The first thing one sees upon approaching the primary school, Sokode Lokoe M/A Basic, where the Lokoe Reads literacy program is conducted by Center for Achievement, is that the school is in serious disrepair. The worn, chipped burnt orange paint that covers the three sections of this school is the most obvious needed repair, but it’s probably the easiest fix, too. Damaged shutters, plus the students’ rickety desks are among the most pressing repairs/replacements that Sokode faces right now.
Children being children, and students being in Sokode Lokoe to learn… they don’t take notice of these deficiencies. Two young boys merely spring into action once the support beam for one of the desks falls away after a girl shifts in her seat. At the same time the boys jump into action, the girl leaps to her feet; she barely escapes hitting the floor. These obsolete desks, holdovers from an earlier century, seat students side-by-side; they are nearly all in the same predicament, held together by precariously placed support boards.
Yet, despite the impoverishment of this public school, the students arrive early ready to learn. As the Lokoe teachers climb from the taxis that ferry them to the school, they are greeted by grinning faces pleading to carry their teacher’s book bags and other teaching resources. Once the teachers relinquish their materials to these eager learners, they race ahead to their respective classrooms, handling the teachers’ supplies reverentially, showing an acute awareness of the treasure they possess.
Inside the classroom – along with the old, broken desks – one sees walls smudged from years of handling, and decades of fine, red dust blowing through the windows. The red dust has also settled on the faded charts mounted on the walls high above the classroom; these seem to be science tips from the middle of the twentieth century. They include outdated pictures of the Milky Way and crudely drawn images of the human body. There are no recent discoveries hanging anywhere inside the classroom to stimulate the minds of Sokode’s children. Absent are images of solar-powered generators, solar cars, or any type of green technology. Images of modern life are nowhere to be found.
When the P4 (primary, grade 4) teacher steps to the front of the classroom, the students race to find their seats. A few of the students who are slow to settle down are admonished by their teacher in a language they are certain to understand, Ewe. As the teacher begins writing on the dusty blackboard, notebooks and pencils are produced; the lesson has begun.
There is a stigma regarding many African children who go without the tools that are considered normal for other students, especially U.S. and British ones. Harvard, Yale, and Oxford attract the greatest minds, they say, because they offer the best that money can buy. Yet despite the poor conditions of Sokode, it is evident that the children’s minds are sharp and focused once the teacher begins to pose a series of questions.
“Who can tell me what a verb does?”
Hundreds of tiny brown fingers spring up in the dimly lighted classroom.
”Bless,” the teacher says, nodding at one of the students.
At birth, many Ghanaian parents present their children with names resonant with positive and wholesome attributes. Names like Bless, Freedom, Innocent, Confidence, Peace, and Justice exist alongside Mary and Michael and even more traditional names like Mawuli and Segbedzi.
“A verb is a doing word. It’s an action word!” Bless responds to his teacher, certain of his answer.
“Yes. And an adjective?”
“An adjective describes the noun,” answers Dora, who’d waved her hand excitedly before being called upon. It was Dora’s desk that needed repair. Thankfully that broken desk is in no way indicative of a broken mind or spirit.
Once it’s time for oral reading the children read loudly and with confidence, moving their tiny fingers along the text as they do. At the end of the passage the students quietly await a response. The teacher lets a moment pass before smiling proudly at them.
“Give yourselves a hand!” she says, her face glowing.
Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap! In unison, the students give themselves a polite round of applause!