By Candace M. Moore, Jillian A. Martin, & Michael Boakye-Yiadom
"Before engaging in this course, I was unaware of what it truly meant to be a global leader and practitioner in higher education. Through engaging pre-and-post trip classes and the immersive experience, my perspective and understanding of higher education has been expanded beyond the United States. My experience in Ghana has me empowered and better equipped [me] to learn, collaborate, and make an impact on a global level"
- Alexis Foley, MEd Student, Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education, University of Maryland, College Park
In December 2015, Drs. Moore and Martin participated in the Ghana Study Abroad in Education (GSAE!) program with Dr. Cynthia Dillard at the University of Georgia as faculty co-facilitator and student, respectively. It was an eye-opening and life-changing opportunity to work with students, faculty, and educators in Ghana throughout the duration of the study abroad program. The Higher Education in Ghana Study Abroad (HEGC!) program is in direct response to call for more collaborative programs between higher education in Ghana and the United States.
In this blog post, we will be discussing the HEGC! program and how we developed the course with a focus on collaborative and decolonizing practices. In the first section of the blog post, we discuss how we developed the course and our focus on Ghanaian higher education and student affairs. In the next section, we discuss how we employed collaborative and decolonizing practices in the development and implementation of the course. In the final section, we discuss the future of higher education and student affairs in Ghana, West Africa.
The Development of the Higher Education in Ghana! (HEGC!) Program
The Higher Education in Ghana Study Abroad (HEGC!) program through the University of Maryland, College Park, Education Abroad Office focused on being competitive in a globalized society, cultivating a strong foundation in liberal arts education, contributing to a globally minded, but active local citizenry, and committing itself to engaging in inclusion and social justice education. Through pre-trip class sessions, 11 days in-country experiences, and post-trip classes, the program participants explored Ghanaian higher education, with an emphasis on student affairs’ practices, as well as reexamined issues of social justice and power dynamics through a different cultural lens.
As noted in our pedagogical statement in our course syllabus, we are constantly concerned with the educational environment for which we help to foster in and out of the classroom with students. We approached our work with care and intentionality. Our general goal is for the HEGC! Students, faculty, and Ghanaian partners to co-construct knowledge and gain an understanding as it relates concepts of oppression, privilege, gender, race, social class, spirituality/religious practices, environmental press, resistance theory, constructionism, and critical theory during the class. Within this goal, we decentered notions of the Western world as the site for best and promising practices in student affairs and higher education. The central question throughout the HEGC! experience was: What can this experience teach me about my practice as a global leader in my field?
It is important to note the disparities of U.S. study abroad opportunities that involve West African countries. Moreover, West Africa is often overlooked as a location for study abroad programs; there is a great deal of formal and cultural knowledge awaiting the attention of U.S. higher education scholars and practitioners. The HEGC! program not only expanded the scope of study abroad options, it also focused on project based learning for students in collaboration with higher education/student services professionals in Ghana. Additionally, targeting non-undergraduate students and student affairs/higher education professionals increases access to study abroad education for graduate level students and higher education professionals, particularly considering the limited access for graduate students to engage in study abroad education. Moreover, since the program had a project based experiential learning design, participants were able to strengthen their assessment, evaluation, and program improvement skills and acknowledge; yet, center the educational mission and cultural influences of Ghanaian higher education. Additionally, the program provided an opportunity for graduate level students and student affairs/higher education professionals to expand their framework of practice in an international context, supporting their development as social justice educators. Participants emerged from the HEGC! program having gained increased skills and acknowledge as it pertains to assessment, evaluation, and program improvement practices and a more informed value of global citizenry through social justice education.
Employing Collaborative and Decolonizing Practices in HEGC!
The Higher Education in the Ghanaian Context Study Abroad (HEGC!) program focused on the role of student affairs in the context of Ghanaian higher education. As social justice educators, student affairs and higher education professionals should understand the implications of higher education and the role of student affairs in an international context. Particularly considering the sociohistorical relationship between the United States and West Africa, HEGC! expanded beyond Western ideals of social justice education and engage participants in a critical examination of their commitment to global citizenry. Michael Boakye-Yiadom, Ph.D. (author), is a research fellow at the University of Cape Coast’s Institute for Educational Planning & Administration in Cape Coast, Ghana, and served as a collaborator for the HECG! Program. He was instrumental in reviewing the course design, content, and organizing
This course targeted current graduate students in student affairs, higher education, international education, and public policy programs and student affairs, higher education/international education professionals. We designed the course for participants to: (a) gain new insight into the rich culture and traditions of the country and people of Ghana, (b) explore the role of higher education in Ghana and its connections to the P-12 educational pipeline in a post liberation Ghanaian context, (c) articulate the role of student affairs in the context of Ghanaian colleges and universities, and (d) identify/co-construct useful resources/tools with Ghanaian higher education student services personnel professionals (SSPP) through a project based experiential learning design.
As mentioned above, the course had three components: pre-emersion experience meetings, immersion experience, and post-emersion experience meetings and symposium. In each component of the course content, we reviewed the content and itinerary with partners in Ghana. Further, we focused the framing of each of the components, readings, assignments, and discussions with a focus on the Ghanaian context as post-liberation. This framing was intentional in considering the pre-colonial, colonial, and neo-colonial historical ties to Western culture and how those ties impact the Ghanaian context. Consistently, we asked participants to consider how their preconceived notions about the African continent generally and Ghana specifically were informed by a Western gaze of superiority and supremacy.
