was depressed by the sombre fate?.
There’s a sorrowful satisfaction in knowing that one is not alone in these thoughts. With a maverick lending his credence, posterity might develop a thick skin to avoid a future mishap. Let’s follow Mr Bartels’s strategic sense (as a member of an initial committee of four charged to shape the new university):
?I did my best to persuade [Commissioner Hagan] to consider building the new university on, and among, the hills of Cape Coast [to] function as an enabling institution [to] give as well as take, grow and become a part of the town and learn to assist it in solving its problems. The project’s possibilities were vast. Mount Hope could be a strategic point [to] begin and mesh with the slum clearance envisaged for the town? making it imperative for university personnel [to use] local amenities [and] in their own interest demand efficient management.
?The Cape Coast Castle could be converted into a research library and flats to promote academic tourism and a university extramural programme, [to] ultimately extend to the other castles and forts along the coast. The Cape Coast churches could be university chapels. Lastly, the Victoria Park ?might be turned into an open-air theatre to promote drama and other cultural activities for town and gown?.
The plan implied a re-invention of higher education for ?hands-on? social and economic good. It was a masterpiece, and was sold in a way in which it had to be bought. But, the Commissioner was not moved; he craved ?another Legon?a self-contained showpiece [with] a separate existence?.
To Mr Bartels, ?Another Legon, Accra, was the last thing Nkrumah fancied. But he got it.? The Commissioner’s thinking was like that of David Balme, a classics scholar of repute, the founding principal of Legon, who admitted: ?You’ve asked me to establish a university. The university I know is Cambridge.?
Mr Bartels envisaged the thrust of the sciences ?to direct the thinking of students to education for work, using the environmental resources of the area, [for example] the fishery industry that was being developed at Elmina [and] the support it would require from the interdisciplinary research in Geography, Meteorology and Refrigeration Engineering?.
The plan was ignored. A later report from an ?International Commission [with] Geoffrey Bing? came out, placing reliance on prospects ?no different basically from Legon?.
In seeking a new deal for education in Cape Coast, Mr Bartels’s ideas, perhaps, created a discomfort, or worse, fear. The colonial mindset was shaken. The new thinking implied a shift from the obsolete lecturing-and-copying format, to a preference for a purposeful re-design of teaching and learning in the wider context of a hands-on urban renewal. Without an assertive, practical access to freedom of judgement and imagination, education itself is stale.
Cape Coast, as an education capital, stood to generate a livelier, intellectual, research, and superior tourist industry, with leverage for clusters of jobs. The intellectual, the economic and the social go together. With a better quality of life, professional people who deliver important services would stay. An urban renaissance created a dynamic and capacity strengthening a wider area.
A vision-gap is a costly thing. Many university towns have blazed that trail and flourished in the midst (not on the periphery) of urban renewals; for example, the connection between the University of California, Los Angeles and the city of Westwood (in the U.S.), and the penchant of that union for creating employment, and student jobs.
Mr Bartels’s vision, alas, shunned the habit of skimping on the maintenance of existing national assets, pouring good money into newish things, and setting in train a cycle of neglect. Possibly, the disregard for the plan mirrored two puzzles: one, the na?ve assumption that, somehow, distribution of benefits is a zero-sum game; and two, the elitists’ phobia for the teeming masses, and preference for the suburban nest and rest.
For a new, independent nation, the opportunity loss was worse than a study of reflexes in the aristocratic psyche. It was hard to escape the suspicion that what was bliss for Cambridge turned out to be bale to Cape Coast. As between liberation and servitude, Mr Bartels drew the line between visions of national self-assertion and timid copies of the archaic.
The past is all very well. But why misjudge the echoes of the times? The outdated wisdom that tertiary education has to be packaged, somehow, within enclosed quarters has become as insidious as the insistence that every phone has to have wires attached. Now the times give the proof that functional illiteracy is the virus to dismantle, and purge.
The Persistence of Paradox is a must read. As a biography, the canvas is full with the texture and colour of a life spanning almost a century. It draws seamlessly on a vast repertoire with anecdotes, some highlighted with fun (and slaps) in Akan (Fanti): (Nkye mobobo n’asowa mu ma w’atse). Mr Bartels’s other books include, the 2007 latest, ?Journey out of the African Maze: Indigenous and Higher Education in Tandem? (www.lulu.com); and ?Roots of Ghana Methodism? (Cambridge University Press, 1965).
In talking with Mr Bartels, his personal takes on key historic events and people, and the details in the making of those experiences, held one glued like a bond. More grease to his years. Mfantsipimfo, the Methodist Church, and the nation at large should be geared, properly, for Mr Bartels’s 100 years anniversary, 13th March 2010. He gave so much to broaden and elevate the nation’s collective thought. [This piece, published in a different form in 2004, is revisited for the anniversary].
[Anis Haffar, the author, is the founder of Gate Institute, a consulting service for continuous teacher education in English Language skills, and Methodologies for Leadership-centred teaching for primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Email: [email protected] Website: www.gate.ghanaschoolsonline.com]
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