Thursday, 25 September 2014

My Journey through School Gardens in the Central region of Ghana

It is a great honour for me to be given this platform to share my experiences with respect to school gardens in Ghana. During my recent trip to Ghana (my home country) on April 28, 2014, I had an opportunity to carry out a research on behalf of UBC Orchard Garden.  The purpose of the study was to explore the use of school Gardens in Ghana. 

Ghana is located in West Africa, with a population of about 24 million.

Map of Africa

Participating schools 

My research journey led me to four schools in the central region of Ghana: two High schools namely, Mankessim  and Aggrey Memorial High school. The respondents consisted of both boarding and day student s aged between 14 -17 years and one Junior high school namely, Jukwa Model Junior High School. The participants were aged between (11-14) years. I was privilege to observe activity based lessons and also conducted interviews with students and teachers on the issue of school gardens and their pedagogical affordances and constraints. In addition, issues such as the kind of crops grown in the garden, cultural and religious reasons and the kind of support they receive from both the government and Non Governmental Organisations were also explored.
Jukwa Model Junior High School

Mankessim Senior High School

Nature of School Gardens Observed

The School gardens observed were mostly large (at least one hectare or more) but segmented into regions or parts for the purpose of the cultivation different kinds of crops and also easy management of the portions allocated to the students. Mostly tropical crops such as: cassava, cocoa, plantain, garden eggs dominate the cultivated lands. Maize and cassava are the major staples in the south western part of Ghana, where these schools are situated. There is a Ghanaian adage which says that “a man who is able to feed his family on maize from harvest to harvest is considered a wealthy person” hence; vast portions of most farms and gardens are used to cultivate maize in many parts of Ghana.
The produce from the school gardens are mostly used to feed the students in the boarding house. For instance, Mankessim Senior High school, one of the schools visited use the produce from the garden to feed its boarding students.
Notwithstanding the high temperatures in Ghana (average of 29C degrees Celsius) some temperate crops such as lettuce, cabbage, and carrots are commonly grown for learning purposes with the aid of erected shades that reduce the impact of direct sun rays on the plants.

Cocoa trees at Mankessim High School
maize farm at Aggrey Memorial High School
Students preparing cassava stems for planting 
Palm plantation at Mankessim High School
Silage prepared by Agricultural Science students at Mankessim High School
 constructing  Sheds to prevent the effect of sun rays on seedlings 
Mankessim Senior High School: Students are assigned to beds
Hoe: A simple tool used for weeding around plants 
Cutlass: A simple  garden tool for weeding and pruning tree branches 
Teacher demonstrates to students how to nurse lettuce 
Manual watering of seedlings 
Students doing hand watering due to lack of modern irrigation facilities in some schools 
Community, Government and NGO Support for school Gardens!

On the issue of the kind of support given those who are engaged in activities pertaining to the school gardens, one of the teachers commented, “…

"We are mostly supported by MOFA (Ministry of Agriculture)  and Development Assistance for school Farms (DASF) to engage in poultry projects  and garden activities. DASF provide us with watering facilities such as tanks and cans while MOFA assists us with some seeds, poultry birds and some technical advice” 

This was revealing to me because  it  was the first time that  I learnt about kind of support the government and an  NGO have been given to the school garden project. This is a novelty in the history of   the school garden project in the country because in the past it was only the communities that use to give a bit of support to the schools in the form of compost and manure. This sort of assistance from the government and the NGO in my estimation would take the school garden project to a different height.

Students’ Share their experiences in the use of School Gardens for teaching

Emmanuel, a student from Jukwa Junior high school shared his experience and feelings about the school garden project at his school:

 “I remember when we first sowed maize seeds and after few days we could see the sprouts of plants. It brought joy and a sense of fulfillment to me.”

Abena, a student from Mankessim High school in expressing her opinion on this issue remarked: 

”I love to be outside. I could have a practical feel of plants as the teacher takes us through the lessons. I’m also able to talk freely with my friends and learn from them. I hardly get such chance in  the classroom" 

These and other thought provoking comments from students revealed their desire and love to connect to “place” and the unforgettable moments they experienced in their encounter with nature. As Wilson, 1997 rightly stated: sense of place’ provide opportunities for immersion or immediate encounters with the natural world, and opportunities for the experience of magic or memorable moments.” (Wilson, 1997, p. 191) Wilson further argues that the concept of place is necessary “for children’s self formation and the idea that our beings are interweaved with our place, in that “landscape, in other words, shapes mindscapes.” (1997, p. 191). 

Expressing the joy of being in the Garden

Some Constraints with the use of School Gardens for teaching
  1. Land tenureship: Getting permanent space for school gardens remains a challenge as communities’ some things claim back lands for other developmental projects.
  2. Loaded nature of School curriculum: Content driven school curriculum hinders amount of time needed for practical garden based lessons
  3.  Lack of irrigation facilities in some schools
  4.  Issues of Safety: Absence of protective cloths, gloves and boots for students to undertake practical lessons in the gardens (See photos)

What more do kids want to learn with Garden?

In reactions to the issue of what children want to learn from the garden project, Kwame remarked; “I wish we could have varieties of crops here…and also some grass cutters and rabbits so that we can learn about both plants and animals”

On this same issue Akose said:

 “I think the idea of having bees here will be exciting. I know nothing about bees. Will like to learn”…

In reaction to the issue in question, one of teachers answered: 

“I tried to involve the math teacher but he seems not to be interested in gardens. I will love to see how gardens are used to teach other subjects such as math, drama, literature and the rest.”

The amazing experience I had out there with these young kids and their teachers in Ghanaian schools throughout this study has given me additional insights into outdoor learning and experiences of children as they encounter with nature. To me, my journey into the world of  gardens has just began hence, I will continue this insightful  journey in my quest to  seek answers to the following  thought – provoking questions as I engage with my UBC Orchard Garden team mates and other outdoor educators:

What can we do as educators to help children growing up in a fast- paced technological world to preserve their sense of attachment to their surroundings and foster their self-identities? 

 “How does place-based education fit into the present world and what meaning does it and can it potentially have to
better the state of education today?” (Rosenthal, 2008).

Thanks for reading

Kwesi Yaro 

MA Candidate 

(Mathematics Education, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

October Harvest Celebration!

Join us for food and engaging learning activities on October 2 from 11am-2pm! Location: Totem Field, 2613 West Mall (see map). The UBC Orchard Garden team looks forward to sharing this event with you.

 The Orchard Garden (an outdoor space for teaching, learning and growing) can be easily reached on foot or via bicycle. There is also parking across from the UBC Forestry building (map).

 To join us, please e-mail Antonia at to RSVP.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

David Suzuki Foundation recommends outdoor environmental education

Student teachers create giant hyperboloid with George Hart
The David Suzuki Foundation's recent article in the Georgia Staight offers compelling arguments for why teaching outside is not only good for students but also good for teachers!

Read the article here.

This suggests that our work at The Orchard Garden with student teachers is also very important and innovative.