During the pre-emersion experience meetings, we introduced the students to the history and culture of Ghana and Ghanaian higher education through course readings, reflections, and discussions. We assigned three primary texts for the course: Neo-colonialism: The last stage of imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president following Ghanaian independence from British colonial rule), The African Experience with Higher Education by notable African historian J.F. Ade Ajayi, and the critically-acclaimed Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which is a fictional history novel about the Ghana-United States connection. We supplemented these main texts with chapters and articles authored by Ghanaian and American authors that aligned with the above learning objectives to guide students’ understanding of Ghanaian history and culture broadly, Ghanaian higher education and student affairs and services, and the connections between Ghana and the United States. Our discussions of these readings and experiences in country focused on the big question for the course and on understanding the contexts in which student affairs and services professionals in Ghanaian higher education operated.
The hallmark of our course was our collaboration with faculty and professionals at the University of Cape Coast on experiential learning projects. The focus of this project was for students to understand the context from the perspective of their partners and work collaboratively on the project as a form of shared, local knowledge. Course participants worked in groups with three UCC partners -- Centre for International Education, Office of the Dean of Students, and Office of Institutional Advancement -- on projects identified by the partners. As part of the course assignments, course participants completed needs assessments, literature reviews, and a final proposal for their project scopes.
In addition to this project, course participants also completed reflections throughout the course including daily reflections while in country. We designed these reflections for students to both reflect on their experiences throughout the course as well as their own practice as educators. One of the most significant themes across the reflections was participants’ change of perceptions regarding Ghana and the global influence of West and colonialism within the Ghanaian context.
During the immersion experience of the course, participants engaged with faculty, administrators, and students at four universities (University of Ghana-Legon, Kwame Nkrumah University of Sciences and Technology, University of Cape Coast, and Ashesi University) during the in-country portion of the course. At the University of Cape Coast, participants engaged with their project partners to learn and work on their projects in context. In addition to the campus visits, the participants supported the local economies, engaged with community leaders and members, and expanded their cultural lens through visits to Kwame Nkrumah's Mausoleum, the Arts Centers in Accra and Cape Coast, Bonwire (the kente weaving village in Kumasi), Ntonso Craft Village (the village of Adinkra stampers, also in Kumasi), Asin Manso (the River of the Last Bath), the Asante Palace, the open-air market in Kumasi, and Cape Coast Castle.
Finally, in the post-emersion experience meetings and symposium, students finalized their proposals for their UCC partner, reflected on their experience in country and adjustment post-country through written reflections and course discussions, and participated in a symposium to present their proposal to the UCC partners. These meetings connected participants’ experiences in the Ghanaian and American contexts having them reflect across the course components to answer the course’s big question: What can this experience teach me about my practice as a global leader in my field? We concluded the course with a symposium at the University of Maryland inviting colleagues in Ghana virtually.
The Future of Higher Education and Student Affairs in Ghana
By Michael Boakye-Yiadom
The Higher Education in Ghana Study Abroad (HEGC!) program was an exciting experience for both participants and the Ghanaian higher education partners at the University of Cape Coast. It was an opportunity for participants to understand higher education in a Ghanaian context. In particular, it was a platform for participants to use their experiences in American higher education to inform practice in a Ghanaian context through partnership with University of Cape Coast staff. Learning outcomes were achieved, participants returned to the United States with a feeling of accomplishment, and demonstrated excellence at the post-study abroad symposium. Similarly, partners at the University of Cape Coast made meaning out of participants’ projects with staff at the Offices of Dean of Students, Institutional Advancement, and Center for International Education. I participated in three separate meetings in April 2018 that discussed recommendations that came out of the projects. The recommendations have been well received by the Ghanaian faculty and practitioners!
Ghanaian higher education continues to be one of the best in Africa. We have well-trained faculty and staff, and our students and alumni demonstrate commitment to excellence. The past two decades have seen strategic partnerships with many local and international universities. Research projects and outreach of faculty have increased and many of these activities have attracted grants from both local and international organizations. Our commitment to create and sustain innovative culture on our campuses is at its peak. Leadership practices have improved and higher education leadership in Ghana has embraced quality research, technology and strategic partnerships as necessary conditions for the needed positive transformation that we deserve. Two significant research questions (How do exemplary educational leaders achieve institutional effectiveness? How are student experiences enhanced in effective universities?) of an ongoing study “Documenting Exemplary Educational Leadership Practices in Ghanaian Higher Education” has the potential of coming out with reference material for higher education and student affairs practice in Ghana. As the principal investigator of this study, and a passionate Ohio University trained higher education and student affairs faculty at the University of Cape Coast, I welcome research partners who are interested in international and comparative higher education.
Studies have shown that student affairs as a profession is evolving in Ghanaian higher education. Many student affairs practitioners do not have the required academic and professional training. In most public universities in Ghana, faculty from different academic disciplines doubles as Dean of Students (Boakye-Yiadom, 2015). Many functional areas of student affairs are not well defined and developed. Available data that drive student services and educational interventions such as student satisfaction and engagement surveys are limited (Boakye-Yiadom, 2017). These gaps that must be filled to help enhance student experiences on campus. I believe that the Higher Education in Ghana Study Abroad (HEGC!) program has a role to play in supporting student affairs staff in Ghana understand and appreciate the profession from a global context. As these engagements continue, the mutual benefits through learning, relearning and unlearning will be realized. Institutional partnerships and collaborations that may come out of the Program will help Ghanaian higher education train more professionals in student affairs.
In conclusion, the HEGC program has started well. It must be sustained! Ghanaian partners at the University of Cape Coast will continue to offer the Ghanaian hospitality and support to all participants. Be part of this experience; be part of this engagement; be part of this legacy. History is being written and you cannot miss out. Ghana awaits you in 2019 and beyond.
[A recording of the Higher Education in the Ghanaian Context Symposium is available here.]