This Maymester I joined 14 other students from Georgia State University on a study abroad trip to Ghana, Africa. The mission of the trip – developed by the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies – was to study social enterprises, nongovernmental organizations and Ghana’s development status through various lectures and site visits and by living with homestay families.
Over the course of three weeks we learned about the history of the country, how the people operate, and serious issues the country faces such as the widespread and continuous loss of power, poor sanitation, the lack of accessible education and extreme poverty.
The more time we spent in Ghana, the more ideas and opinions I developed as possible policy solutions to the problems we were learning about and experiencing,
and by the end of the trip I was adamant in the belief that formal education policies could be the key to furthering Ghana’s development.
As a graduate student, I had difficulty imagining a place where education is not as freely available as it is in the United States. In our country there are a number of policies, mandates and standards in place to protect and enforce our rights to a free public education. However, Ghana’s secondary education, which is their equivalent to our high schools, comes at a cost. It is not available to everyone.
Our daily tours of the capital city, Accra, and various other villages of Ghana showed that most Ghanaians gain their basic knowledge and marketable trades from their families rather than going to high school or college. In the rural parts of Ghana it is the norm to pass knowledge from generation-to-generation rather than requiring the children to attend formal institutions.
Most Ghanaians know how to sew, make jewelry, cultivate produce or fish, and they market these trades on the streets, along the roadsides or at informal marketplaces. Most of these skilled individuals do not know how to read or write. Their occupations are the products of non-formal and indigenous education rather than what western civilizations regard as formal education.
It was during our third week in Ghana that one of our lecturers, George Domfe from the Centre for Social Policies Studies, posed the idea that education is the key to Ghana’s development.
He stated that the life expectancy for the country was 66 years, which is low compared to the rest of the world. This is the case because Ghanaians are unaware of the health issues they face and how to prevent them, he explained. For example, even a preventable disease such as malaria is still a major problem because the people lack an understanding of what is killing them.
Domfe also explained that although there is an abundance of Ghanaians who own or operate small businesses, they do not prosper because they have little understanding of the business world or how to manage their finances.
So it seems that although Ghanaians are self-educated to a self-sustainable extent, further development has remained an issue because of the country’s flawed education system.
After Domfe’s lecture I seriously began to speculate on whether formal education standards and policies similar to those found in developed countries should be implemented in Ghana, as well.
Another one of our lecturers, Christine Avotri from the University of Professional Studies, agreed that incorporating more formal education policies into Ghana’s infrastructure would progress its development.
She explained that the individuals known as the “under-employed,” many who sell their products on the street, need more than aid and funding to be successful. Having a trade is only the first step, she advised. Wiithout a basic education or business knowledge, it is difficult for these people to be self-sustainable and contribute to the country’s economy.
Avotri’s lecture made a lot of sense, and a later visit to The Hopeline Institute exhibited the successful implementation of her argument.
The Hopeline Institute serves not only as a micro-financing company for individuals and small businesses, but also offers training courses and certifications in business management. Hopeline’s mission is to provide financial services along with non-financial services, which will result in prosperity in the long-run. As a result, it is one of the few micro-financing companies in Ghana that has continued to remain successful in developing the country.
Our study abroad in Ghana opened our eyes to the serious issues that Ghana and its people face every day. The various factors that operate as obstacles towards Ghana’s development differ completely from the issues we face here in the United States.
By the end of our trip it was clear that there is not just one solution for developing Ghana and that the group was not going to figure out the answer in just three weeks. However, in my opinion, educating the population is a very important step towards the country’s development.
A final requirement of the study abroad was the reading of “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good” by William Easterly. Upon completing the reading, I reflected upon one of our site visits to the World Bank Ghana office.
While we were there, we discussed the responsibility the rest of the world has to help Ghana and how the World Bank is currently assisting with Ghana’s development.
Ultimately, I left Ghana with the impression that the world should acknowledge the education system Ghana currently has in place and incorporate the people’s strengths into any future development strategies and policies.
We should not try to erase what the people already know and replace it with western education and ideologies. Instead, we should supplement their current knowledge and practices with education policies that will continue to develop the country.