Tessa Gruijs – Teaching and learning materials in Ghana

Blog: Teaching-learning materials and ICT

My three months of fieldwork for my Master’s research I spent in Ghana, together with an local NGO I tried to figure out how (future) primary schoolteachers  experience the provision of teaching-learning materials (TLMs) which this NGO is producing.

Being in the teaching field I soon noticed that in the whole country a lot of effort is been put in the importance of education about ICT. An interesting observation while most of the children in the town I was staying did not have a computer or sometimes not even electricity in their homes. When I asked teachers about their ideas on the use or non-use of (real) materials, the first example they gave was about ICT and the difficulties it brings, because like I said before: how do you teach about  ICT when you don’t have computers nor electricity?

One of the schools I visited was a little step further and had the ability, with some money of the community, to build an ICT lab. The computers they received were a gift from a charity program. In our (Western) eyes very very old computers where you have to use a floppy.

However, in Africa you learn again how to appreciate the small things, instead of always wanting more, higher, newer and better, because does that really make you happier in the end? I don’t think so.
One day I was allowed to observe a lesson, which is not that common, because these lessons are not given on a regular basis. The school did not have an ICT teacher anymore, because of a teacher shortage. Therefore a difficult schedule was made so that a ‘normal’ teacher could take over the lessons for the whole school while his own class was taught by somebody else.

The lesson started with some physical exercise, stretching of arms, legs and fingers followed by a song about the meaning of information and communication. A nice interactive introduction I would say. The shorter children were asked to sit in front while the longer ones moved to the back. The teacher started with the question what they had done and learned in the last lesson, this was necessary because the last lesson was a long time ago. After some time of thinking a child came up with the answer: “the parts of the mouse”, which was correct. Reflecting on what I saw, I now think the whole lesson of today was about exactly the same topic as the one before.  Which on the other hand was not so bad, because most of the children could not remember a thing. A real mousepad was taken from one of the computers and shown to the children, one by one they all got the chance to hold it and touch the different parts. The teacher told them about the different parts and drew a mouse on the white board. In his drawing he connected the different parts with a line on which they later wrote the specific names. After that the class was split up in two, the first group came to the teacher who showed them a poster of the parts of the mouse and they talked about all the different parts. In the meantime the other group had actually nothing to do, then they switched and the first group waited until the second was finished. Now it was time for the exercise, the teacher wrote some questions on the white board which the children needed to copy and answer. However, it was P1 (group 3 in the Netherlands), so it took them a while to write everything down. Most of them do not even understand English yet, because they always speak the local language.

As I already said at every school ICT is on the timetable. However, many schools do not have computers or even electricity available. When they have a classroom to give their lessons in it is always nicely decorate with many posters, schedules and schemes to teach the different parts and programs of a computer. It made me wonder why they spend so much attention to an area which brings a lot of difficulties and also costs a lot of money. While most of the times they do not even have money for the “normal” text- or exercise books. One of the teachers explained to me that the reasons for this are the exams. The government believes ICT is such an important subject they want every child in the country to take this ICT exam, even the ones from the rural areas where they don’t have computers or even electricity. According to the teachers ICT is well taught in the bigger cities, where they have more facilities. Therefore I hope that the children at these rural schools without computers get enough information from a book to do the exam successfully, because sometimes there was only a book available for the teacher.

To come back to the lesson I observed: why didn’t we do something practical with the computers today? Light off! (power failure)

Fotoblog: AMO Programme 

For my Master’s research I went to Ghana. In cooperation with a local NGO I got access to a couple of primary schools. There I interviewed and observed many teachers about their experiences with the work of this NGO and their perspectives on (improving) the quality of education.

AMO Programme is a Ghanaian NGO that produces teaching-learning materials. Their aim is to improve the quality of education by using a more child-centred approach when teaching. AMO is an acronym for ‘Ágodi Ma Osuahu’ which means ‘Playing gives experience’ in Twi, a local Ghanaian language.


Besides only providing schools with the materials, AMO also train teachers how to use them. Although for the programme, as well as the whole education system in the country, times are hard and due to lack of money they have problems doing follow-ups. Mostly they do the follow-ups by phone instead of really going to the schools to see how the materials are received. This has its influence on the adoption and usage of the materials by the teachers.


However, trained teachers are often enthusiastic about the materials. The school in the picture had the privilege to have small pupil-numbers in each class. In this way every child was able to use an “addition machine” (one of the AMO materials) by himself without sharing it with 5 others, which often happens with the textbooks because the government is not supplying enough.


Storage is another important subject to talk about when the materials are delivered. The materials are made from wood and they need to be stored well so insects or weather conditions have limited change to affect the state of the materials and they can be used for a long time.

lesI collected data about the experiences with the materials by observing from the back of the classroom, as well as doing participant observation (because I am a primary schoolteacher myself). The teaching actually turned out to be pretty hard in the lower primary. During their first years in school the children are still mostly taught in the local language and therefore did not understand my English. Most of my information I obtained by talking with the teachers informally or in an interview setting.


Although most teachers are enthusiastic about the AMO materials, there are still a lot of other problems they have to deal with before they are really able to focus on this new input.

Gradually things are starting to change.




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