A tribute to a dear brother, Breda Atta-Quayson.

· And the roots of Education Matters column.

As I remember it, one of the first articles I published in the Daily Graphic was in the early 1998. It was a tribute to my late headmaster, Joseph W. Abruquah of Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast. In those days, the raw articles were copied on floppy disks which were carried to the editorial department. Here I first met the award winning journalist, George Sydney Abugri, the Graphic staff writer who wrote the humorous news essays under the column, “Letter to Jomo”. It was through him that I directed some articles to be published subsequently.

Love of Journalism, Jazz music and Fashion

Later in August 2007, I had submitted an article titled, “Dr Kwame Nkrumah: The rising phoenix” for publication, when I got a telephone call from Breda, then the Daily Graphic’s Deputy Editor. He said, “Anis, you won’t believe it, I’m reading out loud your article on Nkrumah in the editorial department; the phrases and sentences are so lyrical.” We arranged to meet thereafter, and we bonded like natural born brothers. Our souls simply latched on to each other.

We seemed to have the same artistic tastes: love of Journalism, and the writing and reading of Literature, History, Biographies, etc; and also especially a fondness of orchestral Jazz music and cinema. We’d call each other often and discuss the books on our reading lists. I remember him once calling me excitedly to tell me about a book he had discovered about the historical Jesus written by a certain Josephus. At another time he invited me to his home at SSNIT flats, Dansoman – in the company of his dear wife, Auntie Abigail Bonsu. We talked and laughed at length listening to a music video – in surround sound – of the last performance of Michael Jackson.

Breda loved fashion, and would often send me pictures of himself in a swaggering array of colorful shirts and gold chains, and brag about his Tardi (Takoradi) tastes.

Breda Atta-Quayson

The roots of “Education Matters”

In 2009, he asked me to write some articles for the Daily Graphic to welcome the United States president, Barack Obama, to Ghana. That request resulted in two articles titled, “Pearls of wisdom from Barack Obama: A prelude to his historic visit to Ghana”, published July 6, 2009; and, “Fired up, ready for Ghana: Obama follows W.E.B. DuBois and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah”, July 9, 2009.

He was disheartened that people did not read as much as they should to learn from history. Education meant so much to him that he encouraged me to write a column to inform and inspire the nation and the youth.  Initially I called the column “Youth Leadership Forum”. That was an attempt to showcase the works and ideas of various students I taught in Ghana.

He called me in to the editorial office thereafter and introduced me formally to the Editor, Mr Ransford Tetteh. At that very same meeting, in the editor’s office, he snapped a picture of me which is now used in the “Education Matters” logo.

He then took me to the managing director’s wing, where I met Mr Ibrahim Mohammed Awal. The support was so keen that as I write this tribute – out of the 270 odd articles published in the Graphic since 1998 – over 200 of them appeared under the banner of “Education Matters”. When I set out to write a new title or read a previously published piece, I remember him. And teaching both students and teachers across the length and breadth of this country, using such titles as teaching and learning materials, I appreciate his motivation and especially his wisdom.

I remember how Breda would call me sometimes to remind me of a deadline or to seek clarity on a point or two, or suggest a suitable picture to match the topic. When he retired from the Daily Graphic, he started sending me biblical quotes to guide my life onward. I owe him so much, and miss him dearly.

The hoops of steel

William Shakespeare wrote, “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” In that vein, I recall a trip that I took with the brilliant legal mind, Ghana’s former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs (in the Dr K.A. Busia government) Mr Victor Owusu. We were en route from Accra to Kumasi, but before reaching Nkawkaw, he had instructed the driver to veer off into the Kwahu hills to visit his friend, Mr W.A. Wiafe, the iconic businessman.

Approaching Mr Wiafe’s estate, Mr Owusu shared this gem. He said, “We may be born naturally with brothers and sisters; but in your own life, God – in His infinite grace – allows you to hand pick other brothers and sisters according to your own tastes and desires.”

A true friend challenges and inspires you. A good friend is someone who believes in you so much that you find it easy to believe in your own self. They bring a fresh sizzling energy to your soul. They arrive in your life and make such an impact that you can hardly remember what your life would be without them. They change your life forever

In Breda, I found my second self; he will remain a brother forever. I thank God for his life.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Abandon old theories for practical educational outcomes.

·Some highlights from year 2016.

