In Ghana, headmaster embodies spirit of World Teacher’s Day
By Madeleine Logan
Tia Anthony starts to sing, while he sits in his headmaster’s office at Pong Tamale Basic School
It’s a song he composed for a Class 1 lesson the previous day. He was teaching adverbs and the tune wouldn’t get out of his head. Why not make up a song, he thought.
The class ended with all the children singing and laughing, having learnt a collection of new words. Tia has passion for teaching.
When the capitation grant (the government’s payment for essential school equipment) is late, he uses his own money for teaching materials. “A teacher must be versatile. I will buy cardboard and do my own drawings for a certain lesson. Or I will write and cut out sentences for reading exercises. If the whiteboard markers run out, I will buy a new box. It’s all from my pocket.”
Soon after Tia finishes singing his new song, a boy walks past his office in old work clothes. He points him out. “I’ve been to that boys’ house 10 times to plead with his parents to send him to school. They say he has a cattle herd to look after,” he said. “I tell them our current Senior Prefect was a cattle herder. Now he’s doing much better.”
“I believe that knowledge is not for one person. It’s for everyone.” Tia wants his 401 students to have the same quality of education as their peers in “well to do schools in Accra”. The Pong Tamale students now sit external exams set by the Centre for Monitoring and Evaluation, a central examination board in Ghana. Tia says that when they first sat the tests, Pong Tamale students were getting 40% on average. Three years later, the average is now 60%.
His commitment is exceptional in a district of Northern Ghana where, on average, teachers missed 15 days of school in each term, according to School Report Cards introduced by UNICEF in its eight focus districts in the north of Ghana. The district in which he teaches is called Savelugu/Nanton. It is one of the 12 focal districts for UNICEF’s education program, which focuses on improving quality and inclusiveness.
UNICEF last year introduced a Child Friendly Schools Checklist to gauge the quality of schools in these districts. Pong Tamale was the highest rating school, with 4 stars out of 5. “Next year, we’re aiming for five stars,” Tia said.
Tia encourages his teachers to embrace learning through play, the use of computers and mother tongue education. In 2010, he started up an ICT class – an ambitious project in a school without computers. Through advocating with NGOs, he was able to get six computers for use by the students, and one projector, to be used by teachers at least once a week. It’s remarkable in a part of the country where most government school students learn about computers through drawings of keyboards and monitors on the blackboard.
He also started an exchange project with children in the Netherlands, so that his students would broaden their knowledge of the world. And set up a drama and debating club to improve student’s critical thinking.
Of course there are frustrations. Four students have to share each textbook, because of a shortage of books. The P4 and P5 classes each have more than 65 students for one teacher. And the kindergarten class has serious lack of teaching materials –three puzzles have to be shared between 70 children.
But with passion, some cardboard, and a song – Tia is creating change.