”How Wesley Girls High School's Examination Policy killed One of Its Brightest Students”
Among the feature headlines on the ghanaweb.com of Friday June 5, 2009, was the above which caught my attention. The article was the lamentation of one Nana Nyarko Surrey in London, who, through unnecessarily stringent rules by the authorities the Wesley Girls High School, led to the death of his 18-year old niece, Elizabeth Mefoa Hazel. According to him, the authorities denied his niece access to her parents during her ailment because of the school's policy that prohibits candidates from having external contacts with anybody, not even their parents. The child therefore died as a result of the failure of the school authorities to take her to the doctor in time, so the allegation went.
At about the same period last year, the authorities of Adisadel College (also in the Cape Coast) were being bombarded with a barrage of bitter criticism for the death of a final year science student who was also described by his mates as a brilliant student. (I'm yet to hear about the death of a student who was not intelligent). Mustapha Gafaru parachuted from the fourth floor to his death. He was trying to avoid the testicle-shrinking flogging from his housemaster. The authorities of Adisco were given their dose of lampooning and lambasting from all angles. This year, Adisco is out of the spotlight and if only this story is true, authorities of WGHS should position themselves well for what is to come. Ghanaians are good at venting their spleen on whoever avails himself or herself for the wrong reason.
I read the story with a heavy heart and nearly 400 derogatory comments greeted that heart-rending account of how that “beautiful and intelligent” student lost her life. After reading the story however, the feeling of sadness in me gave way to an indescribable sense of disappointment and I am only hoping that a reaction from the school authorities or investigation will prove otherwise.
Wesley Girls' Senior High School is a school I personally admire and it is a school I have earmarked for my daughters in future even though I am yet to find their mother. This is not to say that I am not proud of my own Krachi Senior High School. There are schools and there are schools. And to me, Wesley Girls' is more than just a school. I got in contact with Wey Gey Hey in October 2007 when I decided to come out with my Secondary Times newspaper for senior high schools across the country. As a result I toured a good number of schools and I can compete with Mr. Samuel Bannerman-Mensah in terms of knowledge of SHS in the country. From Mfantsipim to Bolga Girls SHS, I have interacted with a countless number of headmasters and headmistresses and can say that I'm sad about the misfortune that has befallen Mrs. Betty Dzokoto, the Headmistress of Wesley Girls. Chinua Achebe is right. If misfortune knocks at your door and you answer that you don't have seat for it, it tells you not to worry for it has come along with its own seat.
She is more of a mother to the children than just a headmistress. Mrs. Dzokoto, like the headmistress of Ebenezer Senior High School in Accra Mrs. Elizabeth Addo, is very polite and treats people with dignity. The rudest headmistress I have ever encountered is the headmistress of one of the Presbyterian senior high schools in Accra (not Presec-Legon. Africanus Anane is a nice man). The rudest secretary I have also ever encountered is the secretary of one of the country's famous girls' schools (in the Volta Region, Ho to be precise).
Authorities of Wesley Girls may have their own flaws but anyone who has visited the school for a number of times and perhaps had the opportunity to be at school's administration will agree with me that the authorities treat the children like their own children. The level of discipline in the school is also peerless. I once got to the school one Saturday and it was as though the school had vacated. It was time for prep, for there would be entertainment in the evening. There are also certain schools where the number of boarding students who run to town on weekends far outnumbers those who stay in the boarding houses. To hear such a bad news from one of the few schools which still hold the ideals of the missionaries' discipline is not only a worry but a great disappointment to me.
There are no rules that cannot be broken if they threaten the very survival of those they are meant to protect. After all we made laws and not the other way round. My little journalistic instinct makes me presume Nana Nyarko Surrey's story as an allegation. The writer has openly challenged authorities of Wesley Girls High School to “prevail themselves with an appropriate response.” Our elders say the first person to tell his side of a story is always right until the second person is heard.
What surprises me is the fact that this has been kept secret until a relative decided to write about it. Sensational headlines like, “Wesley Girls' Candidate Death: The True Story” would have adorned the front pages of our papers for days. It would have forced the truth out from its hideout. I call on the authorities of the Wesley Girls to come out and clear their name. The Ghana Education Service should also, as a matter of urgency, conduct a full investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of this final year student. The whip must crack on whoever is found culpable.
To the bereaved family, I share my condolences. It is painful but let us all wait and insist that the right procedure is followed to arrive at the truth. The frog, they say, likes water but not when it is boiling. The search of discipline in our second cycle institutions is fast becoming as elusive as the proverbial foot of the rainbow, but if there are disciplinary measures that threaten our very lives, then all school authorities must learn from the Wesley Girls High School tragedy, that is if only it is true. But let us also learn to be a little patient with school authorities in times of such tragedies. They are also human and humane. They do not take delight in such tragedies either.
May the truth be sought, found and acted upon appropriately!
Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [[email protected]]
The Writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra.