How can we better educate our children?

Have you ever thought about the difference between being imaginative and being creative? Last week, I went to a book launch where educator Dr. Naomi Adjepong of Alpha Beta Education Centers asked this question. She suggested that imagination exists just in our head, while creativeness is acted out. Her context was Ghanaian education. Are we educating creatives in Ghana?

At the same event, spelling bee champion Eugenia Tachie-Menson spoke on how education can be fun and how reading books for pleasure is a wonderful way of improving both your thinking and vocabulary. (The event was fellow blogger Golda Addo’s book launch for her novel “The Shimmer in the Photo Album”, Golda is in the orange boubou below, next to Tachie-Menson).

I am lucky to send my children to a private school where both teachers and administrators are happy to take up suggestions from parents, however, they tell me that more often than not the parents that approach them demand “more exams, more exercises, and more sitting in the classroom”.

Personally, I would rather see children under the age of 5 or even 10 spend more time outdoors playing than sitting still and quiet in the classroom. The start-up Tinkergarten, sponsored by among others Omidyar Group, is developing outdoor activities to encourage children “tinkering” or playing outdoors. Activities include looking at bugs, making soap bubbles, or building a bird nest for humans! They write on their website:

“Tinkergarten’s curriculum both engages and delights a wide range of kids ages 18 months-8 years old. As a season unfolds, unique themes and challenges build lesson to lesson. These themes and challenges evolve one season to the next as children progress through the program. In each lesson, an engaging scenario unfolds that allows kids to launch and direct their own play. No two kids ever have the same experience, because it’s the process that matters. Adults play a role, too, as they observe, honor and support their child’s independent exploration and playful learning.”

To prepare our children for the future, I believe they have to be able to read and write, count and perhaps also march in rows, but importantly, in addition, they also need practice communication, empathy, solving problems in groups, building things, asking questions,seeing new places, adapting to different environments, failing and dusting themselves off to try again.

Are we educating creatives in Ghana? And if we are not, what will be the consequences?

Photo : Paul Ninson

 

My Children Speak Three Languages: Here Are My Thoughts About It

My brother reads to my children. In Swedish.

In our family, we speak three languages: English is the common language that all of us speak, then I speak Swedish with the kids (which my children’s father can understand some, but cannot speak it), and the children’s father speaks Fanti, an Akan language ( which I only have a basic level of understanding and proficiency) with them. People around us speak either English or Fanti or other dialects of Akan, in school, my daughter is taught in English. We Skype with my Swedish family in Swedish maybe once a week.

Swedish is hence the language my children hear the least of.

My thoughts around teaching them my language are:

  1. It is extremely important to me they speak my mother-tongue. It is the lauguage in which I can express myself best and it is the carrier of my culture. My children speaking Swedish is non-negotiable and I am envisioning them speaking Swedish fluently as adults, on a level high enough it would not immediately be possible to tell they did not always live in Sweden.
  2. If I, their mother, speak Swedish, they will too. I therefore try and speak as much in Swedish with them as I can. Honestly, I constantly disappoint myself and end up speaking English much more than I intend to, but I try to be forgiving, switch to Swedish when I realize I am rattling on in English and say to myself that “tomorrow is a new day…”
  3. To increase my children’s Swedish vocabulary, we read books every day. I try to read to them every night I am home for about 45 minutes (5 nights a week). We have many children’s’ books in Swedish, but I also do direct translations from books in English (and the one in French!). We also converse around pictures in the books.
  4. Mixing languages is ok. The Multilingual Children’s Association agrees and calls it “harmless and temporary”. If my children speak mixing English and Swedish, and they do that quite a bit, I might translate to Swedish in my response to them. For instance,  they might say: “…and kaninen [the rabbit] fall down”,  I can respond “Ja, den ramlade…” [Yes, it fell]. But I don’t want to coerce them into speaking Swedish as I don’t want there to be any ill-feeling towards the language. At times that means I will be speaking Swedish and they will respond in English. Good enough.
  5. We spend at least one month in a Swedish-speaking environment every year. I think it is sometimes good to be emersed in the language and “forced” to speak (but I am not contradicting myself, the force that comes naturally from speaking to someone who prefers Swedish is very different to be made to speak to someone who speaks both languages).
  6. I take help from technology. When my children play iPad games or watch movies, I make sure some of them are in Swedish. It is also a great way of adding the cultural aspect of life in Sweden such as current favorites Barnen i Bullerbyn and Astrid får en lillebror.
  7. I think of next steps. However, I realize my children lack some specific vocabulary, for instance, words for play in Swedish (My child: “Hello, let’s play HIDE AND SEEK”, Swedish child: *blank face*), so I would love to organize playdates for them with Swedish speaking children. I know a few here in Ghana and am aware of a Swedish family moving to our town soon. Likely my Swedish would improve with some more practice as well!

