My Personal Statement of Ghana

“When are you coming back to Ghana?”

A confidently stated question, I thought to myself.  When am I coming? I think we skipped the question of “Will I ever come back?” because according to Kwame, I’ve decided I am coming back.  He just needs to know the exact dates now.

I’m not quite sure yet.  I hope one day. But for now, I cannot say…”

“You must come back.  Bring money and help build our country. You have the resources to help us.”

As much passion and zeal I have for development and offering aid, it was strange for me to feel such a discord when I heard these words from Kwame.  Firstly, I am the average college student, who lives off of nightly 3AM feasts of ramen and cheese puffs.  Secondly (and most importantly), Ghana is rich in resources.  Even its flag symbolizes its wealth of gold, land, and soil that fills the country.  “It has 50 percent of the world’s gold, most of the world’s diamonds and chromium, 90 percent of the cobalt, 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power, 65 percent of the manganese, and millions of acres of untilled farmland, as well as other natural resources”. If we measure countries’ wealth by natural resources, Ghana would surely be a superpower over the U.S. and U.K.  But in terms of nominal GDP, Ghana ranks 100 after the U.S. holding the number one spot and the United Kingdom holding the number six spot.  (International Monetary Fund). So why is it one of the poorer nations of the world?

There are many theories to this question-ranging from Africa’s ages of colonialism and corruption in government.  Whatever the answer may be, the issue at hand is how to remedy the current economic disparity and political instability of African’s nations.

One answer popular in belief is simple: donations from wealthier countries.  There is much good intention from the West and Asian countries to provide donations and aid to Africa.  It’s well-meaning that they want to give money and help; also it is very characteristic of America to want to help “fix things”. Sharon Stone wants to contribute mosquito nets to the Tanzania.  First need cotton to make the nets…where does this come from? Get it from the cotton in Tanzania. Encourage the farmers to pick the cotton.  Sell into the company.  Produce the yarns and right there in Tanzania. Produce jobs and transfer technology.  Give markets to the farmers.  Lots of resources are given to help.  If you just make the nets elsewhere from U.S., Asia, etc. and import it to Africa, what will happen when that aid ends? One day there will be no more money coming.  No farming for the cotton pickers.  They need the repairs and replacement for the equipment and technology[1].  What will they do then?
Best intentions don’t solve the problem.  The problem is that processes are not thought through.  You need to work with the communities.  Need to reduce any habitats that make it possible for mosquitoes to produce.  Africans need to wake up.  Enlighten their minds and test their curious minds.  During the Spring Semester of 2011, I interned at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF New England headquarter office.  I attended a donor luncheon that is hold several times a year for generous donors in the region to hear the words of a speaker involved with UNICEF. The speaker who came to this luncheon was an ambassador of UNICEF in Kosovo, a country also suffering from a slow economy and lack of political stability.  Luciano Calestini, coordinator of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at Kosovo spoke to us about a unique approach to stimulating leadership and motivation for the youth.  Mr. Calestini spearheaded the Innovations Lab, a center that provides small scale funding for youth who present ideas to turn innovative and impactful ideas into a reality.  The Lab will help youth transform ideas into actionable projects and implement them. The Lab provides mentors who help manage and implement projects; necessary equipment and office space for co-working is provided; connections to Kosovo institutions and to a community of young change-makers are supported! It doesn’t matter if the students don’t succeed in their projects, what matters is the “light bulb” has gone off in their heads; they are enlightened thinkers, who are thirsty for knowledge and answers to questions or issues surrounding their lives.

This is what I believe is much needed in Ghana: a need for an enlightened youth to lead.  Education is key, and there must be a reform in education to inspire children to think out of the box and to think creatively.

While I was a teacher at the Carol Gray International School, I remember the first day, I asked the students to write a paragraph about themselves and whatever they wanted me to know about them.  I remember my 10 year old self and other pre-pubescent peers answering this question with relative ease.  The first thing coming to my mind was my favorite color, my favorite singer, and anything that could come in my overly active mind.  An unexpected turn of events: the children sat in their seats, dumb stricken, looking around the room confused, almost as if I had asked them to find the derivative of a polynomial equation.  It was only until I clarified, in full detail, what I wanted that they picked up the pen and started writing.

This is precisely what I mean by reforming education to include creative thinking and mental stimulation.  Even what seemed to be a relatively simple assignment, struck these students as a mental challenge.

I sat in an eighth grade class room one day to see the education of students in the school and also to accompany my new eighth grade girl friends.  From my own observations, it seemed to me that the students wrote down and repeated anything the teacher said.  No one was asked about their opinions; thus, there was no challenge of different opinions in the class.  The students memorized what the teacher said and spat it back out.

