It is trite knowledge that the development of any community is intricately linked to the level of education of its population. Access to education is thus an integral feature and a driver of the betterment of the human condition and that of society at large.
Although the entire Northern part of Ghana was neglected over a very long period by the Colonial government regarding access to education, Salaga (“the Timbuktu of the south” as it was referred to) by dint of being a very important trading post was fortunate to be one of the earliest towns to have a government school.
As a matter of fact, the attempt to establish a school in Salaga dates back to 1906. The White Fathers (“Peres Blancs”) fearing that they will be expelled from the Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) due to the French anti-clerical laws, sought permission from the Colonial Government in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana) to open stations in Salaga and Wa. However, the Colonial government led by Chief Commissioner A. E. G. Watherston refused to grant them permission as a result of Salaga and Wa being “centers of Muslim influence”. Subsequently, the White Fathers in February, 1906 were granted permission to open a station in Navrongo and in December, 1907 a mission school was opened in the town.
Nevertheless, sixteen (16) years later, a Government Primary school was opened in Salaga in 1923, with forty (40) pupils. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds to manage the Government Schools, in April 1932, the Committee of Education Expenditure recommended that the three government schools at Salaga, Wa, and Gambaga be handed over to the Basel mission (Presbyterian Church), with the Tamale school remaining under government control. Despite his fears that a total mission take-over of these schools might mean a Muslim boycott of education, acting Chief Commissioner Duncan-Johnstone agreed with the governor that Wa and Gambaga should be relinquished and Salaga closed. Fortunately, the director of education, G. Power, rejected this recommendation and warned that the government should not hand over any schools to the Missions as education is not their primary object. He further recommended that, the existing government elementary schools including Salaga be handed over to their Native Administrations (Chiefs). He opined that, the Native Administration should provide funding to support the cost of building and repair of the schools, and the students' own agricultural activities would supply the necessary food. He again suggested that pupils should be chosen from the children of chiefs, area heads, village heads, and "important local people".
This policy was not just meant to ensure adequate funding of the schools but also training the new generation of chiefs and “preserving Chiefly power”, thereby accelerating the indirect rule introduced by the colonial government. To the colonialists, it is easier with more lasting benefit to force Chiefs and their Heirs to learn English Language than forcing Commissioners to learn the many local languages.
In November, 1933 Power’s plan was approved by the Governor. Subsequently, the Salaga School after thirteen (13) years of operation was closed and the Kpembe Elementary school opened in 1936. Some elders of the Kpembewura supervised the school compounds, which were named after the Gonja subdivisions, and two of the elders gave regular lectures on history and custom.
However, it is important to stress that before the establishment of schools in both Salaga and Kpembe, selected natives from these towns have been educated through the colonial government’s policy of providing education to “intelligent sons” of Chiefs. In 1908, a number of intelligent sons of chiefs from the Northern Territories were sent to the government school at Cape Coast. Some of the students were later transferred to the New Technical School in Accra. Among these was Atchulo Samuel William Braimah (J.A. Braimah’s father), the son of Kpembewura Timu.
In one of his books, J. A. Braimah narrated that, when his grandfather Timu was Kpembewura, “he was asked [by the colonial government] to provide a child to be sent to school. He [Kpembewura Timu] called on Chinakuli, the son of his slave, but he was rejected. None of his wives would allow their sons to be taken away to Gua [Cape Coast]. Timu was [therefore] embarrassed and did not know what to do. Atchulo volunteered, and amid tears, Timu gave him up. He went with one Seidu, the son of a slave of Kpembewura Nyinchubore. On the day of their leaving Kpembe, all the people in the house wept, saying that they would never see Atchulo again, for he was going to be sacrificed to the Yeji River.”
Refreshingly, Atchulo was later transferred to the government school in Tamale when it opened in 1909. Upon completion in 1916 He was employed by the Posts and Telegraphs Department. In essence, this brief account sums up the Municipality’s journey so far as regards to education.
Fast forward to 2019, after exactly 90 years of the establishment of the first school in East Gonja (Salaga), and from a humble beginning of just one (1) elementary school, the number of public schools has since soared to one hundred and fifty-one (151) basic schools, two (2) Senior High Schools and a Nursing Training Institution. Whilst pupils enrolment in the public basic schools has risen in a promising fashion from just forty (40) in 1928 to thirty-four thousand one hundred and sixteen (34,116) in 2018.
In spite of these successes, academic performance in the basic schools has disappointingly taken the path of depression. The standard of basic education in our dear municipality is way below our desired position. In truth, the quality of the majority of pupils we produce at the JHS level leaves a lot more to be desired.
As a matter of extreme urgency, we must as a people take a serious look at the education of our children, especially at the basic level. As Maria Montessori succinctly puts it, early childhood education is the key to the betterment of society. Therefore, if we have any interest in the future development of East Gonja and concerned about leaving it better than we met it. We must all put our shoulders to the wheel.
Indeed, data on the performance of our students in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) is looking too terrifying, to put it mildly. It is worth noting that, for the past five years, more than 60% of the pupils from the East Gonja Municipality who sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) consistently scored between aggregate thirty-one (31) and fifty-four (54).
To put it in context, in 2016, out of the one thousand one hundred and ninety-one (1,191) students who wrote the BECE, only 25.69%, that is, three hundred and six (306) obtained up to aggregate thirty (30), the rest of the staggering eight hundred and eighty five (885) students obtained aggregate thirty-one (31) and above. Figure 1 below paints the picture better.
