By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 6th April 2012
Reflections on the Past
Many problems have bedevilled our educational system since time immemorial. The Education sector has been used as a guinea pig by successive governments for costly experimentation and teachers have become the Cinderella of the professions as they are short-changed and treated to sore looks by our successive leaders. It is very heartening indeed to learn on the one hand that most of our national leaders were teachers at one point or the other.
Our first republican president, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was a trained teacher from Achimota. Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia was a renowned professor and Scholar at Oxford and the Netherlands. Our current President, John Atta Mills, was a law professor at the University of Ghana before assuming office of President in 2008. Out of these leaders, it was Nkrumah who did a lot for teachers and raised the bar for them. On the other hand, it is saddening to note that despite some of our leaders being teachers, they have not done much to improve the lot of their former colleagues, nor the lot of the sector which nurtured them and groomed them for leadership. Is it the case of the child biting the fingers that fed it? Here is the case of the JHS which is crafted to last 3 years, after a foundational 6 year primary education. Some of these JHS schools have monumental challenges in terms of staffing, adequate contact hours with their teachers, poor infrastructure, poor sanitary conditions, large class sizes, lack of textbooks, ill-equipped laboratories , among a legion of problems. The SHS, formerly 3 years, has now been extended to 4 years. The syllabus content at both levels, to say the least, is dense, loaded, broad and very demanding. It is as if when one completed SHS, one should be self-contained and with no need for further education. It has been made terminal in a sense. The saddest part of the story is that, most of our kids whizz past SHS or whistle through the SHS syllabus without having a proper grasp of or nodding acquaintance of the nitty-gritty and fundamental underpinnings of basic concepts.
Either they are over-exposed (where the teachers are diligent), or under-exposed (where we have lazy teachers). Some teachers have complained that some of the kids who progress to SHS cannot cope with the amount of work or they are not the right calibre, or they were ill-prepared at the JHS level. Many university dons have also equally complained that they are getting sub-standard students at the universities, compared to what they used to have decades ago. I think the problem which is there is that we lack vertical and horizontal alignment in our school system, as learning is not made holistic and integrative for the kids to see the larger picture. There is little effort to equip kids with central ideas, enduring understanding, differentiated learning styles and approaches, among others. Learning at various levels and across subject areas or disciplines has not been integrated. There are no overarching principles, as learning is made discrete, stand-alone and disjointed. What we need is an inter-disciplinary approach and the use of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligencies. Each child has a forte or strong point in one of the 7 or so intelligencies. Some have artistic flair for fine art and music, some a flair for languages, some a knack for logic, mathematics and science, some a proclivity for locomotive or motor activities such as sports, some inclination towards social intelligence, in handling relationships, among others. Currently, if our kids in the JHS and SHS do retain some of the things they learn, it might be due to rote learning, extra tuition and perhaps due to wide exposure to better learning facilities or hands-on learning from such activities as going on study tours or having industrial attachment training as temps, interns or as sophomores-on-training. In this scenario, the poor and marginalised children in slums, ghettoes, zongos and rural areas are greatly disadvantaged when competing for school places in the elite institutions such as Mfantsipim, Achimota, Wesley Girls High School, among others.
In the marginalised areas, children have no access to electricity, treated water, computers, tarred roads, public libraries or tuition centres. Some lack textbooks and furniture. They may have to walk long distances to school or to the clinic or to the farm, which saps their energy for learning. Some go to school on empty stomachs and they may walk to school barefoot. If they are sick, they may walk 10 or 15 kilometres to reach the nearest clinic. At the other end of the spectrum, city kids who have access to modern electronic fads and gadgets, spend hours on end watching endless soap operas or ‘twittering’ and ‘facebooking’, or playing computer games. They abuse the vast educational resources at their beck and call, spending little time to read or to research.
My Teaching Experience in the early 70s and 80s
In June 1970, I graduated from a 4 year Certificate ‘A’ teacher training college at the age of 20, and I was posted to a run-down primary school in Twifu-Hemang-Kotokyi-Denkyira, somewhere in a dank, dark forest in the Central Region. There were 3 of us from the same class at Komenda, but the third one did not return after our preliminary visit. That year, the government policy was to post us to the remotest of hinterlands. I remember some of my mates were posted to funny sounding place names such as Kuro Agyafo Yaase, Tw3de3, Kotiambuanda, Twerebuoanda, Elubo, Aboabo Tetekaaso, Ohiamadwen, Fankyenko, among others. Where I was posted to, I discovered that there were many places where the only means of transport was by train, along the Achiasi-Kotoku-Akroso-Fosu-Twifu Praso-Huni Valley central rail line.
