalent of High School. They all have an interest in agriculture, and many hope to further their education after graduating, to become veterinary doctors.

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14. What’s available to do at the college in terms of academics? How similar is the teaching (style, depth) to say, MUN?

The college only offers one program, although they are in the process of phasing out an old program and introducing a new one. Previously all graduates received a Certificate in Veterinary Science and soon they will receive a Diploma in Animal Health and Production. Despite the change in name, they are still learning how to become Veterinary Technical Officers, who work under government veterinarians. They learn about the anatomy and biology and all that for various animals that are relevant to agriculture in Ghana. They also learn about diagnosing and treating common ailments and diseases, as well as how to perform some minor procedures. They are also taught about farm management and how to properly raise the animals that they learn about in other courses. This is so that they can properly advise farmers, and also so that they will be better equipped to start their own farms if they choose to. They are also taught agricultural economics and marketing, as well as rural sociology and extension methods.

I haven’t yet gotten a perfect picture of the teaching style, but from what I gather it seems a bit old-school. It seems as though they load a ton of information onto the students and expect them to regurgitate it. The Vice-Principle is trying to encourage teachers to create an actual syllabus for each course so that evaluations more accurately reflect what has been taught in class, and so that class time fits more closely with the objectives of each course. As it stands, teachers decide what to teach based on their knowledge and experience. I don’t think courses go very deep since they have to learn so much material all at once. Students at the college take ten courses each semester (15 each semester in their second year)! I don’t know how anyone can learn that much information.

6. What are the major differences in schools in Ghana and here in Canada?

I’ve definitely been getting the feeling that students learn by rote, and that classes are simply lectures passing on tons of information. But I haven’t been able to sit in on any classes, so I can’t say for sure. I noticed a few interesting things on my tours around schools, getting them involved in the Obama letter campaign. Whenever a guest enters a classroom, one of the students shouts “Stand!” and then “Greet!” All of the students then say “GOOD MORNING SIR.” The headmaster, teacher or guest then says, “Good morning. How are you?” to which the entire class replies “WE ARE FINE, THANK-YOU!” Then the headmaster, teacher or guest says “OK, sit down.” Teachers also seem very fond of the cane, and not at all impressed with anyone acting the least bit silly.

2. What do you consider to be the greatest communication obstacle in your placement so far (if any)?

Well there have certainly been communication obstacles, and I’d even say that they have been my greatest frustration in this entire experience. The greatest obstacles have been those between myself and individuals who don’t speak English fluently, or don’t speak it at all. Even here at the college where classes are taught in English and all students have a functional knowledge of English, it has been extremely difficult to communicate with some students, because of the vocabulary and accents that I am not accustomed to. In the community it is even more difficult again, if it weren’t for the fact that many of the shop owners are quite good at English and that there is usually at least one person around who speaks it, I would be completely lost.

Even with those that speak English it can be difficult and frustrating to communicate, as the words we use will be different and we can’t always understand what the other is trying to say. Often you have to say or ask the same thing three different ways before it is understood. This can get extremely tiring. The other night, Rahman and I discussed our differing definitions of the word “curious”. Apparently you get curious in Pong-Tamale when someone has done something bad to you.

12. Do most people speak English as well as those at the college?

It seems that most people recognize a few English words, but many of them can only communicate in Dagbani. A large proportion of adults do not speak English and it seems as though only about half of the youths speak a little English. Children only learn English in school and don’t use it in the home, so young children haven’t learned it yet, and older children vary in their ability just as students vary in any course taught in school. There’s usually at least one person around who speaks English, which is lucky, but there are still lots of funny, awkward, confusing moments.

In my host family, the eldest, Abdulrahman speaks a bit of English, the second oldest Adamu, speaks a bit as well, and they are my main resources for communicating with the rest of the family. My host father also seems to speak a bit of English, but not as much as his oldest son and oldest daughter.

5. How is your host family?

So, until recently, I didn’t have a host family. I’ve been living with them for about two weeks, and am still just starting to get to know them. Most of my interactions are with the two eldest, as I mentioned earlier. Abdulrahman is 18, speaks English, and is recovering from a broken arm. I’m not sure if he’s employed or not, because he may just be staying home on account of his arm, but chances are that he is not, like the rest of the youth in Pong-Tamale. He is quick to answer my questions, but otherwise quiet and never offers up information or opinions without being asked. Adamu is 15, speaks English, and going to school. She seems to find me fairly amusing and strange. She takes care of the bulk of household chores, and while not as quiet as her older brother, is still fairly reserved around me. Amina is the the second girl, age 10. She is also going to school and seems more animated than her two older siblings. It seems she knows a little Enlglish, but rarely speaks in English. She has plenty of friends in the community and tends to spend her time roaming around with them. Alhassan is the second boy, age 8, and besides in the morning when he’s getting ready for school, and the end of the evening when he’s returning from his playing, I don’t see that much of him. I haven’t yet heard him speak a word, but he seems more timid than his older sister. And Mariam, is the youngest at age 5, and is probably the least shy around me. She has beautiful eyes and seems to find me hilarious. She is pretty outspoken, but I don’t understand a word she says since it’s all in Dagbani. She seems to be the ringleader for a group of youngsters even though some seem a bit older than her. I was only told the name of my host mother once, and in the flurry of new names, I seem to have forgotten it. I just know that to everyone else she is Ma. She goes from extremely quiet to extremely loud, depending on the obedience of her children, or the nosiness of one the goats. She mainly just smirks at the things I do and asks me questions through one of her children. She is probably unimpressed with my wimpy appetite, but is still quite pleasant with me. My host father Mohammed, known as the land-lord by guests and children when they speak of him to me, is very friendly and helpful with me. He always seems really impressed and happy with my sad attempts to speak in Dagbani.



  1. Hi Evan,
    From my totally unbiased perspective I have to say I love reading your blogs. From interesting & informative, to chuckling through slightly
    watery eyes they make me ponder and appreciate!!
    Lots of love from home!!!

  2. I agree with aunt Noreen! Your blog is so interesting and until now i didn't know just how good of a writer you are. I look forward to reading more!
    Also the other Sullivan's say hi (actually dad says we're cooking chicken out on the rotisserie...what an ass haha)
    Keep up the good work

  3. Hey Ev!, Awesome to see the videos and pics. Looks like your learning lots, and its great to see your spreading your wisdom around!!
    Take Care!!



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