Again, in 2017, out of the one thousand two hundred and twenty (1,220) students who sat for the BECE only 26.89% (328) obtained up to aggregate thirty (30). The remaining eight hundred and ninety-two (892) all obtained aggregate thirty-one (31) and above. See figure 2 below.
Furthermore, in 2018, eight hundred and thirty (830) out of the one thousand two hundred and eighty-one (1,281) students who wrote the BECE got aggregate 31 and above. Whilst the remainder of the students (451) obtained aggregates up to 30. See figure 3 below.
The analysis above gives a damning verdict on our basic educational system. Although we have, as a municipality recorded marginal improvements over the past 3 years; we still have more than 830 of our JHS graduates, for three consecutive years scoring between aggregate 31 and 54. To put it bluntly, our future as a municipality is bleak, if the trend continuous in this direction. Before you blame anybody, think about how you, as a reader contributed to this quagmire.
Yes! The teacher who works tirelessly has a share of the responsibility; however, the root of the problem transcends a single individual or group of persons. The cause is multidimensional and hierarchical. Therefore, consistently, absolving ourselves and shifting the blames on others will never repair our damaged basic educational system.
I am also not oblivious of how grossly undisciplined some of our students have become in recent times. It is true that, indiscipline on the part of students is as old as the establishment of the first school. Nonetheless, the scale, shape and dimension it has taken these days is beyond comprehension. Students’ crass disrespect to teachers, headteachers and school rules and regulation has become so overwhelming to the point that some teachers have thrown their hands in despair. Also, the use of drugs and other banned substances among students has become more pronounced, now more than ever. To make matters worse most children are left to “grow like wild grass” because some parents have abandoned their primary role of parenting. Consequently, the responsibility of teachers regarding moral nurturing of students can be likened to the hopeless attempt to straighten a rib bone. Furthermore, the Ghana Education Services (GES) replication of western educational policies (e.g. outright banning of canning in schools) without considering our context, has rendered the teacher more impotent.
It is important to add that, indiscipline among students, is not limited to the East Gonja Municipality. As a matter of fact, every district in Ghana faces similar challenges as our Municipality. The difference however, is the commitment on the part of major stakeholders to get to the bottom of the problem.
As an Assembly Member of your electoral area, when was the last time you visited Junior High Schools within your jurisdiction to enquire on the performance trend of students in those schools? If you have, what concrete steps have you taken? If you haven’t, you know what to do.
As a teacher, are you happy that over 60% of the students in the municipality you teach consistently scored beyond aggregate 30? Just 20 years ago, you can easily count the number of teachers in East Gonja with Diploma certificates, now almost every school has a Bachelor’s degree holder on its staff and some even have Masters Degrees. However, our higher academic laurels are not reflecting on the performance of our students. What has gone so wrong?
Again, as a teacher, do you abandon your students during school hours in favour of your partisan political activities or private business? If your answer is yes, my brother, my sister you are a major part of the problem we are facing. Hence, before you accuse your political opponent of ineptitude, go through your past students’ BECE Broadsheet. Yet again, Have you as a teacher taken the pains to do a simple five (5) to three (3) year trend analysis on the students pass rate in the subject(s) you teach? If you have, that is a good start, if you haven’t, go for your school’s BECE Broadsheets for the past 5 to 3 years analyse the pass rate in your subject(s) and advice yourself accordingly.
As a Municipal Chief Executive and Member of Parliament when was the last time you cause to be organized or participated in a School Performance and Appraisal Meeting (SPAM)? Have you bothered to check the trend of BECE performance in the Municipality? Are you aware of the position of the Municipality in the national ranking? Did you know that for over four consecutive years our neighbours Central Gonja and the Kpandai district’s national ranking is miles ahead of that of the East Gonja Municipality? Did you know that while the Kpandai district placed 38th in the 2018 National BECE ranking, East Gonja Municipal placed 146th?
Aside from joining the people after every release of BECE results to say “the BECE performance is bad this year”; “the teachers are not serious” and “the students are not disciplined”, what concrete steps have you taken to arrest our sorry state? Is this the kind of legacy you want leave? What is the state of our Municipal Library built in 2008? The efforts of your predecessors did not obviously yield the right results. Some of your predecessors also tried to eloquently talk us out of the problem but it apparently backfired. Therefore, talking is not a remedy to this ‘terminal illness’, conscious, concrete and calculated actions are. Thank God our member of parliament is now a minister. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Likewise, as a parent or relative of a Basic school pupil, what are you doing about your ward’s indiscipline? Did you know that out of the 24 hours in a day, the teacher has only eight (8) contact hours with your ward?
Similarly, to my colleagues, the youth in general, I know debates stimulate the finest of ideas, that notwithstanding, could we please minimise the heated, obsessive, aggressive; sometimes discourteous and pointless partisan political and mostly polarizing debates? Can we dedicate part of the time to debate on the education of our younger ones?
Thankfully, the East Gonja Graduates Association, through its broad coverage quiz, debate and spelling bee competitions is bringing back the spirit of competitiveness in our schools. By virtue of attaining a tertiary level education and hailing from the East Gonja Municipality, we are all automatic members of the association. We must therefore, collectively and actively participate in the activities of the Association. If for one reason or the other we can’t physically participate in the activities of the Association, our kind and cash contributions will be enough.
Happy 62nd Independence Anniversary!