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‘Under Tree’ Schools Still a Reality in Ghana?

Children holding school lessons under trees

With all this fuss about educational reforms to promote quality education and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) being made a core subject so that Ghana can produce graduates ready to take advantage of opportunities offered by the computer age to accelerate development, one would have taught that ‘under tree’ classrooms are a thing of the past.
This however is not the case. Scores and scores of ‘under tree’ classrooms still abound in the country. One school that still boasts of ‘under tree’ classrooms is the St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Junior High School at Kintampo in the Brong Ahafo Region. Mr J. B. Amobilla, Headmaster of the School, says sitting under trees for lessons has not always been the norm at the school but following government directives that all children of school going age should go to school, enrollment levels at the school has swelled up to the extent that, existing facilities can no longer meet the intake of students. Hence, the ‘under tree’ classrooms were created to cater for the additional intake of students.
He however agreed that sitting under trees to learn breeds a lot of problems, saying, “There are so many things that hamper academic work. When it drizzles, those under the mango trees have to take shelter on the verandah and those inside cannot learn because of the noise that is created. This means the whole school is disorganized as far as learning is concerned.”
“Even snakes sometimes fall from the mango trees and disrupt lessons and when the mangoes are ripe, they also fall on the teachers and the students”, Mr Amobilla lamented.
He said the hammattan season is the worst period for the ‘under tree’ classrooms because it brings cold and dust. “Their books and papers are always blown off when they are having lessons and teachers do not feel comfortable when handling lessons”, he explained.
All these disruptions combine to undermine the ability of students to concentrate during lessons; “Concentration is a big battle for students. We are only trying to manage but the concentration is not up to 50 percent”, Mr Amobillah said.
Some officials from the Ghana Education Service (GES) went to inspect the school last year and even took photographs of the children sitting under the mango trees: “They promised to put up a school structure but they have not yet come”, Mr Amobilla said.
The schools’ authorities drew the attention of the Catholic Mission to its plight and the local priest and manager of the Catholic Education Unit visited the school several times after which a committee was formed to address the problem.
Consequently, a church harvest was organized to raise funding for a five classroom block which is now at the lentil level but work has come to a standstill because they run out of funds. “We have approached the Municipal Assembly for assistance and the chief Executive promised to assist us so we are still waiting”, Mr. Amobilla announced.
He said the population at the school is great making supervision difficult. Hence some measures have been instituted such as the banning of vernacular at school to help the students use the English language while in school. Other measures include the organisation of quizzes and debates, the institution of awards for first, second and third positions at all levels, the organization of extra classes for school children after official school hours, and extra tuition for third year students on Saturdays.
The situation at the St Joseph’s J.H.S is an example of how the provision of school infrastructure lags behind enrolment levels, a condition which becomes more pronounced as one moves from the urban to the rural communities. According to a survey conducted by Rural Action 2000, a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) at Kintampo, due to inadequate or poor infrastructure, most school children sit under mango trees to study in the Kintampo District. Is it because Kintampo abounds in mango trees that some are being converted into classrooms?
Education in Ghana in terms of availability and quality of school infrastructure and equipment as well as quality of tuition is becoming more and more polarized leading to the emergence of ‘Johannesburg’ schools and ‘Soweto’ schools. While a lot is being said about improving the quality of education, nothing is being done to bridge the yawning gap between schools in rural areas and deprived communities and those in affluent and urban communities.
There is no doubt that ICT is going to benefit ‘Johannesburg’ schools, further deepening the gap between the two while ‘Soweto’ schools would be content with one ‘hot meal’ a day. This is not to say that the School Feeding Programme is not laudable. But there is the need to go beyond school feeding to ensure that standard educational structures and equipment are provided for all schools to create a conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning. Even some schools such as the Abotoase District Assembly Primary School in the Jasikan District of the Volta Region which was earmarked for the School Feeding Programme, was taken off the programme because there were no structures where cooking could take place. The provision of adequate infrastructure is therefore a key issue around which other educational interventions revolve. Students cannot learn ICT sitting under trees. Where would they access electricity for the computers-from the tree trunks? Politicians and stakeholders in education should well remind themselves that the three basic necessities in life are food, clothing and shelter. There can be no meaningful development if any of these needs is not addressed.

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