My connecting point by road was at Nyenase, but the ‘express’ train from Accra did not stop there, so I had to stop at Twifu Praso and wait for the goods train, which sometimes took more than half a day to arrive. Transport in those days was a nightmare, but as a young, headstrong and adventurous man, enamoured by my strong Christian faith, nothing was insurmountable to me. Most often, the ‘watonkyen’ passenger truck from Nyenase was fully packed with passengers and baggage, with a lot of guys atop the carrier. Either you went by that only means of transport or you remained behind. I remember some of the towns along the route from Nyenase to Dunkwa-on-Offin as Wamaso, Agona, Kyekyewere, Awisamu, among others. My station at Twifu Kotokyi was located very close to the large Pra river, from which we drew raw water for our domestic needs. In my village, I came face to face with real rural hardship. There was no electricity, and transport was a harrowing experience. The Awuakye family was the only grocery shop around; there was no clinic, as the nearest was about 14 kilometres away at Awisamu or Kyekyewere.
However, to compensate for all these hardships, there was food galore and we were treated to bush meat such as the black monkey and the armadillo-type animal (locally called ap3s3). The locals were extremely welcoming, generous and supportive. We were encouraged by a well educated chief, who at the time was studying law at the University of Ghana. There was no transport owner in my village, except a few bicycle owners and the only tractor belonged to the PWD, whose foreman was sharing the same rented apartment with me. He was a guy from Elmina. The local Methodist Catechist was my landlord, who was also a Fante, but who had stayed for decades at Twifu Kotokyi and had married a local. I had many challenges from the local damsels, some of whom were unmarried but were carrying babies and they harassed me to no end, quizzing me with interminable questions. (Two of these damsels were look-alike identical twins). Thank God, being a staunch Methodist and a determined young man, I did not fall for them as I focused on my ‘A’ levels. I was still a virgin, and I became a lay preacher in the local Methodist Church, holding our services in the school. The head-teacher, being a staunch Jehovah’s Witness, had many confrontations with us, yet the school was under the Methodist Circuit at Tarkwa. I adopted my landlord as my godfather . Opanyin Edusa was quite old, in his 70s and me at 20. Many a time, my colleague from college went on a drinking spree, drinking with a local clique from source, where the ‘doka’ and palm wine tappers went, and he was full of boastful stories of having learnt a lot of local secrets.
He did not spare the chicks either; did he do boogie-woogie? At the hotspot at Awuakye’s Bar in the night, he adorned his hipster and flared trousers, with James Brown afro hair and Beatles high- heeled shoes and skin tight shirt; he danced the night away at the local pub, amid heavy drinking, smoking and skanking. As it were, I was the homester, cook, baby-sitter and all. On occasion, when there was an emergency to travel, we alerted the landlord to wake us up when the bus from Dunkwa was heard approaching around 2 o’clock at dawn. Sometimes, as the PWD people went for their road maintenance work at 8 o’clock, you could hitch a ride and hop on their tractor for a bumpy treat, with the tractor crawling its way for about 50 kilometres from Kotokyi to Nyenase on a dusty and dirt gravel road. I remember in 1970, one of my pupils in Primary 6 was playing truancy and he was to be caught and brought to the school (I recall names like Boadi, Sasraku, Odoi, and Yeboah). The truant pulled an Okapi (Baffoe) knife and heavily wounded one of his apprehenders or captors on the thigh. We the four male teachers of the school, put the patient on a bicycle, having given him first aid by making a corset to stop the bleeding. We trotted behind the rider for that 14 kilometre distance, till we reached the clinic at Kyekyewere. Luckily, the staff had not knocked off and our patient was promptly attended to. For our mail or letters and newspapers, we got them around 6 p.m. when the passenger trucks arrived back from waiting on the trains at Nyenase. Fancy having to read the newspapers at 7p.m and sometimes your letter took about a month or more to arrive. 1970 was the year when Otumfuo Prempeh II passed away in Kumasi. It was also the year a terrible cholera epidemic broke out in my home town, Winneba, and claimed more than 40 lives, including my paternal cousin.
I was to meet a rude shock at Kotokyi where the pit latrine was for the use of all the villagers, with teachers and pupils squatting next to each other to attend to the call of nature. What a trying ordeal that was at first, but later we were inducted and we got used to the village ways, which is no respecter of persons. Our school was a thatch building, roofed with iron-sheets and luckily, the classroom floors were cemented. However, the lower primary was a complete mud house with thatch grass (adobe). The school was up to primary 6 and I was combining classes 5 and 6, due to paucity of numbers. We were five males in the school, including the head-teacher, a Certificate ‘B’ holder. He initially felt very uncomfortable when 3 of us were posted there because he thought we would undermine his authority or find the skeleton in his cupboard. We cooperated with him as he was the more experienced and by far our senior in age. The other two male teachers were untrained pupil teachers, an Ashanti and a Wassa. They were very warm towards us and one of them later attended police training school in my home town, Winneba. Most of the time, the head-teacher contracted the children to ferry sand from the Kotokyi river, tributary of the Pra, for building construction. He used them a lot on his farms and on other peoples’ farms, and sometimes, he went hunting with his double-barrelled gun. Even though I differed with him on child labour, there was not much I could do, as I was one against the rest. The head-teacher kept all the school accounts and he did not give stewardship of money receipts, nor did he throw a party for the kids. For the school fees, he did remit them regularly. The children brought in a lot of craft for end of semester marks.
