Dorothy Asare, Miss Face of Ghana UK 2016 writes on the need for education, and citizens supporting one another. The feature was originally published on geni-ed.com.
Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from British colonial rule in 1957. This year Ghanaians, like myself will take part in celebrations to mark 60 years of independence, but what has this meant for education? By 2020 Ghana aims to reach the middle income country status. The steps to achieving this have been set out in a document titled Vision 2020. With regards to education the document states that:
“All citizens regardless of gender or social status, must be functionally literate and productive at the minimum.”
In addition, it calls for the education system to embrace science and technology as a way of helping the country eradicate poverty.
Although this excites me, I can’t help feeling like it’s a tad bit ambitious to say the least. Recent data suggests that approximately 1/3 of the Ghanaian population are still identified as being illiterate (unicef.org). In the 1920s, The Phelps-Stokes Commission on Africa called for further improvements to science education, almost 100 years later the Vision 2020 makes the same recommendations. How then do we move forward from here?
Often, when I interview students about why they want to study history they respond with the following answer ‘the past informs the future’. For us to progress as a nation, I believe we must first look back at where we have come from…
A brief history…
It takes a village to raise a child…
For many Ghanaians, the first schools were set up in the home. With parents and elders as the teachers (clearly some things never change), the curriculum taught life skills and learning took place by observation. According to Henry McWilliam and Michael Kwamena-Poh the purpose of this form of education was to:
“Develop good character and health amongst members of the community, whilst providing adequate knowledge of their history, beliefs and culture”
(McWilliams and Poh, 1975).
Gold Coast gleaming, castle schools on the rise…
The earliest records of a formal western style education in Ghana started with castle schools in 1471. Encouraged by the Governor of the Portuguese Castle at Elmina, these schools taught children how to read, write and observe the Catholic faith. Castle schools were attended by children of wealthy African merchants on the coasts, relatives of some of the important chiefs and mulattos (children of the European castle staff and their African women).
Philip Quaye became the first African headmaster of the Colonial School at Cape Coast, Ghana in 1766 and held the position until he died. Although his school was smaller than most, it produced the first English-educated Africans, and went on to influence the development of the country in a profound way.
During the 1820s, there was a period of conflict between the British and the Asante Kingdoms. As a sign of peace two Asante royal youth – Owusu Nkantabisa (son of Asantehene, Osei Yao 1824-34) and Owusu Ansa (son of his predecessor, Osei Bonsu 1800-24) were sent to Cape Coast to be schooled and later went on to study in England to gain a Christian Education.
We are on a mission
In 1835, the arrival of Wesleyan and Basel missionaries, led to the setup of Mission Schools, firstly in Cape Coast then in Dixcove, Anomabu, Accra and Akropong. Efforts were made to open such schools in the Asante region however the Europeans were prevented from doing so by Kumasi chiefs, who feared that western-style education would have a negative impact on local values. Basel missionary schools were set up in Christianborg and Akuapem Ridge where they trained teachers, spread the Christian faith and published an elementary grammar book in the local Akan dialect.
Education on the Gold Coast from 1840-1957
The signing of the Bond of 1844 saw the first attempts by the government to increase the quality of education on the Gold Coast through a mandatory poll tax. This was a political and military agreement between the British and a number of Fanti chiefs. Nevertheless the Asante and Northern territories continued to restrict access to the Europeans. Today the Asante region leads in the enrolment of children in education across Ghana (moe.gov.gh). Not long after Rev Sutter of the renowned Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone was appointed to the position of Inspector of Schools in the Gold Coast Colony.
In 1923, the Secretary of State for the Colonies issued four reports, with a number of recommendations for education in the Gold Coast:
- Greater government supervision for all education institutions
- Improved funding
- Equal emphasis on religious and secular subjects
- Free textbooks for students
- The creation of local education authorities who took responsibility for buildings, equipment and maintenance
- Adequate teacher training
- Education for girls
Information retrieved from the ‘Gold Coast Report on Education’ in 1951 indicated that over 300,000 students were now enrolled in schools.
Education Post Independence
Education was a high priority for Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party (CPP). The Act of 1961 made schooling compulsory and free in Ghana for children from the age of 6 years old. The CPP implemented many of the suggestions made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but unfortunately a lot of this work was undone when Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup. By the close of the 1970s education in Ghana could be described as decayed. The military government of Jerry John Rawlings implemented broad reforms that attempted to address the issues which had arisen. As a result the following changes were made:
- Pre-university education reduced from 17 to 12 years of age (six years of primary, three years of junior secondary (JSS) and three years of senior secondary education (SSS).
- There was a national literacy campaign to support school drop outs and adult learners
- The implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education designed to increase access to basic education and improve the quality of teaching and learning.
What lies ahead…
Education in Ghana has undergone extensive reforms, but where do we go from here? I believe that it is important for us to develop an appreciation of the legacy of our ancestors in bringing the country thus far. They developed a system which sought to endow future generations with knowledge of our past, our culture and to maintain a strong sense of belief. No doubt the resistance of the Asante’s to western influence played a part in helping to preserve our rich culture and local values. So what can we learn from this?
As a people we must remain united if we want to see change. Whether or not you agree with the military coup which overthrew Nkrumah’s government, I think it is fair to say that the instability it brought had detrimental effects on education at the time.
Secondly we must strive to preserve the various elements of our tradition, culture and identity. If our ancestors had relented, we would not be able to look back at the history of education in Ghana and take pride in the achievements of the likes of Philip Quaye and the various chiefs who fought to keep local values embedded in our educational system. Understanding who we are and all that we have the capacity to become is essential in educating our people to invest in our economy, infrastructure and in the Ghanaian dream. We must remove ancient ideologies which perpetuate the view that the grass is greener on the western side, because when Ghana succeeds we all win.
Finally, we must…
Reflect…on the past, present and future of our great nation to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Learn, what got us here is not what will help us go further. If we keep doing the same thing the result will not change.
Take action and return to the high standards which underpinned much of Ghana’s educational history. There is very little parity between the quality of education received at a basic level and that which is offered independently. Or what about the gender biases which continue to stop our girls from learning?
As with any great change the pathway to success is often determined by the strategies we have put in place to achieve our goal. If advancing education in Ghana is our aim then it is our duty as citizens of our beloved Gold Coast to leave a legacy for our generations that really does unlock the doors of education for each and every child”.
By Dorothy Asare, Deputy Director of FE