The assembly hall was full of crisply uniformed high school boys, hundreds of them, standing room only. Despite the midday heat, everyone seemed captivated by the speeches by the Mayor of Kumasi, a spokeswoman for the Education Minister, the CEO of Zain Africa and other top Ericsson and Zain executives for Ghana. They were all gathered at Opoku Ware Senior High School, a public school in Ghana’s second largest city, to announce a break-through school-to-school partnership, made possible by a collaboration between Zain, Ericsson, the Mayor, the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, the Ghana Education Service and the Millennium Cities Initiative. MCI had proposed the partnership, recognizing it would make a world of difference in improving access to education for students in Kumasi and beyond.
Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs gave the kids a homework assignment: Learn about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he said, and make them a reality. Professor Sachs explained that MCI, together with these wonderful partners, is linking schools, their students and teachers to the global community of knowledge, and through this, to boundless opportunity. “We are here to give you the tools,” he told the students. “Your job is to lead the way.”
The students cheered, excited. While Opoku Ware boasts some of Ghana’s most illustrious leaders among its alumni, it suffers from the same afflictions of other public schools in the developing world, with dilapidated structures, limited library and science equipment, few or no computers and no connectivity. So the decision to use this venerable institution as the venue for the launch of Kumasi’s school-to-school initiative (s2s) was a point of pride for everyone there, and for Opoku Ware alums around the world. I’ve already heard from some of them – from Accra and Tema, Ghana’s port city, as well as from Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, GA. The word has traveled quickly: MCI has helped their alma mater leap into the 21st century and join the global quest for knowledge and understanding.
After the formal Memorandum of Understanding was signed, the delegation made its way across the verdant, sprawling campus to the just-completed computer lab, newly outfitted with 15 desktops, thanks to the Mayor and the City of Kumasi. There they found some of the boys busily Skyping, IM-ing and emailing with some of the students from Washington, DC’s Sidwell Friends School who had come to Kumasi last March, to teach and conduct labs about water quality with their peers at Opoku Ware Junior High School. After that very successful exchange, Kumasi’s junior high school principals asked MCI to focus their s2s partnerships on strengthening the Kumasi students’ abilities in the areas of science, math and technology. It was this request, from the Kumasi educators themselves, which so intrigued Ericsson and Zain, the Mayor and the Kumasi Metropolitan Department of Education, and that inspired this ground-breaking s2s partnership.
Eighteen schools will soon be connected to partner schools in the United States, and each pair will determine the focus and nature of their interactions around these subjects. Teacher-to-teacher mentoring and discussion will play a big part of this initiative as well. Over time, MCI will study the students’ attendance and drop-out rates, as well as their interest, and their teachers’, in these areas of study, in geography, and in other issues of global importance, such as climate change, poverty and the MDGs.
The next classroom “visit” between Opoku Ware and Sidwell Friends classrooms will take place in two weeks. Based on the rich cultural exchanges and other “chatting” that occurred among the students of the two schools, both in person last spring and this past weekend via the Internet, it seems the sky’s the limit: exciting topics will soon be studied, friendships will be forged and newly heightened career aspirations now wait only to be fulfilled.