They brought earthenware pots, yams, baskets, eggs, cassava, brooms and other things. The head-teacher instituted a ludo-playing competition among teachers, with a book to record scores. Even though I did not participate, I felt sorry for the kids who often were sent to work on farms. The head-teacher jokingly said that the school was called; ‘Adembra Yapon’ (literarily translates as ‘ to be seen to be going through the motions or clock watching’). What I admired about the head-teacher was his cursory and neat handwriting. Later, I helped him write his Certificate ‘A’ Papers, by giving him tuition. After a year at Kotokyi, I sought transfer to Nsuekyir, a village about 8 kilometres from my home town, Winneba. It was in 1971 that one afternoon, while having our lunch break, we heard the sad news of the demise of Robert Mensah, that illustrious and acrobatic goalkeeper, formerly of Dwarfs and later of Kotoko. He was famous for his chequered black and white cap, which he always wore for matches. ( Later, I learnt that my classmate from college, who remained behind at Kotokyi, upstaged the head-teacher and became the head, but he got himself mired in financial mismanagement of school resources, and he was later relieved of the post or frog-marched by soldiers, when Lt Col Kutu Acheampong took over in the coup of 1972).
At my second station, Nsuekyir, there were only three of us males, a cousin and another colleague from Komenda who was the head-teacher; (also we were related on my father side). We used to walk the 8 kilometers every day to school from Winneba. This I did for two years. Again, the village had sparse population so I took a combined class of forms I and 2 in the same classroom. Kotokyi had exposed me to teaching a double class. The school buildings were uncompleted as they were started under the Busia regime. When the soldiers took over, they were abandoned and we studied in half-completed buildings with no cemented floors, no doors and windows. Even in 1971, Nsuekyir was a ghost village as most middle aged adults had travelled to the far away cocoa growing areas in the Western and Ashanti Regions. They left behind their kids with their grandmothers and grandfathers and only came home during Christmas for the ‘Gomoa Two Weeks’. In 1973, I left Nsuekyir and joined the staff of my alma mater, Winneba Methodist Middle Boys School, where I taught for two years before going on to Legon in 1975.
National Service at Sefwi Wiawso
After completing Legon in 1978, again, I got posted to Sefwi Wiawso Secondary School (Sewass), where I came face to face again with rural hardship (during that time, there was no rural hardship allowance for teachers). There were two of us from Legon who were posted there. I was teaching Economics and Geography and my colleague was a Chemistry major with minor in Physics. We found Sewass in local politics turmoil, as the headmaster, (an Ewe and a very pleasant and humane person), had been allegedly given the marching orders by the local people, led by their Omanhene. The District Education Officer was told to look after the school. Sefwi Wiawso had pleasant GET buildings and our fully furnished red-carpet staff houses were superb. But then again, accessibility from and to Sefwi Wiawso was a great hurdle. I tried so many approaches, through Kumasi to Bibiani to Sefwi Bekwai, sometimes through Dunkwa on Offin, and once , through Takoradi.
There were times bridges and culverts near Bibiani were broken down and cars could not pass, due to flooding. We had to get down from our ‘watonkyen’ and wade through to the other side. On one occasion, I decided to explore the Dunkwa route. I got stuck up in the town and called at the Methodist Church Manse, but I was turned away. I spent the time pacing up and down the train station till the following day, when I continued on my journey to Sefwi Wiawso. There were places on the way such as Humjebre, Asawinso, Asankragwa, among others. There were times I spent many hours sitting on a high heavy truck loaded with sawn timber, heading for Takoradi for export. At another time, I was squatting with fishmongers at the back of an open pick up van, when it rained heavily and I was dumped in the night at Sefwi Wiawso junction, near Gliksten Sawmill. Climbing the hills on all approaches to Sefwi Wiawso with your luggage was a herculean task. Since the secondary school was far from town, I arrived one night and spent the night at the Police Post.
If you wanted to travel out and you did not get up at midnight or go to sleep in town the previous night, you would not get a ticket to board the Government Setra Coach. Ticket racketeering was galore. The 4th June 1979 coup news got to us late in the evening, when travellers from Kumasi came to tell us what had transpired. Sefwi Wiawso was completely cut off and sequestered from the rest of the world in a thick tropical jungle. When later I came to Accra and went to the Ghana Export Promotion Council offices, I was told that they had looked for me everywhere for an interview, which had been held a month earlier on. I pinched myself! After a year’s stint of national service at Sefwi Wiawso, I applied to Agona Swedru Secondary School (Swesco), where I taught ‘A’ levels and ‘O’ levels in Geography, General Paper and Economics. I think for the time I stayed at Swesco, I carved a niche for myself and I gave the students my best. I remember sixth formers such as Aubyn, Boadi, Tanoh and the Form 5s, Martha Shamena (Namibian), John Moyo (Zimbabwean), Faustina Eyiah, Eugenia Dennis,’ Wonderboy’ Essuman, Mercy Hammond, Janice Quartey, among others. They were super intelligent. Be on the lookout for Parts 3, 4, and 5 in this series. Stay blessed.