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ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE by CAMERON DUODU

Sixty-two years is a long time! Anyone born in March 1957 who is still in public service is probably being bombarded with threats that he should go on retirement, if he has not already done so!

But has our Nation done enough to allow it to retire gracefully?

The answer is NO!

Our school-children go to school under conditions that are sometimes worse than what prevailed in 1957. There are still schools without running water. And therefore, no flush toilets.  Couldn’t we have achieved this simple enmity for our kids in 62 years? Why haven’t we been able to do so? The answer is that we allowed independence to go to our heads. We were happy to be freed from supervision by foreigners.

But we forgot that self-supervision imposes a sense of responsibility on any person in a position to supervise himself or herself. And that to acquire a sense of responsibility, one must know what is good and what is not good. We changed our educational system and allowed head-teachers to award us certificates after 10 years of schooling. This eliminated the rigorous work that was undertaken by Standard Seven pupils, country-wide, to pass the feared examination known as “Hall”,

The abolition of “Hall” has served as a metaphor for the reduction of standards throughout our educational system. If one’s studies were based on a syllabus that prepared one for “Hall”, it meant that if one went to  secondary school at Standard Five or Six, one would have a good enough foundation to be introduced to such strange subjects as algebra, geometry and trigonometry; as well as chemistry, physics, biology and  Latin or even Greek.

As for English language, it was taken for granted – I remember writing essays in Standard Four and Five that could be published today – if one’s exercise books could be retrieved from wherever they went at the end of the school year! 

 What I am driving at is this: we have lost our sense of pride because we are no longer required to performat the highest level we can. To sit “Hall” and fail would be known to everyone in one’s village who knew anything about education. Even in the big towns, one’s neighbourhood and the people in one’s network of extended families and friends and their extended families, would be apprised of the new status that descended upon one if one passed “Hall”. Similarly, those in secondary schools who got “distinction”, or “exemption”, or “scholarship”, became legends in their time.  And they, in their turn, created new citizens in their own image.

I remember my Class One Teacher, Mr KwasiAkwa. The man was so capable of imparting knowledge that he was able to persuade our head-teacher that one or two of us could go straight to Class Three without going to Class Two!  And, wonder of wonders – one of these “jumpers” topped the class in Class Three!

I remember Master Emmanuel Ofori who taught us history in Standard Four. What he told us about OkomfoAnokye, Osei Tutu, Feyiase and Omari Djata, have lodged into my brain for years and years and years – because of the interesting way he related the stories.

I also remember Mr Kofi AwuahPeasah, who taught us Shakespeare. To hear him declaim “To be or not to be – that is the question!” was to be transported into areas of imaginative thought that brought the abstract into bed with the practical; “frailty, thy name is woman!” (who but Shakespeare could express it just like that?) Mr Peasah showed us that studying could be a delicious exercise in itself, because it opened the door to knowledge (including self-knowledge). And if one standard in English was good enough, then one could acquire a good enough standard to back it up. For, of course, the best books, at that time, were written in English.

And then, at the apex of the knowledge tree, a teacher called E CF E Asiamah, who had graduated with a B.A. degree at Legon, but who thought that wasn’t enough and taught himself law to a standard that enabled him to pass the LL.B degree examination as an external student, an followed it up with an LL.M, again as an external student. And who could then look at a 17-year-old boy’s work and say with confidence, “You can do the GCE at the Ordinary Level through a correspondence course.” Whereupon the boy passed the GCE after 15 months of private study!

Mentors! Inspirers! Surrogate parents! Where are they now? We have no “alter-egos”; that is, people to whom we don’t want to disgrace ourselves and who, we know, are following our deeds, silently, watching what we shall do or not do; what we shall achieve or fail to achieve. “I taught him this or that!” …”It was upon my advice that he did this or that!” Can there be any sweeter words than those, if and when uttered about one by those whom one dearly respects?

Sixty-two years! The British civil servants and school-masters who taught us self-rule are either all dead or incapacitated, unable, in the main, to evaluate our current performance and either take pride in it or turn their heads away in shame. Can you imagine what would happen if Sir Gordon Guggisberg were to turn up at Achimota School and go on an inspection tour? He gave the School a swimming pool; he gave it a “forest reserve”. What has happened to them? As far as I know, the forest has been cut down by some money-makers, who probably think that Guggisberg was a fool who did not appreciate true value of prime real estate!

Ghanaians, arm yourselves spiritually and ensure that when the 6A3rd anniversary arrives, we won’t have anything to lament over. Think of the Black Star team and its achievements of yesteryear. Think of Real. Republikans. Think of Roy Ankrah; Floyd Robertson; Christiana Boateng!

Ah – and think, please, about restoring the Birem, Pra; Ankobra; Oti; Firaw; Offi and Tanoh and bring them back to their former glory. History, brothers and sisters, is watching us with eagles’ eyes.

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