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22.03.2010 Feature Article

Giving an old donkey a new name

Fire officers arrive at the scene of fire either too late or too incapable of managing the fire because of poor and obsolete equipment. Fire officers arrive at the scene of fire either too late or too incapable of managing the fire because of poor and obsolete equipment.

At first it sounded like one of those cruel jokes friends crack while relaxing over a few bottles of beer. But with history as a guide, I knew we were about to have another renaming ceremony of one of our struggling national institutions. I am referring to the news that the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is to be renamed the Ghana National Fire and Rescue Service (GNFRS).

I am not surprised because this is a country in which the remedy for every failed institution is a change of name and not structural transformation. We have seen and experienced this several times in the past and, therefore, some of us are not surprised that the tradition still goes on.

One of the biggest beneficiaries (or do I say victims) of this renaming ceremony is the educational system. In the 1980s, the primary, middle and secondary schools changed names to junior secondary school and senior secondary school. The middle school lost its place in an educational reform that was introduced primarily to reduce the number of years in school and enrich the curriculum to give practical meaning to education.

Whether this objective had been achieved or not should not be a matter of any serious debate because ever since these changes were introduced, the educational terrain had become more rugged and uncertain. The years spent schooling have become longer because if even you are out of school, you still have to wait for a year or so before advancing to the next stage. The practical aspect had been lost long ago because there are no workshops to train those with weak academic backgrounds in the so-called vocational and employable skills.

The drop-out rate has been aggravated as against the previous system when there was a gradual exiting from the system from Primary Six when some pupils entered secondary school to Standard Seven or Middle School Form Four when the last batch sat for the Middle School Leaving Certificate Examination and then proceeded to the various secondary schools, training colleges and technical and vocational institutes. The pressure on the educational facilities was, therefore, somehow manageable.

Nothing changed in the change of names, since the same old physical structures and human resources were forced to carry the new structures on their weak shoulders. If there were any changes, it was that the pressure on resources was enhanced and the burden on parents multiplied.

In 2007, following a general outcry about the deplorable educational system, the government thought it had come up with a solution. That was to undergo another renaming ceremony. The JSS and SSS became junior high school (JHS) and senior high school (SHS). An additional issue was the extension of the previous SSS (now SHS) from three years to four years as part of efforts to get the students to do better.

The fundamental problems of poor and inadequate infrastructure, including classrooms, libraries, laboratories, books and other learning materials which make learning not only conducive but interesting, became secondary.

Today, that change of name, as it had become obvious, has not brought about any qualitative improvement in the educational system and our children, the guinea-pigs that they have become, will have to endure another reversal from the four-year to the previous three-year SHS.

All the school heads are screaming mad that they cannot contain the additional burden of admitting fresh students next academic year to join the current third-year SHS students who are already struggling to cope with limited resources. The promises have started pouring in from the politicians but as to whether these will translate into more classrooms and dormitory accommodation for the students and more residential facilities for the teachers is another matter.

The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) has gone through very traumatic experiences in the past few months. The personnel have watched in gaping awe as our giant edifice housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got consumed in an inferno.

Former President John Jerry Rawlings's residence, which could have become a historical monument in future, was reduced to ashes as GNFS personnel battled vainly to stop the blaze.

The Tema Oil Refinery, the only one we could build in our 53 years as an independent, sovereign country, is now limping because of a recent fire outbreak.

Those who want to admit the truth will tell you that the fire personnel are not lazy or ill-trained. However, they always arrive at the scene of fire either too late or too incapable of managing the fire because of poor and obsolete equipment.

The workers are ill-motivated, poorly equipped and virtually abandoned at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to the sharing of the national cake. After all, who cares for a fire that may come only once in a while? But as we have seen in the last few weeks, even one major fire disaster can bring a nation down on its knees.

Again, what is the national response to the neglect of this important national institution? A change of name! According to an officer of the service who broke the news, the change of name is “to create public awareness of the core functions of the GNFS so that Ghanaians will know which agency to call for help anytime there is a road accident and there are casualties”.

That is an interesting stuff. Before then, bureaucratic machinery in the form of a six-member committee has been put in place to work out the acquisition of modern equipment, including ladders, that could enhance fire fighting on high-rise buildings.

So will our Foreign Affairs building be standing majestically today because the fire service has added rescue to its name? Will former President Rawlings's residence be intact because instead of the GNFS, a GNFRS has been on the scene? Will the gas be flowing today at TOR because GNFRS went to the rescue?

Can you imagine a GNFRS without modern fire tenders, ambulances and other rescue accoutrements? Can you picture the performance of a GNFRS with ill-motivated and poorly paid fire fighters? That is why a change of name from the GNFS to GNFRS is not our national concern and should not be made to engage our attention. Give the GNFS the equipment and facilities it requires for its operations and the personnel will fight the fire and rescue those in distress, whether through accidents, floods, earthquakes or fire.

A donkey is a donkey, whether you call it a beast of burden or not.

Credit: kofi Akordor
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Kofi Akordor
Kofi Akordor, © 2010

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

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