Right off the bat I want to thank Jenny and Jamey for handling the presentation so well in spite of my abscence due to illness. (Still sorry about that guys)
My part of the project focused on primary education in Ghana because primary education has always been my passion. What was most important for me to convey was the awe I felt when looking at how much work had gone into the education system. I know it seems strange because so much of the formal education history is filled with failure and inequality, but I found myself inspired by how many times the education system was built back up in the face of failure. Obviously there is still a long ways to go and a lot of improvements need to be made, but I was struck by how resilient people were in terms of pushing the education agenda. I wanted to convey some of that because I think it can often be too easy to get lost in the government policies and issues surrounding funding and jurisdiction and we often miss the drive of the people.
One thing I found that I was not expecting was that primary schools attempted, and still attempt, to teach children not only English, but also at least one indigenous language (usually the more prominent one in that region). I was thrilled to see that because too often a country or people that has been colonized and de-colonized and then exposed to a dominant world ideology loses their original language. This may not seem like a big deal compared with other losses suffered, but really it is. Language is a culture in and of itself and when an old language is lost, you lose the stories that came with it, the history, and the way of life. I've always been acutely aware of this loss because my Grandmother would tell me stories in Gaelic when I was a child and she, and other family members in Ireland, would lament the loss of this language and bitterly talk about how children didn't even see the point of learning Gaelic anymore--some don't even think of it as "their" language. Preserving, or in many cases recovering, culture is so very important and I was thrilled to see it being implemented in early childhood education.
One thing I was thinking about while doing research is the complexity of imposing our ideas of education on another society. I was happy to see that primary school was on its way to being required, but I also wonder if this is taking something away from the culture. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but I find something troubling about the idea of children all over the world learning the same things because I wonder if they really apply everywhere? Last summer when I was in Ngala game reserve I was astounded by the trackers and one, and awesome guy named Ben, was teaching me how to identify different animal tracks and he told me about his village near by where there is no "formal" education and the kids know more about their environment and the wildlife than half the rangers who spend years training. Would they be helped by the addition of a school that taught math and stories in print rather than orally passed down? Sometimes I worry that we assume everyone wants a "better" life--but only our version of a "better" life.