Why I continue to write

· Reflecting on my 305th article in the Daily Graphic

 Time flies! Today’s column marks a score of 305 (Three hundred and five) articles in the Daily Graphic since I started counting from March 11, 1998: that is, a span of twenty glorious years come next year, 2018. To think a good half of Ghana’s present population was not born at the start of this journey! I’m quite grateful to the Almighty God for the health, stamina and the means to provide this service to a country I appreciate and love so much.

The plight of the African child

Why do I continue to write? As this column has shown week after week, year after year, I’m concerned about the plight of the African child and the African youth, including particularly the Ghanaian child and the Ghanaian youth. To think that in this day and age, many public basic schools in this country still do not have decent food for children, water to wash their hands, or toilet paper to clean themselves with. To think that even in the regional capitals: Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, and so on – while chiefs and big officials preen themselves in luxury cars – children still eat in the dust, play in the dust, sit in dusty classrooms where dirt blows freely into their faces, books, desks and cupboards. How long must such apathetic irresponsible behaviours and depravity continue?

The irony is that big people and so called leaders who should know better are ever more concerned about the dead, and splurge abundantly for burials than provide the bare necessities for the children in their communities! It makes no sense whatsoever. Goodness; is this the independence Kwame Nkrumah fought for, for Ghana and Africa? How can any nation ever be respected – both at home and abroad – when they display such crude disregard for their own children?

The MPs must lead

A piece headlined, “MPs condemn dehumanizing treatment at embassies” (Daily Graphic, October 26, 2017), said that Members of Parliament (MPs) worried about how “a lot of the visa applicants were treated with disrespect” at the various embassies in the country and that the Committee on Foreign Affairs of Parliament was tasked to visit the various embassies and present a report to Parliament.

How wonderful it would be if after this noble task our honourable MPs visited the schools in their own constituencies – the very schools under their purview – and present an honest report to Parliament on how the children fared under their watch! Won’t it be noble indeed if they “worried” enough to do something constructive to make the children’s lives more respectable?

 The sense of helplessness

In many of the nation’s public schools, the children learn subconsciously that their lives can never be better; they learn mostly their own helplessness, that they can never be in control of their lives in meaningful ways, that life itself is stacked sky high against them, and that – like orphans – nobody cared for them.

The youth need inspiration and a sense of purpose

But schools don’t have to be unpleasant; there’s ample evidence that education itself can be enjoyable, and that the environment of the schools can be aesthetically pleasing to the human soul. But tethered to an environment of defeat how can children foresee a balanced lifestyle in harmony with aspirational goals? Childhood experiences are the key factors determining how a person will advance in later years.

Before I started this piece, a friend sent me a whatsapp video of decaying dead bodies of Africans washed ashore and sprawled somewhere along the Mediterranean coast. A team had been sent to the area with body bags, gloves and nose masks to scoop away the corpses.

So why do I write? Are Africa’s leaders intentional in neglecting to empathize with the plight of the youth who cross the perilous Sahara Desert, and cross the daunting seas for a better life in places where they are clearly not wanted?

Is it naïve to expect that the right sort of education for employment and a nobler life can lessen the pain and anguish that so many Africans face on the continent? Are the leaders opposed in mind and spirit to properly educate their own people? Don’t Africa’s leaders squirm in their designer suits and flowing robes in international circles knowing darn well the negative prism through which the world perceived them?

A sense of purpose

So why do I write? Education must serve the critical purpose of moving Ghana out of the bondage of illiteracy, poverty, disease and cold blooded irresponsibility of the officials and the traditional leaders! But these are extraordinary times with extraordinary prospects, and the key educational outcomes must reflect the possibilities in the world we live in now.

That note must be posted in every government office, every lecture hall, every science laboratory, every classroom, and especially in the mindset of those who deliver education from the kindergarten to the tertiary levels.

I end with a quote from John Mensah Sarbah (1864 – 1910): “Every person and nation must work out his or its own salvation. And it is because I am of the opinion that suitable education and training will give a great impetus to our progress that I have endeavoured to do what I can”.

