Ability and hard work take village boy a long way

University of Otago PhD candidate Isaac Benning. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
University of Otago PhD candidate Isaac Benning. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Isaac Benning has walked a long way, flown a long way and soon will have a university doctorate.

The remarkable educational journey of this University of Otago PhD candidate began when he was born into a family of subsistence farmers in a village with no school in a remote part of central Ghana.

Each day he had to walk 11.2km to and from the nearest primary school, where he excelled, his main Otago University supervisor, Dr Chris Linsell, says.

His early flair for mathematics developed, and Mr Benning later gained a masters degree in mathematics education and became head of mathematics in a secondary school.

Since gaining a scholarship to study at Otago, he has written a thesis on "Professional development for using technology in mathematics teaching in Ghana".

And late last month he submitted that thesis, exactly three years and one day after arriving in Dunedin on his first overseas flight.

When he started his primary studies, Mr Benning "never thought I could even reach secondary education level, let alone doing PhD studies".

He was "incredibly happy" not only for myself but also for the residents of his small home village of Asarekwaa, who had always encouraged him during his educational walks.

"I believe this success is going to motivate the young ones in my community to set high target for themselves, because it is doable," he said.

Mr Benning is also grateful for the support he has received during his recent studies, including from his PhD supervisors Dr Linsell and Dr Naomi Ingram, of the Otago College of Education, and also from his wife Cynthia Aduesi and daughter Esi Benyiwa, who remained in Ghana.

Dr Ingram and Dr Linsell are confident Mr Benning's "current and future work will have an impact on education in Ghana" and probably elsewhere, Dr Linsell said.

Mr Benning emphasises the importance of commitment and determination.

"It doesn't matter where you come from or who you are, when you work harder you'll be able to achieve whatever goal you set for yourself," he said.

"I'm very happy at the moment but I feel that there's a lot of work I have to do to help the poor in my community."

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