· A plea to the better angels in the nation’s leaders, chiefs, officials and parents.
Quality education is a loaded concern. The discipline of teaching, for example, involves a great deal about competent teachers, appropriate subject matter, quality instructional strategies, the relevant teaching and learning materials, and so on. But a key concern was the state of the school environment itself. Are the schools safe enough to protect the child from the dangers of physical injuries, and death – as we witnessed early this year? Are the schools’ managers conscientious enough to prevent the emotional harm and the verbal abuse of the child? Are they diligent enough to see the need to promote the expected hygienic conditions?
Hygienic and safety concerns
Once, a curious parent in Accra sought my view about which school to enroll a child from a list of choices. My recommendation was a simple one. I said, “Go to each of the schools you’ve listed: observe the playing grounds, the classrooms, the toilet facilities, and then make an informed choice. Ask yourself, Will this environment foster my child’s psychological and physical growth? Is this the place a discerning parent would proudly place a child for days on end?”
I cautioned, “If the children play in dust, consider the danger on the child’s lungs and overall respiratory system over the number of years they’d inhale the dust. Why dump the child there if the environment will not protect the child from physical harm and injuries? Next go the toilets: if they are non-existent, or available but unclean, smelly, infested with worms, with no toilet paper or water to wash hands, consider the dreadful diseases the child is likely to contract and bring home to you yourself and the rest of the family.”
A Buddhist school in Bangkok, Thailand
As they say, to know where any nation is going in the future, watch how it treats its own children. For such reasons, whenever I travel to other parts of the world, I habitually visit some schools there to see how the children fared. I check particularly for the respect, love and attention the adults showered on the children. I watch their playgrounds, toilets, and classrooms.
In Bangkok, recently, the adage “Cleanliness is godliness” was clearly a way of life in the Buddhist school I visited. The spiritual, reverential and courteous discipline was exemplary. In a corner of the school was a Buddhist shrine kept immaculately polished and clean, and adorned with aromatic flowers such as jasmines, lilies, and roses. That sacred corner set the tone for the rest of the school’s emotional and physical environment.
As you entered, the open spaces in the front of the school doubled as playgrounds for the kids. For that purpose, the whole wide floors were padded with soft plastic mats to cushion the children from hurting themselves when they fell, as they were wont to do. The toilets were clean and amply supplied with toilet paper, towels, and water for the kids to wash and wipe their hands after use. Lucky kids!
On the verge of tears
Are Ghanaian children any less important than children in other parts of the caring world? I’ve been on the verge of tears many times training teachers at the school sites – from Accra to the north. The deplorable conditions in which many schools are situated beg the questions: Do we really have serious elders in this country? Do we have enough concerned parents? Do the government officials care? Are stakeholders proud of the environment in which the nation’s children are dumped day in day out, year after year?
We tend to allude to the plight of schools in the rural areas, but visit the public schools in the urban capitals (Accra, Takoradi, Kumasi, Tamale, etc) and they will make any sensitive adult weep. In a public school that I visited recently in Kumasi (See the picture enclosed), the toilet had been abandoned and shut down completely from lack of maintenance and cleaning. It’s anyone’s unholy guess how the children fared in response to nature’s call. And to think parents habitually deposit their children there every school day!
The sins of the fathers
Every worthy religion supports the protection of children; but it seems some native mindsets are decrepit enough to veto this sacred responsibility. I remember in 1957, after Ghana’s independence, the fruitless attempts by teachers at St Peter’s Primary (Roman Hill, Kumasi) to persuade parents to put shoes on their children’s feet. Some parents refused, reacting that they themselves never had shoes on the feet growing up, and that the children must walk barefooted and suffer that same deprivation. Unfortunately, in a vicious loop, those now deprived inflicted the same ordeal on their own kids.
This phenomenon must have been captured in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, with the quote from the biblical Moses, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”
In many parts of Ghana, the amount of money, the time and energies wasted on expensive funeral rituals and billboards, with tears showered on the dead but not on the well-being of the nation’s children is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In short, they make no sense.
What is the sense in singing, dancing, chanting, praying all night, and “funeraling” all night and day but blatantly ignoring the responsibility of Jesus’s call to “Suffer the children to come unto me”? The hypocrisy passing for religion in this country is just too much, and must cease.
Yet the talk here is about free education without paying attention to quality. If children are taught in broken buildings with drab sanitary conditions how do we expect them to grow up with a high sense of hygiene? Children grown with filth will love with it all their lives, thinking that is the way to live. We must all tell the government to improve existing basic and high schools before making education free. As the visiting Tanzanian professor said, our free education is also free of knowledge.
I agree that a lot of attention has to be paid to existing infrastructure but don’t you think it should be a two-sided attention? That is improving the infrastructure as well as commencing the free education agenda. I don’t think every single basic school in Ghana should be improved before paving way for brilliant and average students who cannot pay their fees get access to free education. However, I truly appreciate the need for a hygienic school environment because from my experience as a teacher, some of them are pathetic.
Our priority has been misplaced since the 1970s. There is no single public basic school in Ghana with a decent environment, yet we introduced school feeding in the filth and topped it up with free school uniforms and sandals.Do you think we ever have in mind doing something about the poor state of our schools, and what programme have we put in place? In my scheme of things, improving the school environment comes tops not last.
Thanks for this insightful and mind blowing piece. Hmmm! Sometimes I feel so sad for the Ghanaian child. There are some of the ideas you mentioned in the piece that make it feel as if you were in my home in the village where I grew. At a point I had or let me say, encountered a teacher who said boldly to us that he will not teach us to become better than him. Can you imagine that? Several years back I encountered two teachers who will not teach students because the political party they belong to or supported was not in power. Just imagine such crude reasoning coming from so called trained, and to the knowledge of government refined teachers that are to go into the community to bring positive change. As for this time, it is fast-track money-making – extra-classes, extra, extra-classes and so on. God have mercy. Why did the President not appoint you as the Minister of Education? Why?
Sure you right Mr. Haffar you’ve been there and have experienced it and hoping and praying appointees in our Nation will read this article not the view of criticizing but pointing out the facts and the need in doing the right thing for our public schools where we all started.Is just a basic common sense.