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 me about a link and we have not looked back since. We applied successfully for TIPD funding and were able to go on a fact-finding mission and get to know some of the staff at Ahantaman. This proved invaluable as it was the face-to-face relationships that got us through some of the difficulties and misunderstandings we encountered later.
British Council Global Partnerships funding was our next step. Once successful we then had access to three years of funding to support our partnership, always with an emphasis on the Global Dimension. Once that funding ended we had to rely completely on our own fund-raising but two years ago the British Council invited us to reapply for funding because we had successfully sustained our link without them for two further years.
We have generally focused our partnership through the Geography department, mostly because that is where I work but also because working the global dimension into lessons is so easy. We have also made strong on-going links with the curriculum on Citizenship, Science, Food Technology and Design Technology and Maths 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. 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. They have cut a swathe through Tesco, buying cookery equipment, computer accessories etc.
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 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. 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.
Our most recent student visitors from Ghana came in March 2013. We hosted them with families of our own students and firm friendships were struck up which may well last since some of the Ghanaian girls now have access to Facebook when they go to Internet cafes. Some also have mobile phones.
We have run four fieldtrips to Ghana for students so far, and took our latest group in July 2013. This time we continued our work on climate change but will be looking further into the impact that the discovery of oil is having off the coast of Ghana as well as studying the impact that China is having on the country. The students who have been to Ghana with us on the first four trips have gained an enormous amount from their experiences, particularly the most recent groups because they stayed in the boarding unit with their Ghanaian peers and ate at the school. They got up at 4.30am with the rest of the school, did chores, washing their own clothes by hand, and attending lessons before breakfast at 8.30am. 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. We cannot afford to fund teachers to travel so those who do go have been largely self-funding unless supported by a British Council grant. The students 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. At the Akosombo Dam we have been treated like royalty by the Managing Director, provided with a sumptuous breakfast and lunch and given a free guided tour of the dam and power station. 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 10 years so far though and has been the accomplishment I am most proud of in my 32 year teaching career. 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.
Pat Frean, October 2013