When I arrived at the Kyebi Government Middle School in 1951, it was under the illusion that the school would not employ teachers who were as fond of caning pupils as had been the school I’d just left – Asiakwa Presbyterian Senior School. (“Senior” became “Middle” in 1951, without any explanation to us school children!)
I had heard that at Kyebi, the emphasis was more on academic subjects than on things like mending the school fence and/or weeding the school park, activities which, at Asiakwa, often came between school children and the books they were supposed to master. Me, I wasn’t having any of it. One year (Standard Four) was all I could take.
On one occasion, instead of going to cut bamboos in the bush and bringing them to school, as I’d been ordered, I went on a ride with a driver of the Agricultural station, who had promised to teach me how to drive. Thye driver, Mr Kwaku Robert, came from Kukurantumi (about fourteen miles from Asiakwa) and I won his favour by briefing him thoroughly about life in my hometown. He thus enjoyed living there.
In return, he used to allow me to drive his car up and down the town, although my feet could hardly control the brake, accelerator and clutch pedals.
Mr Robert’s car was a beautiful Ford “Pilot” pickup, whose V-8 engine sounded so beautiful that it mesmerised me like very good music. It was a great joy driving it and making smooth gear changes with its synchromesh “steering gear”. (I’d obtained my first driving lessons on a Bedford one-and-a-half-ton truck, whose pedals were so stiff I had to hold on tight to the steering mechanism, before I could summon enough power into my legs to depress the pedals!) With the Bedfoird discarded, I put everything into driving the Ford Pilot as if it had “been made for me”.
Apparently, some busybody at Asiakwa had tipped my headmaster off that if he didn’t take me seriously in hand, I would ditch the school and become a motor driver. So when he asked us to go and cut bamboo sticks and he discovered that instead of going with my mates to cut the bamboos, I’d bribed someone else to cut someone for me, but that instead of bringing me six sticks, the guy had brought me only three, each of which I’d then ingeniously cut in two to bring the number to six, the headmaster ordered that I should be given eighteen lashes of the cane. The whole school was assembled to watch my humiliation.
Well, I thought there would be nothing like that at Kyebi. But I was wrong. The headmaster at the Government Senior School was a short, frisky man who walked so fast that his neck-tie was always flying from the front of his shirt to the back of the garment. Like my former headmaster, he too had a “hangup” – he loathed children who came to school late. The school was surrounded by a hedge of thorny vegetation, and he deliberately allowed the hedge to grow so high that he could hide himself in the hedges without being seen by children who had come in late and wanted to reach the parade ground as fast as possible. (This was helped by the fact that, as I have already noted, he was quite a short fellow.)
In my last year in the school, some really “tough” guys joined us. They came from nearby villages, such as Adadientam). These guys were inevitably late for school each day, as they were forced to walk at least three miles to school each day.
As it happened, they were usually “big” boys physically, and the result was that they were given the job of becoming “prefects” and being put in charge of keeping discipline in the school. Their tasks included trimming the school hedge, so that it would look good to visitors to the school.
What they did was to trim the hedge but to leave “gaps” so cleverly in the hedgerow that those who “knew” could come and pass through them to the school compound when the school gate was padlocked shut!
This had been going on successfully until a day came, when (by whatever means) the headmaster discovered what had been going on, and he hid himself at a convenient spot. As each late-comer used the “hidden” path to gain access to the school compound, he felt a hand fall heavily on his shoulder and a sharp, whispered order saying “GO AND WAIT FOR ME IN THE OFFICE!” office!”
However, one very brave boy, perhaps surprised out of his wits by discovering that the headmaster was hiding in the hedges and had caught him, yelled out instinctively: “OTER HOR OH! (‘HE’S HIDING THERE OH!’) The rest of the late-comers thereupon took to their heels and made off back to town. They didn’t turn up for school that day.
The headmaster gave each of the boys who, on his orders, had earlier gone to “wait for him” in the office, twelve good lashes. It reminded me of my Asiakwa school days. But what was I to do? I had fervently persuaded my father to get me into the Kyebi Government School. Was I to confess to him that I had been wrong? How would he be able to trust my opinion in future?
Yeah – going to school in the colonial days of Ghana was not a “beach holiday”. Presbyterian o, Methodist o, Government School o, duka daaya!
(All de same!)
Yeah – it’s only by the grace of God that some of us managed to stay in school until we were able to leave with our vastly overvalued “certificates”! We must thus thank God for “little mercies!”