Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Capturing the Second Junior Camp Ketasco


Students and guests enjoying themselves during the ice-breaker
It seems like a long time ago when GhanaThink’s Junior Camp programme was birthed at Ketasco. On that fateful day, mentors from different professional domains converged at the school to give students insights into fields such as as engineering, computing, entrepreneurship, and banking. The buzz generated on campus that day was like no other, leaving everyone clamouring for more. The Junior Camp train has since stopped at numerous destinations: Kalpohin, Pojoss, Presec, Krogiss, Labone, Armesco, Smasco, etc. Counting them all would be an arduous task! To sustain some of the benefits derived from Junior Camps, a GhanaThink team led by Thelma Boamah is developing the Junior Camp Internship Programme (JCIP). 

After a few tries, the second Junior Camp Ketasco finally happened on 15th November. As usual, we had mentors from diverse backgrounds, from within the school to corporate Accra and beyond. I was especially thrilled to have new good friends, Tom Tagoe of GH Scientific and Heather Beem of Practical Education Network, around to guide students in science and engineering respectively. 

The programme started about an hour later than it should. After welcome greetings, introduction, and the ice-breaker session, a team from Webster University (Philomina and Leonard) addressed the students on educational and growth opportunities open to them in that institution. They asserted that the international environment and liberal arts curriculum provided by Webster would prepare them adequately for the future. After this session, we had two rounds of mentoring. Students were free to choose from a wide array of topics, led by various mentors, as presented below:

Agbenyegah Kirk – Software Development
Thomas Tagoe – Neuroscience/Science
Heather Beem – Engineering
Emmanuel S. Amekplenu – Leadership and Banking
Akpah Prince – Media
Alorwu Noah – Mobile Learning
Seyram Kartey - Game Development
Daniel Owusu – Academic Excellence/Volunteering
Yayra Tay Thomsen – Fashion/Personal Branding
Leonard Suransky – International Relations
V.N. Tamakloe – Leadership
Philomina Abakah – Customer Service/Marketing
Gameli Adzaho – Environmental Health

Mentors introducing themselves to the gathering
The gathering broke for lunch after the second mentoring round. Subsequently, we had two optional sessions. The first one focused on various educational experiences of mentors (Heather, Yayra and Tom) outside Ghana, while the second one dealt with transitioning from Ketasco to the outside world. I was with the latter group, and I must say we had very interesting insights shared by alumni who completed recently and those from earlier year groups. The original panel consisted of Junior Camp lead Nathaniel Alpha, Benjamin Boafor (medical practitioner), and Kirk Agbenyegah (software developer). Along the way we were joined by an enthusiastic bunch of old students who happened to pass through campus after attending a funeral in Keta. People like Ebenezer, Efo Dela, Setorli Tamakloe, Setorli’s sister, and Jeremiah, all shared their “dzolalian tales”. The take away, really, was to utilise various opportunities created in the school environment as these opportunities (for growth) would not be available in the future. I was pleased to learn majority of the panellists passed through the Writers and Debaters Club, a club I’ve been affiliated with since my Ketasco days.
 
Nat making a point on the "life in Ketasco" panel
Junior Camp Ketasco was a big success thanks to the efforts of the GhanaThink team, and also staff like Victor Tamakloe, John Attipoe, Noah Alorwu, and some students who helped to organise stuff around the campus. One-on—one feedback received from the mentors was positive. Someone said something along the lines of “you have a great school here”. The students expressed their delight too, as they shared useful new things they picked up from the sessions they joined. The Junior Camp programme is about awakening and nurturing the inner potential of Ghanaian students. The whole enterprise is led by Nathaniel Alpha, who was part of the very first Junior Camp team. It is gratifying to see what was started in Ketasco quickly scale to have national impact, led by one of the school’s products. That is the kind of confidence we want to build in the future generation.

Have you ever participated in a Junior Camp or mentoring event? What were your experiences?

Monday, 24 November 2014

Making Science Education More Practical in Ghana, The PEN-GAST Experience

Brainstorming session ongoing at a recent science workshop in Accra
Science is commonly viewed as a process of obtaining knowledge through experimentation and observation. This means that scientific knowledge is generated through extensive interaction of learners with the physical and natural world. It appears that the role of the teacher, therefore, is to provide students with the requisite tools to embark on this journey of discovery, filled with adventure, curiosity and wonder. Once interest is stimulated and maintained, the rest is history.
Yet in Ghana, especially at the basic school level, lack of basic laboratory materials and equipment interfere with the ideal of teaching science using a hands-on approach. Without proper practicals or demos, students find it more challenging to understand topics taught in class. This may partly be responsible for the general poor performance of basic school pupils in their end-of-studies examinations.

Thankfully, the above situation may soon be in the past as the educational paradigm shifts towards more engaging instructional approaches. One such proposition is low-cost science practicals, designed and run using very cheap readily available resources. A recent workshop jointly organised by the Greater Accra branch of the Ghana Association of Science Teachers (GAST) and Practical Education Network (PEN) introduced district science coordinators and some selected basic school science teachers to some of these activities.

Indicator being extracted from some flowers

The workshop was facilitated by Heather Beem of PEN and MIT D-Lab, while Saddik Mohammed and colleagues from GAST coordinated the logistics. Thomas Tagoe, Habib Sumaila, and myself played various supporting roles over the three days. The workshop covered basic science activities for selected topics in the Junior High School (JHS) curriculum. Apart from performing pre-set experiments, Heather introduced a framework useful for designing new science activities, and solving problems in general. This was well-received and tested by the educators. Feedback from the participants, the facilitator, and the organisers was positive. The science coordinators promised to transfer their experiences to the teachers in their districts through follow-up workshops. The workshop blog and GH Scientific covered details of what transpired.