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com


Digital devices for quality teaching and learning

· Smartphones for the information and digital age

Years back, the mere possession of information in one’s head was such a big deal that one got glitzy grades and awards for it. Teachers went to great lengths to have students copy notes in various notebooks, one for every subject. The more one was able to memorize information and pour it all out for examination scores, the higher they advanced in the rankings. Whether one was able to fully understand the information as reproduced was not such a big deal. Neither was it essential to have the skills to use the information one had accumulated to solve societal problems.

Similarly, we laboured on long divisions and multiplication tables, including additions of stacks and stacks of figures, decimals and algorithms. In due course, however, the introduction of slide rules to resolve long divisions and multiplications saved us from the arduous tasks. Better still the advent of “Texas instruments” made life much easier through the ability to solve quickly mathematical tasks of sines, cosines, and the rest.

“Adapt, Empower, Measure”

The world we lived in then is quite different from the one we inhabit now. Today we live in the Information and Digital Age! The Internet, for example, connects people and information anywhere in the world with the ease of a few keystrokes. And in some cases, progressive people and companies are shifting into paperless offices and lifestyles.

On 7th February 2015, I was invited to serve as a mentor in a program at GIMPA, Accra, organized by the United States Department of State dubbed “Tech Camp West Africa”. With the theme “Adapt, Empower, Measure”, it was designed to update and support youngsters from the sub-region in digital awareness. The session was conducted on smartphones, with no paper; and as can be imagined, the youth – as forward looking as ever – met those challenges keenly. The very few who stuck to the use of paper seemed out of joint with the times.

Key educational outcomes

In the 21st century three key educational (and tangible) outcomes as exit points cannot be ignored. The following questions are in order: One, what product can one produce as a result of one’s education? Two, what service can one provide? and Three, what societal problems can one solve and profit from as an entrepreneur?

“Infrastructureless scaling” has supported new digital companies like UBER – the biggest taxi company without taxis; GOOGLE – the world’s biggest library with no shelves of books; FACEBOOK – the world’s biggest publisher with no newspapers; AIRBnB – the world’s biggest hotel with no hotel rooms; SNAPCHAT – the world’s biggest photo studio with no cameras.

From Amazon’s retail revolution and Netflix – the world’s biggest movie theatre with no theatres – giant global companies are being built in university labs and in people’s garages. This knowledge is available in virtual classrooms to everybody.

As the ICT entrepreneur, Moses Baiden, put it, this 4th industrial revolution – the Age of Digitisation – is the mother of all revolutions and is altering the world dramatically. As a country and as businesses Ghana needs to carve out a sound vision and be deliberately involved in a major way.

Use of smartphones in SHS

Ever since I advocated for the structured and disciplined use of smartphones in Senior High Schools (SHS) in August 2017, the feedback keeps coming. Here are a few:

 One: “Thank you for stirring the e-awareness pot again. Hope progressive forces come forward. GNAT is expected to [lead] at the coming of the on-line learning revolution. I have to admit that many Techiman parents think our WiFi and BYOD (Bring your own device) policy is evil. But the students use the smartphone responsibly for the most part and under supervision.”

Two: “Fully support the use of technology in the classroom. As a teacher I believe any tool that makes my students more engaged is good. I’m not afraid of distractions. My job is to make my class engaging enough so no student will find anything better to do than engage.”

Three: “SHS students using mobile phones will rather [make] them have access to information in and out of school. Giving them the guide as to how to access information and learning platforms makes them savvy and hungry for more knowledge.”

Four: “You have made relevant points in there which need to be looked at carefully by our leaders to make it run as you proposed. Thanks for sharing sir, it’s a great suggestion since they can use that in doing research to support their studies. All we need are rules and regulations to check children who might use it as a distraction. I totally agreed with your analysis when Randy Abbey was reviewing it with his panelists on Good Morning Ghana.”

Five: “We must stopped magnifying the negative sides and focus on the numerous advantages on the hand set.”

