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April 7, 2015

Making Paths Through Barriers

Helping Ghanian students overcome their obstacles to education

As she entered the institute building that hosted PathwayConnect in Accra, Ghana, Elizabeth Akuffo wondered if she could manage what she so deeply desired to achieve. “Can I make it?” she asked herself.

Elizabeth, 43, started PathwayConnect to develop her English and to improve herself spiritually and educationally. Like most PathwayConnect students, she faced her fair share of obstacles. The travel from her home to the PathwayConnect gathering in Accra was a two-hour round trip. She also had responsibilities at home to help her husband support their family and look after their four children. Funds were tight, and feelings of doubt sometimes surfaced.

For Elizabeth, this commitment ended up being worth it. “It really changed my life,” she said. She regularly recommends the program’s value to anyone willing to listen.

Gene Hayes, Pathway international director, and Corey Christensen, Pathway area manager, (pictured in suits) enjoying a Pathway gathering with the students and missionaries of Odorkor, Ghana.

Gene Hayes, BYU-Pathway international director, and Corey Christensen, BYU-Pathway area manager, (pictured in suits), enjoying a PathwayConnect gathering with the students and missionaries of Odorkor, Ghana

PathwayConnect knows that students throughout the world are facing challenges unique to their locations, cultures, and circumstances. Whether it is a lack of Internet access, long travel distances for participation in weekly gatherings, or potentially restricted career options available to students in their local areas — PathwayConnect is looking to find ways that missionaries, students, and the organization itself can work together to overcome these barriers and create a path for success years after students complete the program.

Ghana’s Obstacles

Ghana is a prime example of an area of the world where PathwayConnect students have unique challenges and needs. Unlike most areas where PathwayConnect is established, electricity and Internet access in Ghana is unreliable and can sometimes be down for days, creating obvious obstacles for students taking online courses.

In addition, many Ghanaian students — because of local economic circumstances — do not have access to a computer and also struggle with the financial strain of travel expenses. Some students have to travel many kilometers multiple times a week to a Church facility so they can use their local site’s Internet and laptops provided by LDS Philanthropies to fulfill course requirements.

The Tesano chapel and institute building where students meet during the week to do homework and gather on Thursday nights.

The Tesano chapel and institute building where students meet during the week to do homework and gather on Thursday nights

Because the local culture and job market in Ghana differ significantly from that in the United States and many other countries, PathwayConnect’s courses and advising haven’t always been a seamless fit for Ghanaian students. Simply put, Ghana holds its own unique circumstances that differ from other cultures and countries worldwide.

Forging New Paths

While PathwayConnect can’t change many of these circumstances — such as spotty electricity or lack of reliable Internet — it can find ways to provide better opportunities for students according to their local needs, ensuring their PathwayConnect experience is meaningful and preparatory for their future.

And work has already begun to do just that.

“There has been a collaboration of many different departments at BYU-Idaho — looking at curriculum, advising, cost structure, and all the different aspects that go into making PathwayConnect work best for Ghanaian and other international students,” said Corey Christensen, an area manager who oversees BYU-Pathway’s efforts in Africa.

Gene Hayes (left) and Corey Christensen (right) with Elder and Sister Boateng, Pathway missionaries in Ghana.

Gene Hayes (left) and Corey Christensen (right) with Elder and Sister Boateng, service missionaries assigned to BYU-Pathway in Ghana

BYU-Pathway has been gathering data through public statistics and meetings with local priesthood leaders, missionaries, and students. This data helps BYU-Pathway increasingly understand and adapt its counsel to match what is best for students.

As an example, BYU-Pathway has recently established a separate advising body for Ghanaian students, missionaries, and priesthood leaders. This advising team provides support that is tailored to the specific needs and challenges in Ghana. In a similar manner, BYU-Pathway has created other teams that are trained to deal with issues specific to other nations across the world. This pattern will continue for years to come as BYU-Pathway looks for ways to better serve its students.

The program has also created partnerships in international locations with the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF)/Self-Reliance centers, which can more easily help meet the needs of students who do not have access to the finances or other means needed to succeed in the program.

BYU-Pathway is also hoping to create partnerships with local education providers worldwide — such as universities and vocational colleges — to provide more options for PathwayConnect students looking to continue their education or find jobs locally.

BYU-Pathway is working to meet the needs of all students, no matter where they’re from, and the work being done in Ghana is just one example. “These changes are helping students,” said Christensen. “I know it has made for a stronger program. Not just in Ghana, but across all of BYU-Pathway’s international sites.”

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