West African model for teachers
Annual Ghana program opens students’ eyes to new ways of learning.
In a matter of a dozen days, Carolyn Burroughs’ world was turned upside-down.
Voices of children sharing songs, their vibrant costumes whirling as they took part in traditional dances taught Burroughs about the power classroom lessons have when they emulate students’ home life. This, in addition to the food, craftsmanship and warmth of the residents of Ghana, helped turn a trip into an unforgettable learning experience.
Burroughs, who is pursuing her master’s in early childhood education from the UGA College of Education, took part in last December’s “Ghana Study Abroad in Education” program. Organized by Cynthia B. Dillard, head of the college’s department of educational theory and practice, the annual trip caps a semester of learning about research, learning how to do research in another country, studying up on Ghana and reading works by notable residents and scholars, including W.E.B. DuBois.
This is how Burroughs came to arrive in Ghana with a plan for her research—and yet that plan evolved as she learned new ideas on education while in the West African country. Successful craftspeople and nontraditional education in Ghana forced Burroughs and the other students on the trip to rethink what is meant to be educated.
“I come from both an English and a sociology background ... my original research was in a law school and how students of color felt in a predominantly white space,” said Burroughs, noting the effect portraits of white men, and faculty who were white men, had on the students. “And in the elementary school where I was doing a practicum, it was very international, but there was definitely a cultural bias in that the framework of the class was very European. So my question was, what happens when you have students who don’t fit that framework?”
A former colony, Burroughs wanted to investigate how Ghanaian students navigated white spaces. “Are there areas where students are made to conform that are not like at home, and what is that effect on them?” she asked.
It turns out, she said, those spaces don’t exist. Instead, students learn from teachers whose styles emulate and enhance the teaching that goes on in their own homes. As a result, lessons are reinforced between school and home, and there is more of a collaborative feel between teachers and parents.
This, Burroughs said, was eye-opening.
Watching a group of students perform a dance for the visitors and the community, Burroughs said she realized the power of this collaboration. Singing about the importance of washing your hands was entertaining—but also a lesson that can be brought home to the parents. “This is what you have when what you do at school is reinforced at home; what we’re doing is what we’ve always done,” she said. “These are messages you’d think you’d learn at home, but not always. So if you learn it at school, you can take it home and everyone learns.”
Now, Burroughs can build off her experience in Ghana by considering the spaces she creates for her own students—and how her own classroom lessons can be reinforced at home by adapting to the kids, rather than expecting the children to adapt to a specific classroom environment.
“I don’t know what I thought going into this, but I was completely surprised by some of the things I saw,” she said. “When you see it in action—it was a wonderful experience.”
—Kristen Morales, College of Education