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20.11.2008 Feature Article

UNIVERSITY OF GHANA SHADOW OF A COLLAPSING NATION (PART ONE)

When this writer heard Mr. Benjamin Akyena Brantuo, a former President of the Junior Common Room (JCR) of the Commonwealth Hall of the University of Ghana call for the dismissal of the Vice-Chancellor, the immediate phenomenon that came to mind was Erasmus of Rotterdams Pandoras box. But like in Pandoras Box, where all the evils of mankind could be found there was also hope and the courage by the former student leader to question the deteriorating systems at the University, symbolizes hope in the other corner of the Pandoras Box.

The University of Ghana like the larger Ghana can best be described as a case. A case in which everything is falling apart but the leaders refuse to recognize the ills and fix them. The over 300-page report submitted by the Sir John Daniels Visitation Panel in December 2007 is just testimony of how far the vision of our forebears has been killed by the present generation of leaders. It is also an attestation of how things are falling apart fast in out Motherland. The factories have all collapsed and their buildings taken over by churches.

Although this writer believes that Mr. Brantuo is likely to be dismissed by the powers that be as a rabble-rouser, he must be commended for a gallant display of courage. Social-psychologists have always held that some level of deviancy is always good for the forward match of every society. So, much as many would dismiss the allegations made by the former student leader, his reference to the Sir John Daniels report raises very fundamental questions that need immediate redress.

Issues about the deteriorating conditions at the premier Ghanaian university have remained a taboo all this while. Any honest person who is very familiar with the current state of the University would confess that the situation can be comparable to the coming apocalypse. Having also done a graduate study programme at the university, this writer can say that the picture of the University is just like that of a dying state. But of course, just like the larger Ghana where our leaders engage in vulgar extravagance at the least opportunity while ignoring the very basic needs of the common man, the University authorities see very little wrong with the pathetically epileptic situation because, their comfort is guaranteed even in the midst of the wanton student need and desire for a serene and welcoming environment for progressive intellectual discourse.

Many a time, the authorities are too quick to dismiss student agitation for better conditions. They are too quick to suppress and victimize anybody (student or faculty) who dares criticize the outlandish manner in which the University has been run for many years. The actions of the University leadership are so crude that the descriptive dictatorship as used by Mr. Brantuo might even be too mild.

Running through literature, perhaps best and most suitable descriptive of the situation at the University of Ghana today was put up by Paulo Freire. In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we can see a re-enactment of everything there in that book at our alma mater.

This writer would try to use Paulo Freires Pedagogy of the Oppressed to illustrate the one tendency of the faculty and the entire administration of the University that Mr. Brantuo has described the dictatorial tendency. The entire university system operates on the false belief that the student is ignorant and that the professor is the one who has knowledge and is the one to whom everybody should listen. The writer calls this, the banking concept of education where knowledge is perceived as a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.

If you question a lecturer at the University of Ghana, that might be your license to losing your student status or your certificate because, the teacher teaches and the students are taught, the teacher thinks and the students are thought about, the teacher knows everything and the student knows nothing, the teacher talks and the students listen and meekly, of course. At the University of Ghana, the teacher is the subject of the learning process, while the students are mere objects. The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which is set in opposition to the freedom of the students. The teacher chooses the programme content and the students (who are not consulted) adapt it. The Lord Daniels report affirmed this. Furthermore, at our alma mater, the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher. The teacher chooses and enforces his choice and the students comply, if you dont, your reward is a sure F grade or at best a weak grade if you are deemed outstanding by your peers. This is the true picture of the once revered Ghanaian university, at a time an ivory tower of choice for many people around the entire globe and especially people of African descent. Have you ever wondered why many employers complain these days that many of our graduates are not able to think outside the box? Have you also wondered why many graduates adapt the lets give it to God approach instead of asserting their rights?

Although, the current Vice-Chancellor is part of the problem, he cannot be blamed for all the ills. He is a typical African leader who, like the legendary king who is naked in public but is told by the subjects that he is beautifully clad, Prof Tagoe is surrounded by sycophants who see nothing wrong with the system.

Just try undertaking a post graduate programme at the University and surely you would have signed a bond with the ghost. Just like eating with the ghost, while eating with a long spoon, you have to make sure you finish everything. A 12-month Masters programme at the University takes an average of three (3) years and as for the duration of PhDs the least said, the better. There is a true story of a student who started his PhD programme at the University. It took him 12 years! Just upon receipt of his degree (or admission into the PhD), the man passed on! There is also a story of another friend who enrolled for a second degree at the University. She completed the taught course of the two-year programme on schedule. Then the foxtrot started with the thesis. The friend got frustrated and went to the London School of Economics. She got the Master of Science degree within 18 months. At the time she returned to Ghana after her studies in London, even the first copies of her work at the University of Ghana were not marked. There are other horrible stories.

But of course, the faculty is often too quick to attribute failure of the students to complete their theses and dissertations on schedule, on the former. What they fail to recognize, however, is that the lecturer is supposed to be a guide to the students and if the guide is bad, then the end result would be a sure disaster.

The University of Ghana is sinking very fast. Does it make any sense for eight students to sleep in a cubicle originally meant for two? Does it make any sense if a two year Masters programme is completed within five years? Are the lecturers paid to manage the problems or they are employed to fix them? To get a more informed position on what Mr. Brantuo has stated about the University, which is a microcosm of the collapsing nation, this writer recommends the Sir Daniels report to all readers. We need to act fast!

At the peril of his university degree, Mr. Brantuo has staked his claim. I think this is in sync with what Paulo Freire contended in his book that, it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained. That the individual who has not staked his or her life may, in no doubt, be recognized as a person but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.

Kwabena Mprah Jnr
Kwabena Mprah Jnr, © 2008

The author has 11 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwabenaMprahJnr

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