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Blog: Learning from each other - St Mary’s Geography PGCE trainees working in partnership with teachers in Ghana

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Sophie Wilson, Geography Lecturer and Tutor at St Mary’s University, Twickenham recently travelled with five St Mary’s trainee teachers to Ghana, as part of their PGCE course, to spend a week teaching Geography at the Aklorbordzi Junior High School in Woe.

 Working in partnership with local teachers, the aim was to ensure that the placement was as sustainable as possible, by making sure that lessons were taught jointly to enable everyone to learn from each other. A key highlight of the visit was the opportunity to introduce Geography fieldwork to the curriculum, something that the teachers and students in Ghana had never done before.  Hear Sophie’s account of the visit below.

After a lovely welcoming ceremony, in which students danced and played the drums, the trainees spent the first day in school observing lessons before starting some team teaching with the Ghanaian teachers. Working closely with the Social Sciences teacher Chris, the teaching schedule for the week was arranged by comparing the curriculums of both countries. After a short discussion, it was decided that the focus was going to be on coastal processes and landforms, and would include a comparison between the Geography of the UK and Ghana, as well as a short field trip to the nearby beach. That way the lessons could be jointly taught and so help everyone to learn from each other.

Working with just a blackboard and some chalk, trainees quickly became creative in the way they explained and discussed what the UK was like, and how it differed from Ghana.

They found it amazing to see what is was like to teach without any technological support and how much the local teachers had to rely on their own knowledge to explain things. Pupils were in large classes which often got put together into even bigger ones, but it was incredible to see how keen pupils were to learn, and how well they coped with being taught in English, their second language.

Having never done any fieldwork before, the Social sciences teacher was keen to involve the whole school, which meant taking more than 200 students over three days on the trip. Local teachers helped to do the risk assessment and plan the work to be done, by accompanying the trainees to the beach the day before the first visit, to finalise plans. They also assisted with the actual fieldwork itself, quietly supporting the groups and clarifying points that pupils found more difficult to understand. On the way back, one of the trainees recorded a lovely video clip of all the students singing along together, clearly demonstrating how much they were enjoying it.

Back at school, pupils worked in their groups to complete summary posters of the data collected, which included a cross-section of the beach profile drawn to scale, with pie charts and sketches showing the vegetation cover and other measurements taken. They then shared a small number of colouring pencils to finish off their work.

During the placement, the PGCE trainees also gave the Ghanaian students the letters that their Geography classes at home had written for them, from some of the St Mary’s partnership schools. There was a real buzz in the classroom as they read and discussed them with great interest, before thoughtfully writing their replies, which the trainees brought back to their Geography classes in London. The Headmaster was particularly keen to see these lessons, as teachers in Ghana do not normally involve students in such practical activities.

 As part of the visit, trainees also helped to run a joint staff inset session in which both the Ghanaian teachers and PGCE Geography trainees wrote down a question they had about teaching and learning in each other’s countries. These were then summarised and answered in turn. By doing this, it allowed both teachers and trainees to learn from each other, further reinforcing the ‘partnership’ aspect of this school placement. Surprisingly the Ghanaian teachers, who normally refused to stay at school after the last lesson, all wanted to extend the session, to ensure that all the questions were answered. It worked really well. They also loved the St Mary's pens we were able to give to every student and member of staff in the school, and were honoured to have such a gift from an ‘English University'. 

Several of the staff showed a real interest in the possibility of studying for a Masters in Education at St Mary's. Another potential impact I had not previously anticipated was the insight that this visit gave the St Mary’s PGCE trainees, helping them to understand better some of their own pupils here in London, who are from African families.

I would like to thank ‘African Adventures’ for all their support in helping with this pilot project, and the team at the ‘Young shall grow International’ who looked after us so well. They presented us with a lovely handmade banner and a wooden elephant, which are going to be put on display in the education block at St Mary’s, once we have found a suitable place for them.

We look forward to working again with the teachers and students at Aklorbordzi Junior High School and hope that we can continue this partnership in the future.

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