For the first time in a very long time, there is no NDC and NPP aligned positions on the most topical issue occupying Ghana's media space since 19/03/21 up to this moment with everyone just siding with one party or the other for nonpolitical reasons.
It's been a while since that audacious and controversial rejection of two Rastafarian students seeking admission into Achimota Senior High School by the very firm Headmistress of the school. And peculiar to the Ghanaian social and mainstream media space, tongues will never fail to wag in situations of this nature, especially, considering the dicey and sensitive nature of the issue.
Several key men in our encumbered small society have had their say and made their point either for or against the outright rejection of the relentless Rastafarian prospective students. Attempts by some of us to stay clear of the raging debate have failed to stand time's tests, given that this brouhaha has connection to our work.
Let us categorically subject the issue to scrutiny. Every school has laid down rules, regulations and principles by which such institutions become the powerhouses that we see them to be. Same may even account for its attractiveness to the prospective student.
It is logical to say, therefore, that Achimota School would not have been attractive enough to the students who were rejected but for the strict enforcement of these same rules, regulations and principles accounting for their rejection. From the foregoing, it is not out of place to say that Achimota School has never admitted in its fold, any nonconformists students of any form, hence their job of training future leaders is without much stress. But I wonder if that is what the concept of training is about. This, though, may be the reason why they have produced so many top professionals and politicians including two Presidents for Ghana already.
Granted that Authorities of Achimota School have done no wrong in taking such decision; it means they have toed this line all this while and have been very successful. I guess the only difference this time round is the media limelight that this particular case has had unlike in previous years where, probably, students who failed to meet their internally enacted laid down conditions and principles just left without any haggling with them. To this end, we can say it would not be a bad idea if all other schools adopted their principles, rules and regulations then, in which case those two Rastafarian students would not fit in any school in Ghana. We then have to look at the issue of academic standards of the children— major basis upon which they were placed at the school. Now, if they are good enough, academically, to enroll in the school and yet are not “good enough” because they carry dreadlocks, then can Achimota School admit my niece whose hair is well trimmed but got aggregate forty-two (42) into their science class? I need them to help me produce a president from my family like they did with J.J. Rawlings and Prof. Atta Mills.
Admittedly, it is not new for schools to strive to maintain some standards. Mission schools have been the most instructive and ardent pursuers of high standards. They always force all students, irrespective of their own religious believes, to attend their churches, etc. However, I am yet to come across any empirical evidence that suggests that students who have been compelled by authorities of such schools to conform to religious practices they are alien to have mostly become converts of that denomination, in the long term. No. Is that what religion teaches: Forcing people to conform to your doctrines, no matter how briefly you can do so? I thought religion was an issue of developing one’s conscience to keep them rooted in whatever beliefs pertain in that religion? Come to think of it, do such believes and ‘no way for compromise' way of managing schools count for anything progressive? Your guess is as good as mine.
Let us delve into the other side of the coin as well. So the Rastafarian students have been wearing that hair all their lives? Where did they complete JHS and what made them accommodate them? Maybe, their former schools were too accommodating of undisciplined uncultured students. This, obviously, cannot be condoned by any serious junior high school! If so, did it affect their academic performances? I am told one of them scored aggregate 6; meaning his hair did little to affect the contents/standard of his head (brains). Did his way of life, records, and attitude affect other students negatively? We have not received any such information. But what is stopping him from accepting to trim his hair to enable him walk into his dream school without much fuss? I think it is his belief system. His conscience.
To allow such decision by authorities of Achimota School stand will be tantamount to a classic case of violating the constitution of the state. I hope we consider what is stipulated in Article 25 (1.a & b) and duly corroborated by Article 38 (a) of our supreme law that: (1) All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realisation of that right—
(a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all;
(b) secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education. The Rastafarian student in question, is also a Ghanaian citizen and, therefore, falls within the “all” category. His refusal to cut his hair is no strong enough a condition to deprive him of this basic right.