The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model

The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model was developed by AlexOsborn and Sidney Parnes (Davis, 1986).  Osborn is well known for his work originating the idea of brainstorming—the inception of any creative writing or thinking process.  Parnes, a professor at Buffalo State College, NY, worked with Osborn to develop a six step process known as the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model.  This process described included: objective finding, fact finding, problem finding, idea finding, solution finding, and acceptance finding:

“Objective finding relates to identifying a problem that presents a challenge.  Fact finding is an effort to find all known facts related to the situation at hand.  Problem finding is set to identify a problem statement, and to isolate the most important problem identified in the mess finding stage.  Idea finding is designed to identify as many possible solutions to the problem statement.  Solution finding is performed by looking at the possible solutions and choosing the best solution for action.  Acceptance finding is the act of making every effort to gain acceptance for the solution”

I must say that these abilities were not quite found at the Carol Gray International School.  Of course, my observations cannot be validated as true without complete research of other primary schools in Ghana and even research of universities.  But I feel that a common theme among underdeveloped countries such as Kosovo and Ghana, may be the lack of critical thinking embedded in education at an early age.

This poses the question: How do we incorporate critical and creative thinking into education? This is not an easy matter of course.  I decided to look more into it because it’s more than just having students reflect on creative journal writing assignments.  I was really interested in seeing if my theory was indeed valid.  A study conducted by Matthew B. Norton of Texas Tech University, analyzed the effects of divergent teaching techniques upon thinking abilities of collegiate students in agricultural systems management courses.  Granted, I’m thinking that creative thinking be incorporated in education at an earlier age; yet, I still found some Norton’s finds to be applicable and interesting.  What Norton means by divergent teaching techniques is “Activities that spark creative thinking, and may follow many lines of thought.  Divergent teaching techniques tend to generate new and original solutions to problems for those involved in the exercises” (Norton, 3).  If we can agree that Ghana, a country of (and I repeat) “40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric…and millions of acres of untilled farmland,” then we can apply these teachings intended for agriculture students to students in Ghana.  “Bringing creativity in the agricultural science classroom will adhere to Guilford’s (1967) statement that creativity is the key to education in its fullest sense and to the solution of mankind’s most serious problem”.

There have been many activities and exercises developed to stimulate divergent thinking abilities.  Some of these include: brainstorming, brain writing, and the use of analogies. Brainstorming is the term coined by Osborne, and is the act of generating ideas in a group with no judgments made on the ideas.  Brainwriting, similar to brainstorming, is when groups of people generate ideas and do not have to speak to one another.  This silence facilitates more ease and openness of others to express ideas.  The idea is that writing on paper to express ideas will allow those shyer students to still be able to express their ideas, when it is more difficult to do so orally. Myoted Ltd. found that analogies are a key feature of many approaches to creativity.  The person saying the analogy is exercising creative thinking by trying finding alternate ways to demonstrate an idea, while the person(s) listening to the analogy are also exercising creative thinking by understanding parallels or making connections between two items of an analogy that may not usually fall along the same category.

What I believe I witnessed in my own classroom and other classrooms is the opposite of divergent thinking: convergent thinking.  This refers to the conventional thinking of problem solving, where one is directed towards finding only one correct or best answer.  This is in direct opposition to divergent thinking in that the later produces a wide range of ideas from one starting point.  I believe that the method of teaching in Ghana is directed toward convergent thinking; it is stunting the growth of students’ minds and as an indirect result, the growth of the country.

Ghana is a country brimming with so much potential to grow as a developed nation.  There are many aspects of the country’s government, economy, and politics that must be improved in order to help Ghana become a stronger nation.  However, these things cannot be changed directly through donating foreign capital and building businesses.  There must be a revolution within its people—a revolution without bloodshed, violence, or war.  Enlightened thinking starts with the youth, who have the ability to motivate and the open-mind receptive to changing their lives.

One day, I hope to come back to Ghana or provide resources to Ghana that will provide teachers with workshops and training to instill divergent thinking teaching methods.  That is where I believe some of the donations so generously given by others should be invested in.  There must be specific measures taken to uplift the youth so Ghanaians can revolutionize their own country, not us.  If provided “Innovation Labs” such as the UNICEF provided for Kosovo, where thinkers are given a chance to test their ideas with the resources they need, slowly we will see an enlightened youth ready to target the problems of the economy and tackle those issues directly or join political parties without giving into corruption but fighting for a real cause to help Ghana. If we can test these theories in practice in a few schools in Ghana, we can test results in a few years and then possibly use similar models in other African nations.

I have such hope for the African continent.  Africa has been exploited far too long for its people and resources; I believe that they all have the motivation and the passion to help their country, if provided these educational resources to them, we will one day see Ghana rise as a wealthy, powerful nation.

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