For the last two weeks now, in addition to teaching physics in my main school in Nsawkaw, I’ve also been teaching in a neighbouring community as well.
So this neighbouring community is about 4 miles away, about 10 minutes by motorbike, and is called Yabraso. There are two schools in Yabraso: a Junior High School (my school in Nsawkaw is a Senior High School) and a Primary School.
The primary school has six classrooms and at least 40 students per classroom while the JHS is smaller in both that there are only three classes, and that there are only 20 – 30 students per class.
The reason I’ve found myself teaching here is simply that the headmaster of the JHS, a man called Sylvester, approached me and, basically but uncomfortably (for me), pleaded that I come to his school to teach also. We agreed that I would come and teach ICT to the two final years of both schools in Yabraso twice a week and so here I am.
I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about it at first. One of the things I’m trying to do here is to refuse to do something if it is not making a positive or constructive addition to what is being done. In this case I was worried about who I was going to replace at the school and if they were better for the school and the students than I would be. I feel strongly that even if what I’m doing comes out as a neutral change, I don’t want to do something just because I am a white man in rural Ghana.
Although yes, I think a lot of it is because I am white, having talked to Sylvester I do think can make a positive contribution beyond what they already had. Crazy thought considering how little we learnt about ICT in school!
So teaching ICT out here is very hard it turns out. First of all only the JHS has a working computer. There are two others that don’t work but the single working computer is also old enough that it has no USB slots and a floppy disk drive and the cooling fan has to speed up to run Moral Kombat, 1997 era. The primary school doesn’t even have this!
This means that ICT has to be taught on a blackboard rather than on a computer, which is the main reason it’s hard when you consider the fact that many of the students, up to an age of 15 or so, have never used a computer in their life or come across the abstract concepts associated we live with on a daily basis.
Imagine trying to explain or understand the concept of changing font colour or size as/to an eleven year old. This is part of the year 6 (P6) syllabus. Another part of the syllabus at age eleven is to learn how to touch type, but with no access to a computer or even a keyboard this is figuratively impossible. My attempt to solve this next term is to use keyboards drawn out on paper to teach them the key layout and correct finger usage. This was the only thing I could think of that might help.
Teaching ICT to 15 year olds in JHS3 is easier than this though. First of all they are older and understand me speaking better. Also with access to even a single computer after talking and drawing stuff on a blackboard we can go and see it on a computer. It’s still hard as only one student can use the computer at a time while the rest just have to watch but the concepts are less abstract and more solid like emails and spread sheets.
Other than this, thankfully coming to Yabraso is incredibly rewarding. Not only do I feel like my teaching in Yabraso is more wanted than in Nsawkaw (something that isn’t necessarily true but I was asked to teach here compared to when I arrived in Nsawkaw it took two weeks before I started teaching), but also the students themselves in Yabraso are more fun to be with! They love interacting with me, laugh with and at me, and weirdly, have even brought me loads of fruit to take home a couple of times!
I realise this last bit may sound imperialist of me, but it is more than this. Yes, I’m always going to be a while man in Ghana, but in Yabraso I’m able to forget it easier and have full, real, conversations that aren’t stilted or by-rote like the ones in Nsawkaw feel like.
Anyway, all this brings me up to a big point. I have also been asked by Sylvester and some other people in Yabraso for some help in raising funds to build an actual computer lab for Yabraso and the surrounding communities.
I admit, this kind of terrifies me. They submitted a breakdown of the projected cost of this project to me when they first asked me, and it’s a lot of money – £10,000 for the building of the computer lab itself, and roughly £6,000 more for the 40 computers they want inside. I’ve never raised money for a cause before beyond Movember, and honestly, when they first suggested it to me I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to raise this massive sum, and even if I did, that it was for the best cause.
Since then though, I’ve been doing some serious thinking.