Heather explaining the design cycle

All in all, being part of the PEN-GAST workshop was a useful experience as I learnt some cool science tricks I would be likely to try out some time. More importantly, I connected with many people influencing science education at the basic level in Ghana, namely science coordinators and teachers. We discussed how some of their own projects fit into initiatives such as Global Lab Ghana, Ghana Educators Network and GH Scientific. There are many opportunities for further collaborations! Finally, I shared some online tools, communities and resources that could be useful for their future learning and work.

Learning science should not only involve memorisation and reasoning, but also performing activities and developing skills. The PEN-GAST workshop demonstrated that cost cannot always inhibit science in action. Teachers can take advantage common low-cost materials to give school science a new twist. This will go a long way to contribute to raising competent innovators and problem solvers of the future.

What are your personal experiences learning science? In what ways can teachers make studying science more fun and engaging? Views welcome!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Celebrating the Heroes of Youth Entrepreneurship at BarCamp Kumasi 2014 #bcksi

If you're around Kumasi this weekend, please join GhanaThink and its partners for the fifth BarCamp Kumasi at KNUST. Find more details and info on how to register on the poster below.

BarCamp Kumasi 2014 is the 38th barcamp to be held in Ghana #bcksi
Want to know more? Read this blog post by MIghTy African

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

BarCamp Ho and the Quest for Scientific and Entrepreneurial Thinking in Ghana #bcho

Mentoring session ongoing at BarCamp Ho 2014
Last Saturday, 25th October, I joined other change makers at the University of Health and Allied Sciences for the fourth BarCamp Ho. This was my first barcamp in over a year, so I was really excited to have been part of the event. Here are Storify highlights of what transpired. 


After an initial hesitation, I accepted to 'mentor' some attendees (many of them university or senior high school students) on "education and research", drawing on experiences in science education and postgraduate studies. Upon reflection, since many of the attendees asked the same questions, perhaps, a breakout session on the topic would have been more appropriate. Also, it would have been nice to pick everyone's brain on what can be done to improve the quality of research in Ghana, and to increase its role in policy making. This is very important since science provides tools to fix our day-to-day challenges. A more robust research regime in West African would see regional challenges such as ebola, small arms, and energy shortage, handled with greater efficiency than is currently done.

The above submission ties in well with the overall theme of this year's BarCamp Ho: "re-educating ourselves for the new entrepreneurial world", although not immediately apparent. Most of the day's discussions centred on creating business ventures and new instructional/coaching models to raise entrepreneurial champions. While these propositions are rightly in place, it is equally important to extend our conception of entrepreneurial thought to disrupting education and advancing scientific research. Innovation on these frontiers do not only require increased scientific knowledge but also technical aptitude to analyse society's problems and to design and implement solutions to tackle them. Clearly, there is an urgent need to liaise with government, businesses, and the larger society to adopt research as a critical tool for development. The achievement of this feat requires entrepreneurial acumen on a scale similar to what pertains in the business context. Our long-term challenge, therefore, is to create educational opportunities that would enhance the inculcation of critical skills among learners at various educational levels. In the short-term, government must invest more in science education and research. The current situation where less than 0.5% of GDP is allocated to science and technology in Ghana is not only shocking but shameful.
Re-educating ourselves for the new entrepreneurial world requires raising leaders in politics, business and communication, to create revenue-generating projects and to position our country in a favourable light in the global milieu. Just as important is the task to increase the quality of science education and the level of scientific thinking in the general population. We need to build the right environment for scientific research that would lead to inventions and innovations. Also, we need to encourage a maker culture through collaborations between our universities, research institutes and informal makers. I am sure someone said this at the barcamp: "what are we going to market when we do not produce much?"

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Discussing Entrepreneurial Education and Remembering Eli Aidam at BarCamp Ho 2014

I've not written any posts on this blog or elsewhere online in a while because I was busy with the dissertation phase of my masters degree. I learnt a lot over the past year, especially from working on my final project. I am thankful for successfully completing the course.    

BarCamp Ho 2014 is upon us; this is Volta region's fourth barcamp since the first event in 2011. Find details about this year's event in the flyer below. 


We're dedicating this year's barcamp to the memory of Eli Aidam, our colleague from GhanaThink who tragically passed on earlier this year. 

Eli Aidam: Youth leader- GhanaThink, CCY, etc [Credit: Elvis Bomassah]
Eli, Eric Nii Tackie Tawiah, Bless Nkegbe and myself held the initial meeting at the Ghana Tourist Board Office [Eric's workplace] in October 2011, to plan the first BarCamp Ho. Back then, I quietly admired Eli's pragmatism, resourcefulness, and extensive networking skills. Eli then moved on to become the 'engine' of the Ho barcamps in later years. He was  a true connector, and this came to bear in his work with Centre for Creative Youth, a youth-led initiative focused on nurturing the creative talent of the youth for social change. When Ghana Decides was looking for partners for youth engagement, and later social media training, towards the 2012 elections, Eli was instrumental in bringing CCY on board. We remember Eli for his dreams, hard work, and selflessness, But, perhaps more importantly, we would remember him for being our friend.

So join us at the University of Health and Allied Sciences this Saturday 25th October to map out creative ways of personal development to aid youth to function in an increasingly entrepreneurial world, while we remember a dear colleague who exemplified that philosophy.