I was inexpressibly elated when during its annual awards ceremony this year, the panel of judges selected by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) flatly refused to name a recipient for the prestigious category of Journalist of the Year. The panel's quite laudable, albeit predictable, rationale was that the quality of submissions for the Journalist of the Year Award was inexcusably substandard across the board. I was elated because for the first time, I though the GJA was boldly and honestly coming to realize that Ghanaian media practitioners needed to face the painful truth – which is that they are not nearly half as good as they would have the rest of us believe.
About 7 years ago, I visited the country in the wake of one such award ceremony and was utterly flabbergasted by the rather embarrassingly shallow appreciation for the import of the awards by the general Ghanaian public. Back then, it wistfully seemed as if somebody had shirked their responsibility in frankly explaining to the general public that, indeed, the Journalist of the Year Award could plausibly be bestowed on a broadcast presenter whose television or radio station had not been adjudged the overall best. Thus I could hear a slew of callers bitterly complaining that a particular broadcaster had been adjudged the best journalist, although his station had not even been ranked among the top-notch media institutions.
In the wake of the most recent GJA awards ceremony, a quite well-known partisan Ghanaian economist, who also routinely doubles as a social commentator, cavalierly faulted our schools of journalism for the painfully low quality of media fare. The critic, himself a former journalist, offered several generally useful pointers for the improvement of the quality of Ghanaian journalism, both the print and electronic media. The critic was also quick to point out that professional lassitude appeared to have become integral to the media trade in Ghana. For example, our writers, generally, play fast and loose with basic skills of the trade, such as cross-checking of facts and statistics and even the correct spelling of the names of newsmakers. He also, quite aptly, at least on the face of it, blamed many a Ghanaian journalist for abjectly lacking the indispensable habit of reading, in order to both strengthen his/her vocabulary arsenal as well as keep abreast of global media culture.
I note the fact that the critic was apt in his observation regarding the apparent lack of sustained reading habit, or culture, on the part of many a Ghanaian journalist, at least on first blush, because the problem has far deeper roots, and it originates from the preschool level.
As a society, not much attention is paid to intellectual development. Perhaps this is primarily due to the fact that our limited temporal resources have to stiffly compete with our never-ending search for economic necessities; in the process, our most immediate and pressing needs are invariably and inevitably accorded top-most priority. And since intellectual investment does not bear immediate – or ready – fruits, it, of course, stands to reason that it would be promptly relegated to the marginal status of the secondary or incidental.
The preceding has not been facilitated by the fact that for two decades Ghanaian politics was totally dominated by the patently anti-intellectual twin-regimes of the so-called Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). And for the first time since the “Verandah Boyism” days of the 1950s and 1960s, Ghanaian education was literally back-benched. The irony, though, is that both P/NDC regimes had among its top-most ranks some of our country's leading intellectuals and college professors. The latter would curiously and eagerly collaborate with political usurpers and dictators to callously grind the Ghanaian educational system to a screeching halt.
Exactly a week ago as of this writing (10/28/08), the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service (GES) reiterated the centrality of effective English-language instruction to the development of both the Ghanaian academy, as it were, and the nation at large. Mr. Samuel Bannerman-Mensah, therefore, called on Ghanaian teachers to redouble their efforts in this all-too-salutary direction (“Fallen Standard of the English Language” Ghanaweb.com 10/22/08). In brief, there was absolutely nothing remiss with this clarion call of Mr. Bannerman-Mensah, except the glaring omission of the fact of most of the teachers currently in the system being veritable victims of what has come to be widely designated as THE LOST YEARS of Ghanaian political culture. And the latter period, of course, roughly approximates the two decades – from 1981 to 2000 – during which period the populist and anti-intellectual governments of the so-called Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) literally held Ghanaians by the throttle. Some rascally critics who presume to be morally obligated to mordantly fault Ghanaian journalists for their schlocky fare, nevertheless, find themselves curiously diffident to call the rag-tag P/NDC governments to account.
A dispiriting story was recently narrated to me by a fellow Ghanaian colleague, and a Fulbright Scholar with whom I share office space, who spent the bulk of last summer teaching English at a quite reputable parochial – or church-sponsored – university in Accra. The long and short of it all, as Dr. Solomon Benson (not his real name) wrenchingly narrated, is that the English language skills of many a Ghanaian educator brought up during THE LOST YEARS are as unsavory as those of their students. In sum, observes my colleague, a trained teacher who taught at the elementary and secondary levels for several years before departing from the virtual wasteland that was the Ghanaian educational system during the 1980s, what we have in Ghana right now is the proverbial case of the blind leading their own kind.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of 18 books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005) and “Ghanaian Politics Today” (Atumpan Publications/lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: [email protected]
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