When Professor Dale Wright arrived in the West African nation of Ghana for a teaching conference, she immediately noticed how in need the primary schools were of basic supplies.
Students used bundles of sticks to practice division and teachers painted carbon from used batteries on the walls in place of a chalkboard.
Students at another school gathered rocks daily to pile outside, in case their building needed further construction.
“[It] was probably the most profound lesson I’ve watched in terms of how teachers make use of what they have,” said Wright, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Mary Washington.
Wright, along with Suzanne Houff and Kavatus Newell, both Associate Professors of Education, traveled to Winneba, Ghana for two weeks last June to attend a teaching conference.
The week-long conference, organized through the Virginia State Reading Association (VSRA), provided workshops for students from the University of Education in Ghana. Houff, Wright and Newell trained the university students on effective teaching techniques. The UMW professors also donated teaching supplies and traveled to individual schools to see their lessons put to work in classrooms.
Houff and Wright were amazed with the generosity they received at each school despite the country’s poverty.
“The people are just wonderful. They are always willing to give of their time, of themselves,” Wright said. “Every school felt somehow compelled to give us a gift in return.”
The politeness and eagerness of students struck Wright. She described how students as young as three stood politely and remained standing when adults entered the room and never complained about difficult work or limited supplies.
“The children were always simply respectful…they paid attention,” she said. “They were always on task.”
In Ghana, where only 54 percent of adults are considered literate and uniforms are required for even the poorest students, school is considered a privilege.
“Children understand that if they are in school, their families are making a very big sacrifice for them to be there,” Wright said.
The group also traveled to historic sites, the rainforest and the local markets.
“I was absolutely thrilled to be there,” Wright said. “The vastness of this country…it was incredible.”
The trip inspired Houff and Wright to create a program for Education students from Mary Washington to travel to Ghana for two weeks.
While the program is still in discussion, Houff said it is intended to allow students from both the Fredericksburg and Stafford campuses to receive course credit.
“It is an experience that everyone needs to take part of,” Houff said.
The VSRA is also returning to Ghana for a fourth conference in June 2007. More information on the upcoming conference is available at http://vsra.org/ghanaproject.html.