The Lincoln Community School volunteers- part 2
Guest post by Terry Donohue
So together we looked through the list of novels on the e-reader and I helped them choose a Ghanaian story called “Awaratu”. They took turns reading paragraphs in a staccato, monotone rhythm, each seemed to be trying to impress me with the speed at which they read. But as people say in Ghana, were they “get-ting it”? I stopped my students after a passage where the main character in the story was given a beating by her father- to see if they were getting it. The conversation went something like this:
“Do you think Arawatu liked the thrashing?”
“Do you know what a thrashing is?”
I placed the cursor before the word and the definition came up. “So a thrashing is a repeated beating”, I said, “Would you like that this to happen to you?
“No”, they said.
“So do you think Arawatu liked it?”
“Yes”, they said.
Their answers were confusing and contradictory, which got me wondering why. Possibly it was because students are not used to one-on-one attention. Also, from what I have seen, Ghanaian students are typically asked questions that have definite answers- like “How do you spell elephant?” and “What is the capital city of Ghana?” I have never seen a Ghanaian teacher ask a student a question with an open answer. And though it may seems obvious that Awawatu would not like the thrashing, it was not specifically stated as such in the story, so maybe the girls just took it as face value.
Another problem could be language. The girls, though they were in their early teens, were familiar with at least four different languages. According to them, they spoke Ga, Ewe, Twi and English, something that is not uncommon in Ghana. It is possible that they were still at an early learning stage with English so though they could sound out the words, they still struggled with processing the meaning of what they read.
We continued reading the story and I would stop where appropriate and either review what we had read, or ask them to try to predict what might happen in the future. Each time, I was met with blank stares and one-word answers – right up till the end of our session – when one of the girls spoke up about how “Awawatu liked the kindness of her mother”. This was the first sign that she had made a connection to reading and meaning – we were making headway, and that was very exciting!
We all gathered for a cold drink, with the village children forming a rowdy crowd around Joseph as he passed out cold bottles of Coke, Fanta & Sprite. It had been a morning well spent. Everybody posed for a group photo and then the group from LCS boarded the bus for the long ride back to Accra, waving goodbye to our friends until we turned on to the main road and drove out of sight.
We debriefed on the bus, and though I found out that many of us had the same experience as I had, there were also stories of students that read fluently and definitely seemed to understand what they had read. Those I talked to agreed that an important part of the Worldreader Program should be to train local teachers in various reading strategies to help get the students to think more about what they are reading. In turn, teachers could eventually train older students to act as tutors for younger students We could also see that the e-readers will soon be needing more books, as the selections would need to be expanded for different reading levels.
The Worldreader Program has the tremendous potential to put books into the hands of a lot of people very quickly. E-readers can run for up to two weeks without a charge, they are relatively inexpensive compared to the price of physical books, and additional books can be downloaded over a 3G network in areas with no internet access. These points are key to the longevity and sustainability of the project. Are we on the cusp of a new era where technological innovation will reach those who need it the most? Maybe.
The students in Adeiso are hungry for knowledge. They are only held back by artificial boundaries set up by their educational system, and their government. E-readers, in combination with good teaching practice, hold the promise of breaking down barriers. We certainly live in exciting times and this is an exciting project in which to be involved.
Worldreader.org welcomes community participation and would love to know your thoughts and observations.