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Active IRC: Center offers wide range of programs.

When it comes to engaging local students and their teachers about American culture and education, entrepreneurship and other topics, the Information Resource Center (IRC) at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, uses hands-on experiential methods.

"This approach underscores the importance of engaged and effective presenters," said Public Affairs Officer *' Danny Fennell. The IRC, he continued, "prioritizes effective learning results, and has seen success on an impressive array of topics."

The teaching sessions are often led by Information Resources Officer (IRO) Stephen Perry, who sees the IRC as an "informal learning environment outside of school or work, where people can study, ask questions, in an unstructured and enjoyable way."

Through engaged learning, the IRC teaches "soft skills" such as entrepreneurship, and offers English as a second language (ESL) instruction and other academic programming, and classes in website development. For its course on entrepreneurship, the IRC taught women in the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program how to create their own business websites and use e-commerce applications like PayPal to sell online to a worldwide clientele. The women learned to set up, run and maintain their new websites and PayPal accounts, which broadened their commercial reach.

For budding entrepreneurs, the IRC stages boot camps on topics ranging from how to write a business plan to using Twitter and LinkedIn to grow a market. The instruction, Perry said, always includes a focus on applying the information, to ensure experience enforces theory. He asks students to create a sample business plan that "must address a social or economic issue in their home country," so that they can envision the impact of their mock companies on a national scale and pivot from a profit focus to finding real-world solutions. By wrapping every lesson in a game or activity having relevancy to everyday life, students respond more enthusiastically.

The IRC provides intellectual property rights (IPR) and piracy information that Fennell said is important for young people hoping to enter into international commerce. "By demonstrating how U.S. companies operate in the IPR environment, our IRC plants important seeds for the next generation of Ghanaian businesspeople and fosters a useful exchange on this hot topic," Fennell explained.

The training also ensures that Ghana will continue to be a bastion of democracy and free speech in Western Africa.

Another important IRC program is ESL education. Although Ghana is an Anglophone country, many students speak a local language at home. "The presence of traditional dialects can complicate learning proper, grammatically correct English," IRC Director Rita Awuku said. The IRC offers webinars and assistance from Regional English Language Fellows, and highlights the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' American English website, which offers grammar rules, free downloadable texts, quizzes and other resources.

The IRC also collaborates with other sections of the embassy and local schools, and the political section, for which it helped explain how think tanks contribute to government policy in Ghana and in the United States. It also collaborates with the EducationUSA office to present educational search strategies and the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to further learning. In tandem with the regional environmental officer, the IRC promotes environmental preservation and climate change programs in Ghana. These partnerships improve learning and promote opportunity and development for all Ghanaians.

The IRC's success can be measured in student and learner membership, which Perry said has increased by over 150 percent since 2011. "Ghanaians love the programs, and often request presentations for additional audiences," said Fennell. With a validation like this, IRC Accra seeks to broaden its course offerings using the experiential approach.

By Gabrielle G. LaFavre, intern, Public Affairs Section, Embassy Ghana
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Title Annotation:Focus on West Africa: Part II
Author:LaFavre, Gabrielle G.
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:6GHAN
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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