If you have experiences with a multilingual life, I would love to hear your story!

Thanks to Charlie’s comment and Nadja’s facebook post which inspired this post!

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting

Parenting in a New Environment

I am bringing my children up in an environment that is very different from how I grew up. Is that a problem or an added richness to their and my lives? 

Maybe I have to start with what the differences are between my rural Swedish upbringing on the island of Gotland in the 1980ies and my girls’ in the industrial city of Tema, Ghana today:

It is much warmer for once, ok, ok to be more serious, they are exposed to more inequality, malaria mosquitoes, carbohydrates, direct sun, rigid school from an early age, time on iPads, and religion than I was and that I would prefer for them. However, they also have access to more extended family on a regular basis (my parents were mostly on their own) meaning a calm and regular schedule not depending on my workdays or moods, they speak several languages, while I only spoke Swedish until English was introduced in class 4. They eat less processed foods as that is not affordable in Ghana and know from our chicken and rabbit farms how meat gets on the table.

The behavioral culture in Ghana differs from the culture in Sweden in most ways from how to greet someone (a lengthy conversation including nicknames, hand holding, asking of family vs. “hej”) to how to behave as a child (don’t speak until spoken to vs. do what you want, you are a kid!). Generally, while I am still learning how to behave – I imagine it is good to know that contexts matter.

I do not usually worry much about this, mostly because as you can see, I think it evens out pretty much. Every time and place is different. Knowing different cultures is a definite advantage in every way. But as a parent, sometimes, like today, I just long for the 1980ies Swedish playful daycare “dagis”, no pressure, no religion or threat of the cane, meatballs and potatoes with a glass of milk for lunch, stuff I know and understand for my children.

Photo: Selma and Ellen getting a weekend lesson in plucking a hen from their cousin and his girlfriend who live with us.

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting.

My #2016bestnine on Instagram

Last year I increased my presence on Instagram and ended up with 244 posts which were liked a whopping 6971 times! Thank you!

(and if you are not part of the 800+ people who follow me yet, I am @KajsaHA there too!)

You apparently like:

  1. Me graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in African Studies from University of Ghana
  2. Me taking a selfie with an umbrella and a yellow Ginko Biloba tree at the Mall in Washington DC (steps away from where people did NOT assemble for someone’s inauguration last week)
  3. My daughter Ellen zipping up my dress.
  4. Smiley husband and I on a night out at the National Theatre.
  5. An intimate sibling embrace.
  6. Girls being silly in new swim caps.
  7. Garden marvels (it is palm nut kernels!).
  8. Long shadows on one of the shortest days of the year.
  9. Live broadcast technology that allows my mother in Sweden to follow my graduation in Ghana (see #1)

Comment on what you want to see in 2017!

 

My Children on the Blog

So in-between blogging, researching, and teaching, I do have a private life. The main part of that life is my two children. I have mentioned them every now and then here on the blog, like when they were born: Selma in 2011  & Ellen in 2014, and in a post on our racialized lives “You are yellow and I am brown” and in a post on how to carry a baby Ghana style (one of my few videos). 

2016-08-23-07-31-39

However, I would like to write a little more here on the blog about my children, things we do together, and challenges we face as a family. I will do so under the category: Parenting.

While some might feel one should not “expose” children online, I see my online life as a part of my life and it feels strange to “hide” them away from my blog. Also as my children grow and frankly become more fun to hang out with, I think I have more to say about them, their activities, and about life with children more generally. I am mindful of that they are their own people who should get to tell their own story, but until they start their own blogs (oh, what a dizzying thought!), I think I can say quite a bit more without compromising their integrity.

If you have ideas on topics you’d like to read relating to life with children, do leave a comment!

How to Carry a Baby Ghana Style: Video

I have written on this topic before, here for YouTube tips and on when I met a Ghanaian mother who carried her baby like a European, in front, but I have fogotten to post the video I made myself about a year ago with my daughter and nanny playing the lead roles.