It’s time to stop wandering in the darkness. It doesn’t require a scientific study to know by now that education for the 21st century is about recognizing the need for change and coping with that change. For one thing, bodies have to move from the sitting posture into making things with the hands.

Doing what was done last year, or doing the same old thing a little better, is no longer a recipe for success. Ghana must shift from the indolent theories to sensible practical educational outcomes. That will require a move from knowledge to implementation. The status quo must change for the better.

Education for production and employment

Curricular objectives are worthless if they are merely good intentions; they must be transformed into work experiences. Serious objectives are commitments; they determine the future; they mobilize the resources and energy for both the present and the perceived future.

When we consider, for example, that the rice imports (2013 figures) of about 644,000 tonnes cost Ghana US$422 million; and chicken meat of about 168,000 tonnes cost $197 million, making a grand total of those two commodities alone about a whopping US$619 million every single year, we need to reset the mindset.

And when we read newspaper headlines, “Graduates asked to be problem solvers”, or “Unemployed Graduates Hit 271,000”, we have to pause in our tracks and ask a most salient question, “What on earth is going on?” What can be done for the 320,000 or so students presently in the tertiary system, knowing darn well that a number of them would end up in the stagnant pool of the unemployed every year?

Skills for the youth

But going forward, purposeful education must offer transformative opportunities that address the following key questions: One, does it help to create jobs? Two, does it add value to the nation’s natural endowment and local inputs? Three, does it help the youth to fill existing jobs that require the use of modern technology? Four, does it teach and support the youth to be entrepreneurs who make it by solving existing national and international problems?

And where one can’t develop the skills to apply what is learned to create anything useful, what then is education for? One can be taught till kingdom come – one can learn the multitude of theories till yet another kingdom appears – and still remain stuck, unskilled, unproductive, and unfulfilled. A good many academic degrees are not grounded in practice; they float aimlessly with the wind. That is the misery passing for education in parts of Africa, hence the underemployment and persistent poverty.

And for some unfathomable reason, the very same academicians leading and looping those vicious cycles are the ones expected to resolve the dilemma!

Seek the outliers

If ever there were a trend in modern education to seek out the outliers, it was to support the youth to be innovative, to work in teams as collaborators, to hypothesize, to follow their own curiosities, to discover their authentic selves, and to prevail. The progressive world is moving in that direction, and Ghana must join the move.

The need for an upbeat functional education is a worldwide concern. In these days of information explosion through Google, Wikipedia and the rest, passing exams with glitzy scores is not that kosher anymore; it used to be so when information was so lacking that even the paltry possession of it was a sacred act. Today, mere cognitive abilities serve as indicators of possibilities only; they are not accomplishments. Today, open ended tasks requiring students to creatively integrate different subjects, to find real life solutions to nagging societal and worldly problems, qualify as accomplishments.

Unsatisfactory 2016 WASSCE results

The WASSCE results (Daily Graphic, August 20, 2016) showed that in Integrated Science, while 113,933 pupils (out of the total of 232,390) achieved the acceptable scores of A1 – C6, some 75,938 pupils obtained the unsatisfactory scores of D7 – D8, and 42,519 failed completely. The majority of the candidates – 51% – were in the bottom two brackets.

The scores in Mathematics were worse: while only 77,108 pupils (out of 231,592) scored A1 – C6, the greater majority – 67% – were in the unsatisfactory (D7 – D8) and failed brackets. Though the scores in English and Social Studies were not as bad as Science and Mathematics, generally speaking, the cumulative scores prohibit the majority of the WASSCE pupils from advancing to the next higher stage.

In Ghana, we use summative exam scores for punitive purposes by casting the blame on the failing youth: most of the candidates are tossed to their own devices, with a good number spilling into the streets, hustling with vehicular traffic for a living.

Schools in dust, without toilets

The need for cleanliness in public schools – especially the lack of toilet facilities and water for both adults and children to wash their hands for good hygiene – cannot go unheeded. Especially of grave concerns are the numerous public schools that sit in dust across the length and breadth of the country, with open defecation. The manifestoes must address the negligence of those public officials – coasting comfortably on the nation’s payroll, with perks – whose responsibility it is to make sure that the proper hygienic conditions exist for the well-being of the nation’s children.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

The dusty unhealthy conditions
A decent healthy environment

Critical thinking for a progressive new dawn.

·Some highlights from year 2016.

