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12.07.2019 Feature Article

Catching Up In A Concentric Race: The University As A Site For Impoverishing The Defenseless – Part 1

On June 14, 2019, I heard a disturbing information on GBC’s Uniiq FM’s program, ‘Behind the News’ that government and other stakeholders of public universities are in the processes of reaching an agreement to make the possession of a postgraduate certificate in education one of the requirements for admission to teach at any public university in Ghana. At face value, this policy looks promising and reasonable. Indeed, superficially, it appears our university administrators and government have the interest of students at heart. It also appears they are chasing after quality to redeem the perceived collapse in the standards of education. But as I shall prove, this policy is nothing but widening the gap between the enriched and the impoverished in Ghana. It is part of the schemes and charades of the capitalist world to provide an image of prosperity that makes the poor thinks that he can be at par with the enriched in an unequal society. What the universities and government seek to do is to make it difficult for the impoverished to catch up with the enriched in a concentric race.

As I keep referring to, those of us in Zongo hardly had people who had established themselves in the so-called ‘white collar’ jobs to look up to as mentors when we were growing up in the 1990s. Our people are usually artisans and small-scale vegetable farmers. Some are ‘Watchmen' (now decorated as security officers with uniforms - certainly the uniforms have neither extended nor enlarged the pockets to be laced with a deserved increased salary). Our females are only traders. A few occupy unenviable positions in the formal sector of the economy. Consequently, for many years, many Zongo children hardly aspired to become lawyers, doctors, bankers, accountants and so on and so forth. When it became possible that I could go to university, my main goal was to see and be taught by a professor. This was because as at 2003, I had never met or interacted with a university professor. I only saw them on television and read about them in the papers. There were times I literary wept when I read a professor’s obituary. I had an infatuation for professors. Nevertheless, this was against the background that some of my friends in the community had started calling me ‘prof’. I had earned a de facto professorial title without physically seeing a professor.

Thus, when I finally went to the University of Cape Coast in 2004, I spent time following Prof. Emeritus D.E.K. Amenumey closely whenever I saw him walking on the corridors of the Faculty of Arts. He was then on contract at the Department of History. While I was unfortunate not to have been taught by him, I committed myself to read some of his works. Throughout my four-year stay at the Department of African Studies (now Center for African and International Studies), none of my lecturers had a terminal degree (Ph.D.). The highest they had was a Master of Philosophy. Since no university in Ghana had a First-Degree program in African Studies until UCC started it in 2003, none of my lecturers had a degree in African Studies. Apart from one or two of them, all the rest had a Master of Philosophy degree in African Studies from the Institute of African Studies (IAS), University of Ghana.

It was at the departments of Religious Studies (now Department of Religious Studies and Human Values) and the Department of Philosophy, where I had lecturers, who were Ph.D. holders. What this means is that I left the UCC without having been taught by a professor. The closest I came to being taught by a professor was when I joined the Socialist Forum of Prof. Atta Gyamfi Britwum. And, of course, before I left the UCC, I had the benefit of learning Egyptology from Dr. Maulana and Dr. Osei Kwame at the Du Bois Center, Accra for two years.

While none of my lecturers at the Department of African Studies had a terminal degree, they all had a diploma in education. This was because most of them had their first degree at the UCC. They had their undergraduate degree at the time when getting a diploma was a must for all UCC students regardless of the program they read. This tradition synchronized with the original intent of the UCC as a college for training professional teachers for basic and secondary school, focusing initially on science education.

Also, much as none of my lecturers at the department at the time they were teaching me did have a terminal degree, the depth of their knowledge and the passion they had for imparting knowledge cannot be compared to any of the professors I later met when I came to the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, for my MPhil education. While the professors at the IAS taught my lecturers, I comparatively could say that my lecturers at the UCC made an enduring impact on my quest for knowledge. Mr. Wilson Yayoh (now Associate Prof. Wilson Yayoh), Mr. Martin Amlor (now Dr. Martin Amlor), Mr. Douglas Frimpong-Nnuroh (though had two masters, he is yet to get a Ph.D.) and Mrs. Marie-Acquiline Barton-Odro (who retired before working for her Ph.D. because of age) were all non-Ph.D. holders. All these teachers were exceptionally brilliant. They were the people who stirred my unquenchable taste for academic excellence. They taught me how to do research, fact-finding, and presentation. Since the African Studies program at the UCC had just begun and needed to be accredited, we, forming part of the first batch of the pioneers, had to learn virtually everything within the humanities. We were reading more than our counterparts who were just taking a Bachelor of Arts degree at the Arts Faculty. The labor of these Messrs bore great fruits: at the end of our four-year education, three of us had First Class in African Studies in 2008. This was a record in the Faculty of Arts! If my memory serves me right, until 2008, the highest number of First Class the Arts Faculty (running into thousands) had produced was 3 per annum!

In 2009, when three of my colleagues and I went to the IAS to study for our MPhil in African Studies, the professors there and our colleagues from the University of Ghana could testify to the rigor of our undergraduate education and the quality we brought from UCC. At the end of the course work at the IAS, I was given the prestigious Agyeman Duah award for academic excellence. All my other colleagues were able to graduate with strong grades. They all finished their thesis on time. This is against the fact that some of our colleagues from the University of Ghana, who were mainly taught by either old professors or Ph.D. holders, were struggling to write.

Certainly, my intention is not to pitch Professors and Messrs in a pugilistic contest, as it is about emphasizing that titles do not always produce a quality result. It is also not to show that UCC students are better than UG students, as it is an attempt to show that there is more to teaching than merely possessing titles and certificates. There is, as well, more to teaching than receiving skills in education. By the time I was leaving the UCC in 2008, new bourgeois laws had been passed to make it obligatory for lecturers at public universities to have a terminal degree. All non-Ph.D. holders were given a grace period of five years within which they were to work for a Ph.D. The consequences of missing out on the grace were the enlargement of the academic hell, where Messrs weep and gnash their souls for coming from impoverished homes!

It must be pointed out that not long ago, most university lecturers were First Degree holders. These were the cadres of scholars, who produced the finest brains Ghana has ever had. Indeed, as part of the nationalist agenda, some of these non-Ph.D. professors, including the late venerable and intellectually peerless J.H. Kwabena Nketia were promoted to the level of professors. They did not have to go through the supposed academic ladder. Their works, not their certificate spoke for them. Elsewhere in Uganda, Apollo Milton Obote and Idi Amin Dada Oumee did the same thing with Makerere University! Makerere University (my pseudo-alma mater remains one of the best on the continent)!

To be continued...

Satyagraha

Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra

Charles Prempeh
Charles Prempeh, © 2019

This author has authored 143 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: CharlesPrempeh

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