Ahantaman Senior High School is in Sekondi-Takoradi on the coast of Ghana in West Africa. Ghana is a former British colony so the official language of education is still English. Ghana is also located on the Greenwich meridian and so is in the same time zone as we are.
Sekondi-Takoradi is a naval port and container port, just like Plymouth. It has a similar population size at about 250,000 and it takes about 4 to 5 hours to reach from the capital city, Accra. We therefore find many similarities as well as differences.
Ahantaman Senior High was about the same size as PHSG and had a majority of girl students although there were some boys when we first linked up with them. It is now an all-girls school with over 2,000 students and the current Head, Mrs Ocloo, says that there is a waiting list, partly down to the success of our partnership as it has raised aspirations. It is a boarding school but there are also day students. The students obviously have to pay for their boarding fees and their uniforms.
We have been partnered with Ahanss (abbreviated from when it was Ahantaman Senior Secondary School) since 2003 when the then Head Mistress, Mrs Evelyn Osei, wrote to PHSG to ask to begin a partnership. Through successfully applying for TIPD funding staff from PHSG visited Ahanss to begin the steep learning curve of what has now become a long standing and very highly respected partnership in both countries.
To continue our partnership, we then applied for funding through the British Council Global Partnerships for the next three years with an emphasis on the Global Dimension. This funding was then cut and for two years we had to rely completely on our own fundraising. In 2011 the British Council invited us to reapply for a grant owing to the success of the link between the two schools. Again we were successful in this bid and future bids in 2013 and 2015. Unfortunately due to changes in the scheme offered by the British Council this funding is no longer viable for us and so we are now in the situation of once again relying on our own fundraising to sustain the link.
We have generally focused our partnership through the Geography department, mostly because Mrs Pat Frean, who initially set up the link for PHSG, was a geography teacher but also because working the global dimension into lessons was so easy. We have also made strong on-going links with the curriculum on Citizenship, Science, Food Technology and Design Technology, Maths and Health and Well Being and have had some initial links through Music, ICT, Drama and English. We are also looking at developing curriculum materials for History on slavery.
Our project themes so far have included; ecofootprints and life style comparisons; ethical trade and food miles; healthy eating; climate change and renewable energy; impact of the oil industry and mining; ecotourism and biodiversity: promoting a healthier lifestyle through sport. We have also run some side projects involving a kind of Young Enterprise approach where the Ahantaman students have had training and then have made textile products and jewellery which we have then sold at summer and Christmas fairs. We bank the proceeds for Ahantaman for them to use when they come to PHSG. Looking to the future in 2019 we are hoping to work collaboratively on a theme of Visual Arts.
Along the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle theme which we followed in our bid to become a Sustainable School, we were fortunate enough to gain sponsorship, firstly from AV Concepts and then from Bob Baldry at Carmeuse industries in Ghana, to ship over 120 of our old school computers to Ahantaman. We would have had to pay to scrap the machines and they are still perfectly useable. Our Network Manager, Mr Moisob, oversaw the cabling and installation of the computers into two suites at Ahantaman with two more to follow. CNR International donated cable and labour and the Mayor of Sekondi made sure that broadband cable was installed. One problem with this is that the cabling keeps being dug up and stolen but we are persistent.
In 2012 we had two members of Ahantaman staff stay with us at PHSG for a month to do some fact-finding and training. Mrs Otilia Akaba came to visit several educational establishments in the area as she is going to be running the new Skills Centre at Ahantaman when they have finished construction. Mr Seth Blankson, the school’s IT Manager, came to learn how to set up the servers for the new IT suites amongst other things.
Electricity supply in Ghana can be a significant problem. The south of the country receives electricity generated by hydro-electric power at the Volta Dam near Accra. Due to climate change the country has received less rainfall than usual in the north and so the water feeding into Lake Volta has been reduced. This has led to frequent power cuts so the school cannot rely on a power supply. This caused us to develop the project theme on climate change and renewable energy. Students at Ahantaman have taken solar and wind readings around the school site. One of our science teachers worked with them to draw up an electronic plan of the site and the students carried out a decision making exercise to decide where to locate a turbine. A couple of years ago we took a small wind turbine out to Ahantaman to try and ensure a regular supply of power for one or two computers and perhaps a projector, the turbine is still being used today!
Some of our girls have also participated in a mock UN climate change conference, representing the UK and Ghana and coming to the conclusion that our lifestyle is contributing to climate change and the impacts this is having on Ghana and other countries.
We have run six fieldtrips to Ghana for students so far, and took our latest group in July 2017. Over this period of time students from PHSG have continued the theme of looking at climate change bur also more recently looked further into the impact that the discovery of oil is having off the coast of Ghana and studying the impact that China is having on the country. In 2015 and 2017 we introduced Health and Well Being as a cross curricular theme between the schools. PHSG students led classroom sessions and activities to highlight the importance of healthy eating and exercise. Through donations of resources and equipment from our school and the wider community Ahanss now runs very successful sports teams in football and hockey and are introducing tennis.
As the link has developed so has the experiences for our girls travelling to Ghana. They stay in the boarding unit with their Ghanaian peers and eat at the school; they get up at 4.30am with the rest of the school, do chores, wash their own clothes by hand, and may attend lessons before breakfast at 8.30am; they have visits to Akosombo Dam, Kakum National Park, El Mina slave fort, Nzulezu village on stilts; they are ambassadors for PHSG and the UK at official meetings: they fully engage in a variety of school activities and school life and so, so much more. Ahanataman students and staff visiting Plymouth also have their own experiences: how our school runs, a very different climate, trips to Dartmoor, a night out bowling, engaging in lessons alongside our students, living with a host family and again so much more.
At Plymouth High the partnership with Ahantaman directly impacts on the curriculum for year 9 more than any other year. We now have a small but strong group of teachers who will support any efforts we try to make with fund raising or welcoming Ghanaian visitors into lessons. The whole school is very aware of the link but understandably sees it as an extra to their teaching. Without the British Council funding we are now paying for staff to visit Ghana from our small reserve of funds from fundraising activities. The students themselves are all self-funding.
We have developed strong links with various community groups, both in Ghana and in Plymouth, and these groups also help us with providing practical support when pupils travel. For example, in the past at the Akosombo Dam we have been treated like royalty by the Managing Director, providing us with a sumptuous breakfast and lunch and given a free guided tour of the dam and power station. When visiting schools and different Ministers we have been provided with meals and entertainment.
Without the dedication and belief of a few individuals the partnership would no doubt founder, and may still in years to come. It has lasted for 14 years so far due mainly to the hard work and dedication of Mrs Pat Frean who worked on the partnership from the start and the following 10 years and the staff at PHSG who have supported the link for so long. We hope to continue to make the link a success for as long as possible into the future.
Plymouth High has benefited greatly from the link in that many of us are so much more aware of global citizenship issues now. We are also less likely to make sweeping judgments and to be more tolerant of different approaches. Global citizenship indeed.
Jess Randell, January 2018