Appetite for partnership

Shared cultures were on the menu at a small Perthshire primary where an exchange programme with staff from a school in Ghana is proving an ideal recipe for global learning

Jackie Cosh

News article image

Walking around Muthill Primary near Crieff, it's hard not to feel hungry. In one classroom, traditional Ghanaian food is being devoured. Elsewhere a selection of Dutch, Pakistani, Thai, Australian and, of course, Scottish food is quickly disappearing, enjoyed by the children, staff and parents.

The Muthill community has come together for a multi-cultural cookery evening, to celebrate the diversity of the small school and welcome its Ghanaian guests.

Three teachers from the Juliet Johnston School in New Tafo in Ghana are over in Scotland for a two-week visit, working with the children, playing with them and participating in two-way learning with the teachers.

Parents have turned up tonight whose children have grown up with Ghana, and there are a few tears when Madam Juliet stands up and thanks everyone for their hospitality and for the money they have raised towards buying a new school bus. Much fundraising has gone on in the local community and the Muthill people have paid for a new classroom to be built at the Ghanaian school.

Ghana has been part of the school's life since 2007, when principal teacher Keri Reid first realised a lifelong ambition to visit Africa and made a three-week trip to Ghana. Visiting the Juliet Johnston School, she got to see what Ghanaian education was like and came home not expecting ever to return.

But five years on, Mrs Reid is now planning her fourth trip. Teachers from the Juliet Johnston School have made several visits to the Scottish primary and the Muthill children can talk at length about what life is like in Ghana.

Four-year funding from the Department for International Development has enabled successful partnership working to be built up between the schools, with the children regularly collaborating on joint projects.

"We now try to integrate the global dimension into the curriculum," says Mrs Reid. "It is in the school improvement plan and the termly plans. There has always been something one class is doing anyway, so it is not an add-on.

"Projects have been based on what the children are already learning and are incorporated into planning. When we do the water topic, we look at water usage in Ghana and it widens the curriculum. The Juliet Johnston School is near a cocoa plantation and three years ago the teachers brought over cocoa pods. Their children were learning about cocoa; so were ours."

As well as researching cocoa farming in Ghana, the children put together a questionnaire for the Ghanaian children and sent it. In another project, both schools researched their own traditional stories, dances, crafts and tribesclans and shared their work via CDs, DVDs, letters, posters and phone calls.

One topic compared life in Ghana with life in Scotland. "We had all the resources," says Mrs Reid. "We did a lot of work comparing similarities and differences and family life. We had a Ghana Day where we had bean stew, washed up in a basin of water, marched into school singing hymns and sang the national anthem as they do in Ghana.

"When I was out there, we did work with clay. On one visit here, the Ghanaian teachers made Loch Ness monsters out of clay. They also brought over traditional Ghana stories and we made a book of Scottish stories and sent it over."

Every child in the school is on a committee which meets on a Wednesday morning, and each committee works with a class in Ghana.

"The teachers brought over photographs of their garden and food stuff. They will take pictures of our garden and take them back to Ghana along with some potatoes," says Mrs Reid.

"The teachers also joined the eco-committee in litter-picking. They talked about how much their children pick up. They tell us what they have done and we compare results."

Having visits from the Ghanaian teachers has helped tremendously. On this two-week trip, the three teachers have been working with the children and teaching them first-hand about Ghana.

Madam Juliet is one of the two directors of the Juliet Johnston School, as well as being a co-founder. This is her third trip to Scotland.

"We have been observing, directing with the teachers, telling Ghanaian stories to the children and helping out in tasks," she says. "We have been helping pick up litter, played badminton and joined a drama group at Muthill Hall.

"The children are lovely and caring and blend well with us. I thought they wouldn't come to us. They ask what food we eat, do we have a playground, do we play football, how we carry children."

She has found Scottish classrooms to be quite different from those in Ghana. "Ours are not as enclosed," she explains, "and they are much bigger. We have a minimum of 25 and up to 39 pupils in a class. Over here, the practical aspect is a bigger part. When children here study litter, they go out and pick it up and then make a graph of it. So the children get a better grasp than ours do.

"There are some ideas we will be taking back to Ghana. It is good. There are so many learning materials here. The school provides pencils; ours don't. But some things are better in Ghana. In Ghana children do chores; they clean the school. Over here, they don't."

