The Daily Guide issue of Wednesday, March 17, 2010, reports of the closure of the Boa Amponsem Senior High School at Dunkwa-on-Offin in the Central Region, after students demonstrations.
It is ironic that not too long ago, the authorities of the school cried out for assistance to rehabilitate it.
Within a relatively short period of time, there have been reports of one or two senior high schools, whose students had demonstrated or threatened to do so.
Even a mighty river has a small source. That is how it all started in the nineties, until the rash of demonstrations became an epidemic, especially in the Ashanti Region.
In the Ashanti Region, the situation was so bad that the Regional Security Council did not only meet on the matter, but also visited a few schools.
In one instance, the students burnt the only vehicle of the school, a Methusela of a Valco-donated Bedford truck. The truck was used to cart foodstuffs for the school kitchen, and also convey students to various activities such as inter-school sports competitions.
In the second instance, a group of students sought to blow up the school's gas tank, by trying to cut through the pipe. God being so good, the Headmaster of the school had just returned from Accra, where he had successfully negotiated an agreement to have the school rehabilitated.
In another school in the same town, a group of students also sought to blow up the gas tank. They soaked a piece of rope in petrol, tied it up to the gas tank, stretched the rope some distance, and tried to light a match to it. Only the vigilance of the school watchman prevented a catastrophe from engulfing the school and the neighbourhood.
There was also the case of students taking the Headmaster to a teak farm in order to cut off one of his legs. Only God averted a disaster. Many more examples could be given, but let these suffice.
Stakeholders should take steps to prevent these isolated cases of demonstrations in recent times from ending up in a conflagration. But, first, why do these demonstrations occur? The causes are many.
Students may not have any good reason for embarking on demonstrations. In fact, in one instance in the nineties, students of a day school in the Ashanti Region tried to demonstrate for the simple reason that they wanted to set a record, as the first day school to do that.
There are times when a simple explanation sought, and had, could have prevented a demonstration.
Unfortunately, instead of using a demonstration as a last resort, it becomes a first-strike weapon for students.
Intrigues and incitement by certain individuals and groups, including teaching staff, past students, disgruntled students, and others, could spark off a demonstration.
Nothing pleases academically poor students better than a demonstration. The longer the school is closed down, the better it is for them.
Still, no one can say that in all cases of demonstrations, there may not be genuine grievances.
Food prepared and served to students has always provided the spark for demonstrations.
In the Boa Amponsem case, the reported complaints included the alleged refusal of the Headmaster to let the students use a new toilet facility, the alleged non-supply of special school dresses for the students, and poor food.
Demonstrations take place mostly in the boarding schools. Large numbers of students live together on the compound, and they can use the cover of darkness to plot demonstrations and carry them out.
What is worrying about these demonstrations is the mindless and massive destruction which the students can wreak on the school.
Ironically enough, the demonstrating students can destroy the very school properties which were meant for their use. The only school vehicle may be burnt down; louvre blades may be broken, and light bulbs may also be destroyed.
Demonstrating students have been known to loot the food store, or even attempt to set fire to the store. Apart from burning or destroying school property, the properties of certain hated staff (with or without justifiable cause) could also be targets.
Above all, the very lives of the headmaster, his family and other staff could be at grave risk. In one instance, in the demonstrations in the Ashanti Region, a headmaster had to fire warning shots to scare off some of the students. In another school, it was the school accountant who had to fire warning shots.
When a school is closed down, and the students are sent home as a result of the demonstrations, those who tend to suffer most are the students themselves and their parents or guardians.
The students lose valuable time while they stay out of school. For some of them, the school is the only place that provides ideal surroundings for studies.
Sometimes, the decision is taken to bill each student for the destruction caused.
Of course, invariably, it is the parents or guardians who pick up the bills. Some students may even be dismissed for their part in the demonstrations.
The early warning signals are here with us with the few cases of demonstrations. What can be done? Fortunately, the “bosses” at the top of the ladder of educational administration are two very experienced men.
Mr. H. Bannerman-Mensah came straight from the office of a headmaster to become the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service. As for Mr. Alex Tettey-Enyo, the Minister of Education, he has seen it all as Teacher, Headmaster, Director of Secondary Education, Deputy Director-General and Acting Director-General. They should use their considerable experience to advised heads on the need to establish structures and measures through which students-staff interactions can be made possible.
They should also ensure that facilities are fairly shared, instead of a few privileged schools getting almost everything, because past students have become directors, or other influential people who use their influence to get favours for those schools.
Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHAS) at the regional levels should also caution heads against turning a deaf ear to complaints, until explosions, by way of demonstrations, wake them up.
Parents should also advise their children about the bad consequences of demonstrations. And staff, past students, and others, who foment trouble, because of differences with the head and his administration, should desist from such evil actions.
We may not be able to stamp out demonstrations altogether, but much can be done to minimize their incidence.
Credit: I.K. Gyasi/Chronicle
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