This week I have been nursery school hunting. On Monday, I grumbled about there not being a service I could search to find the nursery schools in West Legon and then just call them on the phone to ask my questions. ‘Why do I have to go all that way and waste my time driving around to find and look at schools I’ll eventually reject? O Ghana!’
This is a popular format for complaints about life here. First the complaint, then the proposed solution, then ‘O Ghana!’, then you start the navigation of whatever tedious process you were complaining about. At no point need you decide to do something about the source of ire. That’s not part of the procedure. If you do, great. But if you don’t, that’s fine too. I didn’t, of course. I grumbled, I said o Ghana! Then I hopped into my car and went kindergarten hunting.
Because my babies can’t talk, picking a school is a big issue. I will never know truly how their school works and how they are treated; they can’t tell me. So I’d rather err on the side of caution. I was lucky the first few days to catch the schools at times when their heads were out. The last days I tried to do so deliberately. This gave me a fair idea of how the teachers spoke to the children. In one school as I was walking out I heard a teacher yell at a kid, ‘Hey, fi ho ko! stupid boy. Look at his hard stomach’.
If the Head was out, I would be asked to wait and speak to a teacher. I learnt much about the quality of staff this way. ‘Well me, I don’t know much. But I will avyse you to came back tomorrow. By den, de madam hersef will be in or if not de secretary will comes’ a teacher told me in another school.
I’m wary of schools that tag ‘international’ or ‘Montessori’ onto their names. That is code speak for ‘we charge an arm and a leg and if we can manage it your two front teeth’. There was a school that claimed to be both ‘international’ and ‘Montessori’. That sounded like the loss a lot of body parts. I had no intention of checking it out till my dad made me feel bad that I was exploring only cheap options. ‘These are your children Mammie. They are all you have. You shouldn’t hesitate to spend on them. Go and look at it. If it is good and you can afford it, put the boys there. Their foundation is critical. After all what can you spend on that is more important than your children’s health, food and education?’ So shamed into feeling like a cheapskate I put it on my list and dutifully went there.
It is a purpose built nursery school which is nice. Most preschools in this city are tucked into an extension at the back of the house, the garage or the boys’ quarters. When I saw the compound, fenced in with a high concrete wall, the gate marked ‘Entry’ manned by a uniformed security guard; I knew it would be expensive. I went in to see the principal and speak to her.
A pleasant looking middle aged woman informed me in good, clear English that the ‘administrator’( not the usual ‘headmistress’ or ‘proprietress’ ) was not in. She could answer my questions if I didn’t mind speaking to her. I didn’t and was offered a seat. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was a notice written with a marker on a blackboard in the corner. It said, ‘today’s rate is USD 1: GHC 1.4280’. That’s when I should have left. I remained seated though I had made up my mind already. Not only was the bill in dollars but they wrote a daily rate?
Felicity, she said her name was, finished penning a note and came to sit with me for our chat. How old were my children? They would be in the same class. And with that sentence she provided me my first non-financial objection to the school. I do not want my boys in the same class. Being 11 months apart, of similar proportions and a noticeable resemblance, they are often thought to be twins. Even with one now learning to crawl and the other running on two wobbly legs, people do not think it odd to ask if they are twins. I do not want that to be compounded by them being forced to become classmates.
Then I asked about fees. Preschoolers pay $270 a term as well as an admission fee of $200. No they would be on vacation in July. But the preschool department would be open for the convenience of mothers. At an extra cost of curse. It was as yet undecided. I would also have to pay PTA dues of $30. That brings it to a round sum of $500 for each child. ‘Right then, thank you.’ ‘Won’t you leave your details please, we’d like to get in touch.’ ‘No, don’t worry about it. I’m shopping around for a school that’s in session in July. If I don’t find one, I’ll come back.’ ‘O ok. then, goodbye.’ ‘goodbye.’
As I walked down the exit route, I passed by the preschool classroom. It was a nice large classroom. Otherwise it didn’t look much different than many of the kindergartens I had been to earlier in the week. There were 5 children in the class and a teacher who was leading them in singing ‘Polly put the kettle on’.
500 dollars! For ‘Polly put the kettle on’? Who doesn’t know how to sing ‘Polly put the kettle on’??!! I was not so much daunted as disgusted by the price. 500 dollars a term for preschool education, in a country where a1000 dollars a month makes for a cushy job?! $15,000 a year two income families are considered middle income and you want to charge $500 for preschoolers! You have got to be kidding.
Now I know that is the range of GIS, Lincoln, Faith Montessori and many other schools in the city centre. That doesn’t offend me. They make no secret of the fact that they are targeted at expatriate communities that can afford it. Also, they are full blown schools, not just nursery and kindergarten. Furthermore, they are in town, where the children’s parents work. West Legon is a middle-high income residential area. Few people work there who earn even $800.
I think that’s what really annoyed me. You want to sit in a neighbourhood where upper middle class people live but do not work, set up a school their older kids cannot attend and charge 500 dollars to teach preschoolers ‘Polly put the kettle on’.
I’m sure its working for them. There are after all 5 children in that class and two in nursery so they must be doing okay. Maybe its just because I am not rich that it bothers me. Maybe if I were, I would think nothing of the cost. I don’t think twice about the GHC4.50 I pay at Celsbridge for the grilled thigh of a chicken that costs 10 cedis in the market. Maybe there’s nothing amiss and its just poor people talk.
I’ve settled on a crèche two junctions from my parents’ place. I wouldn’t call it a posh preschool. But its decent. The woman I spoke to says their fees are ‘seventy Ghana sidis’ a term. This pronunciation of Cedis [pronounced CDs) is a pet peeve of mine. It just irritates the living daylights out of me. Otherwise she spoke well and was pleasant. They too sang ‘Polly put the kettle on’ while I was there incidentally. And they sang it well.
The school is not in session in July but they will have vacation classes because of the really small babies. Years ago, before motherhood came up, I found vacation classes for such little children a stupid extortion measure. What have they learnt in class one that is so overwhelming that they can’t take a break and have a real vacation? Today I find myself nodding approvingly when the lady tells me they will be having vacation classes because of the young ones.
I’m going to save those 500 dollars that would have given my boys a posh kindergarten experience and use it to put them through the finest quality elemental education that Ghana Sidis can buy. I’m certain between their devoted parents and their top notch primary school, we’ll be able to teach them to pronounce it properly.