Nurturing homegrown talent

Sang student returns home to teach


Alhassan Awal is about to graduate from the College of Education in Tamale, Northern Region, Ghana. That’s an impressive accomplishment on its own, but what’s even more impressive is the journey he took to get there and where he plans to go next: back to his home village of Sang to the same school he graduated from not so long ago.

Teachers in short supply
Northern Ghana is extremely challenged to attract and retain qualified teachers, so “homegrown talent” is to be encouraged and nurtured. Awal was born and raised in Sang, where his mother and two brothers still live. He attended Zakaria Islamic Primary School, and after graduating from secondary school, returned to his old grade school to teach—untrained and unpaid.

At the time, said Awal, “there were about 100 children attending the school, but no trained teachers. The government had never supported any infrastructure; sometimes they would post teachers to the school, but they were never given any infrastructure, salaries or teaching or learning materials. It was RAINS [in 2010, funded by CFTC and its supporters] that came to our aid and the school started to improve.”

Awal continued: “RAINS has renovated three classrooms and built a second school building for us. Before, the kindergarten class was held outside, and if it rained, we had to send them to other classrooms where they had to sit on the floor. The teaching and learning were not effective, but RAINS gave us a structure and school equipment so that the students will have a place conducive to study.”

Zakaria Islamic Primary School students

At Zakaria Islamic Primary School in Sang, Ghana, demand for education exceeds supply.

Improving the quality of teaching
Even once physical infrastructure was in place, and teaching and learning materials were available, there remained a shortage of qualified teachers. While he was doing the best he could, Awal recognized that he lacked the skills he needed to teach well. “I realized that I needed to get training to become a better teacher. Handling children is not easy; it’s not easy to manage the classroom and if you do not have the skills, you may even be doing something to pollute their minds. Now I realize after I complete my college training, I will be able to be a better teacher and save my community so people will grow up to become future leaders in the next generation.”

For Awal, the dream to become a better teacher is personal. “I suppose I wanted to have the certificate to enable me to go back and help my brothers at home, so that they are able to get a better education and have a better future.”

RAINS sponsors teachers’ tuition
RAINS selected Awal and two other volunteer teachers from nearby villages to attend the Tamale College of Education, and contributed to their tuition fees. “They saw it was necessary; they saw that we, the volunteer teachers, didn’t have anything and we were just sacrificing our lives for the children so [RAINS] sponsored us for teacher training. When we finish, we will come back and help our schools.”

Once he earns his teaching certificate (expected later in 2014), Awal knows there are still obstacles ahead of him. “We thank [RAINS and CFTC] very much and we continue to need their support. The school has grown from 100 students to over 500 students. We now have a junior high school due to the increase of the population, but now the junior high students don’t have a place to sit. We still need a lot: we need a building, infrastructure, and teaching and learning materials for the junior high so that they will learn and learn well.”

“…it takes a village…”
Although there is still a great need for classrooms, school supplies and furniture, what Sang does have is a community that places a high value on education, and has dedicated a great number of resources to advocate for it. Sang’s Parent-Teacher Association and its School Management Committee are well-organized and have broad support from the community. Meetings are well-attended, and participants are working collaboratively with teachers to improve conditions and practices in the school so that children can attend and learn better. Even the Savelugu District Assemblyman, who happens to be a teacher in another community, plays a role on Sang’s School Management Committee, where he’s learned some tips and techniques to organize and build community participation in children’s education in his own community.

As one PTA member said, “it’s not only a teacher, but a whole community that builds a child.”

With an entire community making their education a priority, Zakaria Islamic Primary School students have a brighter future, thanks to teachers like Awal … and supporters like you.