When I originally came out to Ghana, I brought a book with me called ‘Doing Good Better’, all about effective altruism. Essentially it talked about making sure that what and how you give can and is used to help the most number of people in the most effective way. So I’ve been looking at this as it applies to this project and here is what I’ve worked out and some general numbers.
First of all, how many people would this computer lab benefit?
In the surrounding communities there roughly 2000 school-aged children that would live close enough to be able to access it on a daily basis for school or out of school. As this is a fairly rural and poor area, most of these children won’t have a computer at home. Also at a rough estimate, these 2000 children will have a ‘turnover’ roughly every 10 years. With maintenance and replacement of computers at a significant reduced cost of the initial outlay, I imagine the computer lab will last much more than just 10 years and probably more like 20-30, which would mean 4000-6000 students through their entire school period.
Second, how much will these people benefit?
Well, we’re not exactly directly saving anyone’s life, but luckily there’s another way to think about it. If you start getting into effective altruism or read, as I highly recommend you do, the book ‘Doing Good Better’, you will come across the term QALY, which stands for Quality-Adjusted Life Year. So term can be thought of as if you improve someone’s life by 10% for 10 years, this is one QULY.
Next, let’s look at a period over 10 years. These 2000 students have no computers to use. Unfortunately three times a year they have end of term exams, of which one of their exams (as ICT is on the syllabus) is ICT. If you fail too many exams in a year you will fail the year and have to redo it. At the end of the final year of your current school you will alternatively have an external exam that will affect what school you are able to progress on to. Ie better results lead to going to better schools – so it’s a positive feedback loop.
This is the first way having access to a computer is useful – it will help you learn ICT better, potentially leading to you going to a better school and gaining a better education over all.
The second way is just the pure fact that the Earth is progressively becoming a global community where digital and computer literacy is becoming more and more important. In order to do well or even live properly in the world, computer skills are a necessity. By not learning how to use computers from a young age you are effectively and significantly limiting a person’s potential to do all but the basic types of jobs. This not only reduces that specific person’s opportunities, life-time earnings and quality of life, but it also slows down the growth and health of the country’s economy as a whole if it happens frequently enough.
So what does this mean? Well it’s hard to say exactly, but if I tried to make a conservative estimate here is one set of calculations:
Say that the computer lab is shut after 10 years and only 1000 children gain the benefit from it, and that the benefit they gain is only a 1% increase to their quality of life. This is 1% over their entire lives though, so from the age of 15 to, again, conservative estimate, 55 (as this is around the current average Ghanaian life expectancy but is likely to change as it develops).
So 40 years at 1% per year per person is 0.4 QALYs per person, or 400 QALYs total for the 1000 students for a total cost of £16,000. This works out at 1 QALY per £40.
Now it is internationally considered that 34 QALYs is roughly the equivalent to one life saved in the developing world. For us, this would that we are doing the equivalent of saving a life for £1360, which is pretty damn good when you consider what a western Government is willing to spend to save a life.
Thirdly and finally, Is the area neglected and what would have happened otherwise?
Well, safe to say yes it is neglected. There are no computers or computer labs in the area. To find an internet café you have to travel half an hour each way into a town called Wenchi, which costs a large proportion of a daily wage and then have to pay to use it on top of that. This is not practical or useful for a student at school. Additionally, if I don’t do this, no one else currently will and nothing will happen so if I manage this is it a huge deal for the local area and if I don’t, nothing. It’s an all or nothing type of thing!
So over all, yes, over all I do think this is a good project to work on. I may not have got all my numbers or approximations correct but that doesn’t change the fact that I believe it is a worthy thing and that over the next many months I’m going to be working hard to try and help fully fund it.
I have just created a just giving website and edited this post appropriately. You can find it at https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/ict-in-yabraso
I beg you that when I do to think strongly and consider giving as much as you can. This will truly be life changing for many children in my local area in Ghana and any additional money will not go to waste at it can go towards buying either replacement computers when one eventually breaks, or to starting to raise money for a science laboratory at my school in Nsawkaw, for similar reasons and calculations as this.