Thousands of Ghanaian senior secondary school teachers have been on strike since classes resumed in September, but in a twist of roles students are taking the podium.
Teenagers are lecturing classes, have formed study groups or follow individual daily school plans as their teachers stay home to demand better pay and other benefits. The strike is affecting 360,000 senior secondary students nationwide.
"One student stood up in chemistry class today and lectured on entropy for an hour," said David, 16, of Labone Secondary School in the capital, Accra. Like other students he preferred that his last name not be used.
“If no teacher comes, it's up to you to learn," he said.
Seventeen-year-old Millicent, also of Labone Secondary School, said the more studious teenagers still go to class and hold group discussions. Others, she said, wander around campus or don't go to school at all.
Millicent said usually the best student in any subject, such as social studies or mathematics, will lead the class through their textbooks and lessons. Sometimes they will even assign homework to be discussed the following day, she said.
At Saint Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Accra, students in one 40-person class said usually between six and 20 students show up. Sixteen-year-old Dixon was seated alone at one desk, face down in a science book as bands of light shot through windows around the classroom.
"I have my own timetable and take whichever books I need for the day," he said. "I have friends who are better than me so when I have problems I contact them. If I wait for the teachers, I'll be wasting my time."
At the Saint Thomas Aquinas library, a dozen students recently were quietly studying by themselves or in groups of two or three. Ishmael, 17, said he studies about 10 hours per day on his own, both at school and at home.
"I want to get good results this year in my exams," he said.
In April, third-year students such as Ishmael wishing to enter university will take the West African senior secondary exam. Those who don't pass will have to re-take their final academic year or forego university.
"I'm not angry - I'm in need and not getting what I want," said Suzzy, 18, of Labone Secondary School. "I'm nervous. I need teachers to guide me through lessons so that I can pass my exams."
Teachers take aim
Pressure has been mounting among media, the government and the public for the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) to end its strike. Ghana’s vice president, Aliu Mahama, has publicly appealed for teachers to return to schools.
But Kwame Alorvi, president of NAGRAT, told IRIN that until the association’s demands are met, the 9,300 members across Ghana would remain on strike, even if the government decides to stop paying salaries. "If it takes them one year to decide, we'll remain in our houses for one year. We want them to fulfil all our grievances until we come to the classroom," he said.
Neither the Ghana Education Service nor the Ministry of Education, Sports and Science was available for comment.
Alorvi said that no one from the Ghana Education Service or the ministry has contacted him since the week before the strike began.
One major obstacle concerns the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), which is not on strike and represents mostly primary, but some secondary, school teachers. But it is much larger than NAGRAT and therefore by law has collective bargaining authority with the government. According to the National Labour Commission, this means NAGRAT must cooperate with GNAT when collectively approaching government.
But NAGRAT leaders are demanding that the ministry allow them to bargain separately or else it says it will take the matter to the Supreme Court.
If that happens, a lengthy court battle could ensue, and motivated senior secondary students across Ghana foresee having to continue learning without the benefit of their teachers.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions