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Contribution of the Methodist Church to education in Ghana

Ghanaian Chronicle
15 November 2010 | Education

Methodism was born in song. Hardly does any Christian sect worship without a rendition of one or two of the many hymns composed by John and Charles Wesley, the two brothers who concretised the activities of the religious group, whose activities are all based on methods.

In Ghana, the church was established through the collaboration of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and local Christians dedicated to the study of the Bible. The first missionary arrived at Cape Coast in 1835.

Available literature on the evolution of Methodism in Ghana indicates that the church in Ghana used to be under the British Conference until in 1961, when it became autonomous. The Methodist approach to evangelism has always included formal education and other social services, including medical care.

'The Methodist Church Ghana seeks to see a nation-Ghana, in which every child receives quality education to the highest level possible. Education received will be based on academic excellence and the development of productive skills, which will lead to the development of individuals involved with honesty, integrity, Christian values, professional and work ethics.' That, in nutshell, is the Education policy of the church, spelt out in black and white.

On Thursday, November 11, 2010, as the afternoon sun faded into the evening sky, throwing long shadows of the magnificent edifice of the Methodist University College academic blocks unto the well-nurtured horticulture, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church Ghana, Most Reverend Emmanuel Asante, addressed a well-attended lecture at the South Wing, Faculty Block of the Methodist University College, at Dansoman, a suburb of Accra, as part of the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the college.

His theme, approprietly chosen to commemorate a decade of the founding of the university, was titled: The Contribution of the Methodist Church Ghana to Education and National Development.

'It is almost an understatement to say that the Methodist Church Ghana has made a very significant or tremendous contribution to education and national development in Ghana,' he began, to loud applause from the audience.

'By national development, we are not only referring to the physical infrastructural contributions such as schools, hospitals, cathedrals, mission houses, roads etc., we are also referring to the spiritual and religious development of the country's most precious assets – the human beings. The education and skill development of the people is the highest, most potent agent of national development that the Church imparts to its output of students, scholars, and professionals who perform various precious roles in the various sectors of the national economy for national development,' he stated.

According to available conservative estimates, by the end of 2009, the church had established 719 kindergartens, 1,017 primary and 483 junior high schools. The Methodist Church Ghana also boasts of 20 second cycle public schools, 22 secondary/tertiary/vocational institutions, and three colleges of education. Two hospitals, sited at Wenchi in the Brong Ahafo Region and Ankaasi in the Ashanti Region, bear the mark of the church.

Contrary to the general perception that the Mfanstipim School at Cape Coast, established in 1876, pioneered secondary education in Ghana, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church named the Wesley Girls High School, also at Cape Coast, as the oldest such institution established by the Methodist Church in Ghana.

'The Wesley Girls High School (WGHS), Cape Coast, an educational institution for girls, was named after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The school was established in 1836 with 25 pupils, by the wife of a Methodist Minister, Rev. Wrigley. It started as a primary school with the aim of offering girls training in reading, writing, sewing, and house-keeping, and more especially, in moral and spiritual development,' stated Most Rev. Asante.

It is natural that an institution of that magnitude would nurture many distinguished personalities. Almost every aspect of life in Ghana has been touched by the end product of Wesley Girls High School. The Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Mrs. Georgina Theodora Wood, is an old girl. Dr. Mrs. Mary Chinery Hesse, former Deputy Director of the International Labour Organisation, received her second cycle education from We-Gey-Hey. So are Mrs. Elizabeth Mills-Robertson, the only woman in this country to have acted as the Inspector General of Police, Lady Julia Osei-Tutu, wife of the Asantehene, and Prof. Florence Abena Dolphyne, the first female pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, among many others.

If Mfanstipim is not the oldest secondary school in Ghana, it is universally acknowledged that it pioneered boys' second cycle education in this land of our birth. The Most Rev. Asante told his avid listeners on Thursday, that when the Methodist Church opened the first boys' secondary school at Cape Coast, it was christened the Wesleyan High School.

It had an initial intake of 17 boys, offering tuition in both secondary and teacher training education. 'By the end of the year, the number had increased to 28.'

In 1904, John Mensah Sarbah, a foundation student of the school, and his friends, not satisfied with the performance of the school, which had been re-named Wesleyan Collegiate School, floated the Fante Public School Limited.

A year later, the new company established a high school, and named it Mfanstipim, literally meaning the foundation stone of Fantes, with its motto: Dwen Hwe Kan (Think and look ahead), coined by Mensah Sarbah.

The rivalry between the new and old schools, while sharing limited resources, made the Methodist Mission to step in and amalgamate the two schools. The new institution adopted the name Mfanstipim, and its motto: Dwen Hwe Kan.

The school has produced many distinguished Ghanaians, including early nationalists, Mensah Sarbah, Kobina Sekyi, and George Ekem Furguson. In contemporary Ghanaian politics, Prof. Kofi Abrefa Busia, Prime Minister of Ghana in the Second Republic, sends a powerful signal about the potency of the school to produce distinguished scholars.

Mr. Kofi Annan, first African Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Rev. F.C.F. Grant, first Ghanaian President of the Methodist Church Ghana, are both old boys.

It would take books with several volumes to list all the products of Mfanstipim School, fondly remembered by old boys as Kwabotwe, for the famous hill on which the school is situated.

Mfanstipim and Wesley Girls are not the only famous second cycle institutions owing their existence to the foresight of the Methodist Church. Prempeh College, sited in Kumasi, began admitting students in 1949. It is a joint project between the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.

In the words of Most Rev. Asante, 'One distinguishing feature of the college is the singularly high number of medical doctors among its alumni. In other areas of our national life and economic development, many Prempeh College alumni have distinguished themselves.

The immediate Past President of the Republic, John Agyekum Kufuor, is an old boy. So are the Most Rev. Robert Aboagye-Mensah, the man from whom Most Rev. Asante took over as head of Methodism in Ghana, Rev. Prof. S.K. Agyepong, Principal of the Methodist University College, who chaired the function on Thursday, and Prof. Agyeman Badu Akosa, immediate past Director of the Ghana Medical Service.

In March 1956, the Accra Circuit of the Methodist Church decided to establish what was initially called Wesley Boys High School, to educate the young ones in the true Methodist tradition. Seeing the fruits of the labour of the circuit, the Gbese Stool donated a large tract of land at 'Ojo Kpakpo Hill' to site the school. The school was absorbed into the Public Education System in 1961, and the name was changed to Wesley Grammar School.

'Wesley Grammar,' in the words of Most Rev. Asante, 'aims at providing relevant education with moral values, as well as academic excellence, in all areas, to be of benefit to the nation through the help of our God, as the source of success.

As the gospel of Methodism spread to all the nooks and crannies of the nation, there came the need to train ministers and teachers/catechists locally. Initially, the training of workers in that category began at Aburi, with staff from Cape Coast and Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone forming the nucleus of the trainees.

In 1922, one year after Rev. C.W. Armstrong took over from Mr. Gibson as head of the new institute, the Synod decided to name it Wesley College, and to move it to Kumasi to support the church in Ashanti, where, through the preaching of Prophet Samson Oppong, the church was growing rapidly.

Tafohene Nana Dankaba donated a site for construction of the college. On November 22, 1922, Governor Sir Gordon Guggisberg laid the foundation stone, and in March 1944, he declared the Wesley College in Kumasi officially open.

Like its counterparts in secondary education, the Wesley College of Education has produced many prominent citizens in various spheres of national development. So is the Komenda College of Education, established in1948, in premises left by the Air Fleet of the British Navy after the Second World War.

According to the Head of the Methodist Church in Ghana, Mmofraturo was established in Kumasi, 'when it dawned on the early Wesleyan Missionaries that when the girl child was educated, she could grow up to face the challenges of the fast-changing world.

'In view of this idea, Mmofraturo, the first girls boarding school in Ashanti was officially opened on a rainy morning on 11th March, 1930 by Lady Slater, the wife of the then Governor of the Gold Coast. The Asantehene, Nana Prempeh I, and the Asantehemaa, Nana Konadu Yiadom, graced the occasion.'

According to Most Rev. Asante, the school complex was 'to serve a dual purpose: a hostel for female students of Wesley College, and also a demonstration school for female trainees of the college. The female trainees were also to assume responsibilities for the training of the young girls, thereby becoming their mothers. Children therefore, began to arrive from all parts of the country, with the youngest, Gloria Addae, later Gloria Nikoi, one-time Foreign Minister of Ghana, being only three and a half years old.'

With the growing structure of the Methodist Church in educating the Ghanaian child, it was only a matter of time, when the church would branch into the mine-field of university education.

When the Methodist University College was established in the year 2000, it had an initial enrolment of 213 students, occupying a two-floor dormitory building on the north wing of the Wesley Grammar School compound at Dansoman in Accra.

Ten years down the line, the university has four faculties, a good number of departments, and a student population of 5,000.

'Methodist University College, Ghana, has been running post-graduate programmes since the 2005/06 academic year, and has turned out at least two batches of MA, MPhil and MBA graduates respectively, in Guidance and Counselling, Mathematics and Business Administration.'

The Methodist Church Ghana, says its Presiding Bishop, believes that development has everything to do with the well-being of the society. 'While pragmatic approaches to meaningful enhancement to material well-being informed by the application of science and technology must play a central role in development initiative, tapping the spiritual roots of human motivation provides the essential impulse that ensures social advancement. So there is a spiritual perspective on development. The spiritual perspective is defined by the recognition of the vital link between the practical and spiritual aspects of human life, which leads inevitably, to a refraining of what constitutes well-being, and of the possible holistic educational mechanism for attaining such-well-being.'

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