Of course my clip is better edited, music included, and explains this West African wisdom better than all competitors out there on the web, or what say you?

 

View from Ghana: Education

This post is part of Ghanablogging‘s monthly theme post “a view out of Ghana” – this month we write on education.

In school we have other names

School uniform, school bag and white socks in black shoes
Ama and myself
and many others
(but in school we have other names)

Lining up in front of  ‘new block’ (although it doesn’t look new)
On the red dirt football field
Standing still
(Longing for eating a bo’flot during the morning break)
(Thinking in Fante but) answering “yes, sah”
when asked if I swept the headmistress’ office

First period is Social science
(I have memorized the definition of marriage)
Sun is hot
Standing still
(schh Ama)
Keeping quiet

(Is this Education?)

>Chimamanda Adichie: The Problem of A Single Story

>

A storyteller has as a job to tell stories that are engaging and important. Chimamanda Adichie‘s account of how single stories have inflicted on her life – and on the African countries we love, is both engaging and important. The single (negative) image of “Africa” that I have been trying to complement in 200+ blog posts here on Rain In Africa, she covers in under 20 minutes.

And luckily, it has been recorded as a TED speech that I can recommend to all of you. For you who are temporarily busy, her powerful conclusion can suffice for now – but when you have time, do listen to her in full.

When we reject the single story, we regain paradise.

Chimamanda Adichie most known works are: Half Of A Yellow Sun (I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this book – I adored it) and Purple Hibiscus.

>Ghanaian Names Return: A Trend?

> Recently, Ghanaian traditional names seem to have gained popularity. FAF spotted it first here.

He writes:

A trend that I’ve seen lately though suggests that might be about to change in the next generation. I cant say I’ve done much research into this so it’s based largely of a few friends that I’d lost contact wiht suddenly popping up on Facebook and other places with the English names gone.

It’s nothing drastic like coming up with a whole new name, just simply dropping the English one and letting the usually Ghanaian middle names take precedence.

Victoria is now Nana Ama
Isaac is Nene
Franklin changed to Kojo Ohene
Raymond morphed into Paa Kojo
Dorcas likes to be called Nana Konadu
Bright is now Kwame

The phenomenon is jokingly called “Name Dropping”, by above mentioned blogger. Remember where you heard it first!

So, Ghanaians like their Ghanaian names – and why shouldn’t they?

As a foreigner living in this country I have also adopted one. I’m EwuraAma to some friends, neighbors, business contacts unhidden joy. Sometimes I use it beacuse it is practical. My Swedish name (Tagsa? Aiysha?) is often not heard right and NEVER spelled right – but other times it isn’t even about practicality, I just want to show people I care about Ghanaian culture and that I am trying my best to be a part of it.

At the other end, I also find it easier to remember Ghanaian names since they many times can be related to a weekday, which leads to a discussion “oh, so you are also born on a Saturday, then we’re twins!” or “I have a good friend who is also a Thursday born!”.

The only problem with this trend is that sometimes when I meet with friends half of us, both men and women, are called Nana!

Pic: Painting at the DuBois Center that I snapped some time back and I now feel illustrates this topic very well.

>Henning Mankell Talks about Imagination on BBC The Forum

> Swedish writer and Africa-lover Henning Mankell was on BBC the other day in a very interesting discussion with Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Iranian British chilspsychotherapist Camila Batmanghelidj (love the “Batman-ish” name!).

Henning Mankell was making the claim that imagination is more than just an expression of creativity – sometimes imagination is used for raw survival. I was driving when I tuned into the program and it was so fascinating that I never wanted to reach my destination. Hear for yourself here.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel borrowed from the BBC The Forum to visualize the above described discussion.

>Why Is Africa Begging?

> Last night, I went to the Goethe Institute in Accra to see their current exhibit open. I go to a lot of these events, being a lover of the arts, but this one was special becuase the artists were school children – well, rather youths – and hence represent the future of Ghanaian art.

There were giraffes, portraits, market scenes and animal sculptures – most notably a beautiful plaster owl made by a young man not much bigger then the owl itself.

But there was also a piece that grabbed my attention because of its clear message. Allison Elisabeth and Pele Vuncujovi had together created the African continent in papier maché – richly decorated in red, green and gold. In the middle of the continent a pair of black hands mysteriously stretch out, as if they were asking for something. As you stand back to look at the installation, you see a question mark circling the hands.

In the picture the artists by their work.