It’s been said that “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources.” What else can possibly explain the mass poverty we see across Africa? Ghana, for instance, must be one of the richest countries in the world: not only rich in mineral wealth, but in agricultural wealth as well. The missing links may include the following: One, the human resource packaged with skills to add value to the nation’s natural resources; Two, the love of God and country; and Three, the sense of beauty and cleanliness in preserving the environment. Those three points are worth repeating as we straddle this New Year, and this new dawn!

Let’s refresh our minds to some key highlights from last year’s columns:

The unacceptable rate of illiteracy

It is dawning on many that the persistently high rates of illiteracy and mass poverty across Africa is man-made. The deprivation results from the subconscious minds of many African leaders – both political and traditional – who benefit coyly but directly from an illiterate population not sufficiently exposed to be critical thinkers to question the status quo. As a historical example, the suppressive apartheid mindset feared that, “If I help the African, what would happen to me?” But the true leader would ask, “If I don’t help them, what will happen to them?”

Education for problem solving

The role of educators is changing so rapidly that the exit certificates must mean something of value; something much more that a summation of indolent theories stacked sky high; something with skills that support a lifetime of productivity and fulfillment; something that engages the head, heart and hands for lifelong learning and doing.

Why, for example, are teachers – in the basic schools and high schools – not taught (at the Teacher Training Colleges and Universities) how to add value to the nation’s natural endowment through scientific inquiry and applications? Sadly, that negligence is perpetuated by people who themselves are expected to lead in those purposeful objectives [to] unearth the possibilities in Ghana. Poorer nations tend to give the youth a false hope, a misleading education which can be ruinous in both the short and long terms.

March 6, 2017

In lieu of marching every 6th March, with holidays to boot, the celebrations of our independence must mean much more that a stifling tribute. The children need loftier prospects than merely marching on. The force of superior examples are hard to ignore. Let’s learn and practice from Lee Kuan Yew:

“We educated [the] children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them, and grow gardens … I got the ministry of defense in charge of national servicemen, the ministry of education with half a million students under its care, and the National Trade Union Congress with several hundred thousand workers … to make Singapore a pleasanter place for ourselves, quite apart from the tourist trade.”

The miracles that transformed the south-east Asian countries did not happen by marching, and they surely did not happen by prayers. The Singaporean leader’s determination for a cleaner, greener, prosperous nation spoke volumes.

Can there be any acceptable reason why by 6th March 2017 – a hefty 60 years after Ghana’s independence – a good many people will still be illiterate, meaning that they cannot read or write in their own mother tongue, and can neither read nor write in the official language, English? How on earth must a nation so richly endowed by providence be so heartless that it neglects meaningful education for its own children? How can a nation be so aloof that it should come to this? Illiteracy and independence are strange bedfellows indeed!

How to train up a child

In Ghana, when we quote Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” the only sensible action ascribed to the words by many are the whippings and devious punishments claimed to develop a good character. What a world to grow in!  Little did it occur to the culprits that the youth need skills to work productively and that is the way they should go to steer their future with determination and confidence. It’s amazing how the very word “skills” or “work” has become an anathema in the culture of the nation’s curricula developers.

Factories in lieu of offices

So how come that today – sixty solid years after independence come 6th March 2017 – a sizeable portion of Ghana’s population borders on illiteracy, with schools in some districts scoring majestic zeroes in tests of basic literacy and numeracy? And why do the various governments – one after the other – continue to build majestic offices where some tend to bask in air conditioners listening to political insults, watching movies about superstitions and pushing paper? Won’t it be wiser to spend those resources building factories to produce for the nation’s needs? Wasn’t independence about avoiding dependence on others? Such concerns ought to keep rocking the nation’s conscience until they are resolved.

 Science education for industry

Project based learning is so important, especially for a developing nation, that to continue using scarce resources to build more lecture halls, examination rooms, and offices while ignoring the workshops and laboratories that truly support industry is both shortsighted and negligent. The proper science for industry is not in the spewing of theories or recitations of abstractions in the fashion of pastoral poetry. Science is to be used for functional purposes, and laboratories and workshops are the places where great possibilities actually happen.

A Happy New Year and God’s blessings to Ghana including the nation’s children and youth and all readers of this column. Let us remember what a beautiful country we have! Let’s pray for good health, in the hope that this new era will be hands-on, pure, and clean in more ways than one. Amen! http://www.shutterstock.com/video/search/ghanaian-flag

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Lift high the flag of Ghana (Image source: http://www.shutterstock.com/video/search/ghanaian-flag)