Again, I do not see wearing of dreadlocks to be an impediment to one's potential to advance his knowledge, skills and attitude which are paramount in our quest to churn out development oriented products to drive our economy forward. When the World Bank Group published the 2018 edition of the World Development Report, they said: “Struggling education systems lack one or more of four key school-level ingredients for learning: prepared learners, effective teaching, learning focused inputs, and the skilled management and governance that pulls them all together.” They did not identify life style related factors such as wearing of dreadlocks as a challenge for education systems. I have not seen or heard of any fact that points out hair style or religion as key factor in advancing or distracting teaching and learning. So why should anybody, suppress another, and try to deprive them of their basic right just because they are unwilling to comply a directive that has to do more with lifestyle than ability? Why? This is 2021. We need progressive rules, regulations and principles that will offer hope for the future and not these anachronistic ones being firmly enforced with such resoluteness.
It is also true that students attend school not only to learn but also to get trained. However, to cite such premise as reason for taking such discriminatory decision leaves much to be desired. In any case, training is what the Rastafarian students needed from the school at this critical time of their lives for holistic development to enable them think, believe and behave in the way the school deems appropriate for the average person. If you then tend to deny them the opportunity to impact their lives, merely on such discriminatory grounds, then your commitment to a school to causing societal change is questionable. In 2021, religion and lifestyle do not form the bases for admitting students; students' abilities and potentials do. In 2021, a more inclusive society is what is being promoted the world over; learning institutions have moved on from focusing on lifestyle, religion, race and/or physical challenges related issues as bases for providing opportunities to skills, attitude and knowledge-based issues as bases for providing such opportunities.
Powerful Bodies such as PTA, AMOSA, NAGRAT & GNAT siding with Achimota School is no surprise!
There is no gainsaying the development which sees all of the bodies listed above throwing their weight behind Achimota school comes as no surprise to some of us. All these bodies ascribed similar reasons for their stance by trying to stress the point that yielding to the students' demands would most likely amount to bad precedence for others to exploit. I think this point rather points to a lack of competence on the part of authorities to manage the numerous differences that society presents us with - and replicate in the school environment. They must be made aware of the fact that the school is only a microcosm in a macro world, and therefore, must be grounds for mimicking what must pertain in the real world of vast individual differences so as to teach learners to welcome and live with others harmoniously, irrespective of their socio-economic background, religion, race, etc. If a school cannot guarantee the existence of the concept of individual preferences in their system, then that school cannot be trusted to be an efficient education provider.
GES' Indecisiveness is a cause for concern
In situations like this, what we wish to see is a demonstration of decisive leadership by authorities such as GES. Initial comments made by the D-G of GES on the matter were encouraging and represented a demonstration of forwardness. I believe very vehemently, that those comments actually represent the position of the D-G himself. We are told that the GES has since backtracked on their word that the students would be offered admission elsewhere, preferably Accra Academy Senior High School. This development is bad news for the country because GES has failed to deliver on its core mandate which says: “GES is responsible for the implementation of approved national pre-tertiary educational policies and programs to ensure that all Ghanaian children of school-going age irrespective of tribe, gender, disability, religious and political affiliations are provided with inclusive and equitable quality formal education.” (emphasis is mine). So if GES, with this mandate, cannot guarantee and protect all Ghanaian children from being discriminated against by school authorities then we are doomed as a country. If you take a careful look at the bodies backing the school authorities, they are all carrying out their mandate of protecting their own - teachers and Headmistress, etc. It is part of GES’s mandate to act against this discriminatory decision and protect the right of the child. If they cannot muster the courage and firmness to do this, then what else is there to cheer about in this country?
All in all, that resolute and firm posturing of the Achimota School authorities is one of the positives, for me, in all of this though I think it is being demonstrated in the advancement of a cause that is outdated and in defiance of the principle of inclusiveness— which is in contravention of the Supreme law of this country, and in conflict with the GES mandate. And it begs the question: why include in the constitution and GES mandate a provision you cannot religiously implement and safeguard? The courage and relentlessness displayed by the students and their families in all of this is admirable and another positive in the brouhaha. It is our prayer that, as a country, we wake up one day, to a more inclusive society where justice is served at all levels of society especially in our educational sector and the rule of law upheld to the glory of God.
David Angangmwin Baganiah
Educational Consultant |Advocate| Volunteer