Six: “I read the article and my take is that Teachers may be disconcerted with the amount of knowledge available to students per smart phones which they themselves don’t command. I however think the issue of equity is real for rural schools. How do we address this divide? That said, I don’t think our youth should be left behind in this digital age. In any case a good number of these kids already own smart phones. Will the provision of good computer labs help?”

On that last note, this is to wish all educators, a belated Happy Teachers Day. God’s abundant blessings! Amen!

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com


A sense of purpose and lifelong learning

·  An address at Academic City College’s 7th graduation ceremony

A message – purportedly posted at a certain university – was sent to me on Whatsapp. It read: “Destroying any nation does not require the use of an atomic bomb or the use of long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education …” It cautioned against low standards: “Patients die at the hands of such doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers. Money is lost at the hands of such economists & accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of such judges … The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”

[The gas explosion at the Atomic Junction (Accra, 7th October, 2017) is a most gory case in point. The lack of qualified supervision in the delivery and storage of such explosive materials confirms the need for the appropriate education for all across the whole chain of service delivery. That caution goes for every service provider – from big government officials to the wayside mechanic fitting brakes on vehicles.]

The value of good education

Africa’s new graduate for the real world

It was an honour to have been invited by Academic City College (ACC) to address the 720 graduands at the College of Physicians and Surgeons [Accra, October 7th 2017]. In the company of Dr Kapil Gupta and Dr Abhishek Tyagi of the Governing Council of ACC, Professor Paul Buatsi, the rep of Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana – H.E. Olufemi Abikoye, and Professor Abdulai Mohammed-Sani, my address to the graduands went as follows:

Congratulations for clearing a hurdle that is likely to be the most important challenge so far in your young lives. I remember how I felt, many decades ago, having finished the last paper towards my first degree. I was driving home on the freeway in Los Angeles, screaming and thanking God that it was all over for now.

It took me a while to complete all the requirements for the reason that I had to take breaks in between terms to work, to make enough money to pay the school fees. There was hardly any menial job I didn’t do to accomplish the task of paying the fees. I learned through manual work that a good education included the discipline and ability to take care of one’s own self. That principle shuns the folly of expecting others to do for you what you could do for yourself.

Lifelong learning

But my real business here today is to congratulate and remind you – through my personal experiences – that there are more hurdles ahead of you; and they have to be cleared, one by one. In other words, though you seem to have finished now, you are still not finished completely.

Let me share with you three essential things for your journey outside these walls. The first one is something called LIFELONG LEARNING. No sooner have you learned something than something else – more modern and more applicable – appears. As I speak to you, I recently turned 70 odd years – the biblical “three score and ten”; and know that I am studying more today than I ever did. Why? Because I have to keep up with new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new ways of getting things done.

A sense of purpose

The next point, then, is to HAVE A PURPOSE: a sense of purpose is that which will drive you the rest of your life. And if you don’t have a purpose now, find one. It is that purpose that will attract good things to you, but you have to work for them. There’s nothing in the world like a free lunch. The so called miracles you hear about from prophets can be misleading; good things do not just happen in a vacuum of indolence; you have to work daily for them; they don’t happen through mere prayers.

The American writer, Arthur Miller, once said, “The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress.” In other words, whatever you want, you have to work for it.

So how do you find a purpose? Consider the following: What is the product you can produce as a result of your education and interests? What is the service you can provide for other people to make their lives easier? And again, what societal problem can you solve as an entrepreneur, and hopefully become rich in the process? It’s never too early or late to begin to ask yourselves these key questions even if you don’t have the answers now.

Be the very best

My last point is simply this: Whatever you find yourself doing – whether for yourself or for someone else – do it to THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY by going the extra mile. In the process, you learn the right habits of leading yourself. Yet another way of saying that same thing is to exemplify that thing you will be known and respected for.

In whatever you choose to do, do it so well that you become a brand in your own right. You deserve to be recognized as someone special in the noble deeds you choose to do. Be the “Go to person”. If not you, who? If not now, when?

On that note, congratulations for a well-deserved accomplishment. Take good care of yourselves, and I wish you all a most productive and enjoyable life. God bless you!

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

Blog: http://www.anishaffar.org