Her colleagues Patrick Asiedu and Ayakwa Kwabena have similar views. "Here they have more materials - computers, whiteboards, even taps in the classroom," says Mr Asiedu. "They don't have as many children (90 compared with 300) and the children don't talk as loud and are quieter."

Mr Kwabena agrees: "We see they are disciplined. They are not that different from our children. We also use a points system to get them to sit nicely, but we don't do the clapping to get them to be quiet. We have seen that it works well."

As the children have got to know their Ghanaian visitors, they have become more confident about asking them questions.

"Our pupils want to know about Ghana, I think, because they have met the Ghanaians," says P12 teacher Sheila McMillan, who accompanied Mrs Reid on one of the trips.

"One of the loveliest experiences I had after returning from Ghana was we got a mobile phone for the Ghanaians and rang at assembly at Christmas time. They sang Jingle Bells, and we sang Christmas songs."

For Mrs Reid, hearing their views on Scottish schools has been thought- provoking.

"I think they have higher expectations of behaviour in Ghana," she suggests. "They think behaviour has gone downhill and that we have the answers. But many of their problems are very similar to ours. They have the same problems and challenges.

"I just think teachers and children are the same wherever you are. You can pick out the same character, the same parents. There are more similarities than differences."

She has also adapted her practice, based on what she saw in Ghana. "In Ghana, I learned that pupils can concentrate in quiet for longer than we give them credit for. Now I give them 10 half-hour periods of work a week. They actually quite like it."

One aspect of Scottish education which the Ghanaian school has taken on board is Jolly Phonics. "They have adopted it to their system," explains Mrs Reid, "and to how they teach language. They recognise it as good practice and have gone out to teach other schools about it."

Mrs Reid sees the partnership work with Ghana as bringing a wider dimension to learning. It has also had a lasting effect on some pupils. While the children are too young to travel to Ghana, some former pupils travelled to Kenya when the opportunity arose in high school.

"They still have this thirst," says Mrs Reid. "The Ghana partnership naturally broke stereotypes without trying. It is not a poor, underdeveloped, backward country, as people think. And the Ghanaian teachers have also learned. They had stereotypes, but have learned that there is poverty here."

With the funding nearing its end, Mrs Reid is happy that it is now embedded in the curriculum. The experience has also changed how she thinks about teaching.

"It has given me a broader view of education in general. It has stopped me thinking just about the Scottish way, and to think wider than Curriculum for Excellence," she says.

Children get to grips with life in Ghana

The children talk knowledgeably about Ghana. "In one of the seasons they have more rain than we have," says 11-year-old Rose Logan. "Some people are well off. In the north, isn't it?" she asks, and the group start chatting about wealth and the different areas of the country.

"They think it is noisy there and that it is quiet here" adds in India Symington, 11."But their classes are bigger."

"The girls do cooking and the boys do washing up," 10-year-old Aidan Campbell tells me. "We were given a sheet on a typical day in Ghana.

"Thirteen per cent of people in Ghana are Muslims," says Sadie Shakoor, 12. "We did a report about the five pillars of Islam and because I am a Muslim I did a little talk about it. In Ghana the children wake up early to do their chores. There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences."

Friendly neighbour tells tales of his African adventure

The Muthill pupils also receive regular visits from Donald Smith, a local resident who has spent much time in Ghana. Mr Smith is the former depute head of Morrison's Academy in Crieff. He left his post in 1999 to spend two years working in Ghana with VSO.

"I read about the connection the school was developing and got in touch. I have spoken to different classes over the year and this morning I spoke to the whole school," he says.

"I am the treasurer of the Scotland Ghana Society and we follow what the school has done. Keri and two of the pupils came to one of our meetings and they met the Ghanaian High Commissioner."

In earlier visits he spoke about life in Ghana, what schools are like in Ghana, and general information on culture and the geography.

"They were only just learning then, but they've become much more sophisticated as they have grown up with the link," says Mr Smith. "They always have good questions."

Photo by Drew Farrell: Teachers Ayakwa Kwabena and Patrick Asiedu of Juliet Johnson School, Ghana serve up some Ghana food.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Jackie Cosh

Latest stories