GSTS @110: History Of Ghana's Premier Technical School

By Lord Kweku Sekyi
Education GSTS 110: History Of Ghana's Premier Technical School
DEC 4, 2019 LISTEN

“New Government Technical School at Takoradi” was the heading of an article in Nature magazine almost eighty years ago.

As scientists, this mention in Nature, the world’s top scientific journal means quite a lot. It suggests that the move of Government Technical School (GTS) from Accra to Takoradi was a significant event worth announcing to the world’s scientific community.

We can surmise that there was perhaps the hope that the then thirty-year-old institution with its new buildings and facilities was going to lead a scientific and technological revolution in the Gold Coast.

If that was the hope, we could confidently say on our 110th Anniversary that we have done quite well. There are just a few technical, engineering, or scientific institutions in Ghana that GSTS alumni have not played significant roles in their establishment or current existence.

Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) opened in 1909 as the Accra Government Technical School (AGTS). Initially, it occupied buildings in what was the premises of the Accountant General’s Department (current site of Kinbu Secondary Technical School). Governor John Pickersgill Rodger did the opening on 9th August 1909. That year, the Technical School and a Teacher Training School were opened as full government schools to help with the implementation of the new Rules of the Board of Education. These new rules made compulsory, combined literary and industrial education in all primary schools, government schools, and government-assisted schools.

The initial mission of AGTS was to train students as artisans for government agencies, and as instructors for schools in the colony. By 1910, the school, now Government Technical School (GTS), offered instruction in carpentry, joinery, and metalwork.

In 1914, the growth and development of the school were interrupted as the buildings it occupied were needed for military use at the outbreak of World War I. Historians may note that this event might have been the beginning of the school’s long and storied relationship with the military.

In 1915, the school reopened with forty-three (43) students, five (5) less than before its closure. Some of the staff and students had joined or worked for the military during the shutdown. After a slow start, the population of the school began to increase, and by 1925, there were about 84 students in residence. Being the only institution of its kind in the Gold Coast, admission to the school became extremely competitive, with only a tiny percentage of the applicants getting admitted.

A plan was put in place to take over the premises of the Training College after its move to Achimota. The proposal included the addition of an extra workshop, a dormitory for student accommodation, and space for additional equipment. This pattern of increasing student population followed by expansion has repeated itself many times throughout the 110-year history of GSTS. By 1925, Government Technical School had a Principal, four European Masters, and four African Teachers. One of the European Masters doubled as the school’s Housemaster.

GTS continued its growth through the early 1920s to the mid-1930s. The focus now was to train students to meet the demands of the growing industries in the Gold Coast. This necessity resulted in significant changes in the curriculum from a three (3)-year course to four (4) years of (practical and theoretical) engineering and woodwork.

The changes included the addition of advanced subjects to prepare students as foremen of works, building inspectors, road overseers, mechanical and electrical supervisors, drafting technicians, broadcast technical assistants, telegraph sub-inspectors, and professional instructors in schools.

At the time, this was the highest form of technical education in the country, and only Government Technical School provided it. The school had only two departments, a mechanical and electrical engineering department, and carpentry, joinery, and building construction department.

Many of the school’s products were working in the technical institutions around the country, especially in the mines, harbors, railways, Public Work Department, and were performing admirably.

The success of the school’s graduates resulted in many parents wanting to send their children to GTS. Not only was the school making a name for itself academically, but it was also establishing itself as a school known for its discipline and excellence in sports.

By 1938, demand for admission was so high that its location in Accra was no longer tenable. A decision was taken to move the school to a new campus at Takoradi, close to the new industrial area of the colony, where “it could keep in close touch with the chief mining centers and also with the headquarters of the railway.”

The then-new buildings, which now form part of the sprawling campus at Takoradi, were built at the cost of £37,000. It was designed to accommodate 100 boarders and 100 part-time students. The actual move to the current site in Takoradi began after the completion of the iconic dormitories and classroom buildings around the famous Oval.

Records show that the packing of equipment from Accra started in May 1939, and transportation to Takoradi by land occurred between June and August 1939. Formal classes began in Takoradi on 21st September 1939 under the headship of Lt. Col. T.T. Gilbert as Acting Principal.

The move to Takoradi began a new era. Government Technical School, by now, had an international reputation for excellence. In fact, by 1940, international students had started arriving from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin). As fate will have it with GTS, as soon as we start settling in, something happens.

World War II started a few months after the move to Takoradi, and the school had to be relocated to Elmina Castle in August 1940, to make way for the Royal Air Force (RAF). A miniature nose of an airplane still hangs at the entrance of the main classroom block, the old Administration Block, to commemorate the occupation by the Royal Air Force. Fifty (50) students reported to Elmina Castle for classes in January 1941.

The Castle had by then undergone some modifications to accommodate equipment and provide classrooms for students. Unfortunately, in May 1943, the school had to close altogether, so the Castle and the school’s equipment could be used by the technical branches of the military. Some staff and students got drafted into the colonial armed forces until the end of the hostilities.

This period was the second time, GTS students had to close shop to fight or contribute to a war effort. Fortunately, World War II ended on 2nd September 1945. By October 1945, the Royal Air Force had moved out of the school’s buildings in Takoradi, paving the way for the return of students to Takoradi under the headship of Major T.C. Watkins as Acting Principal.

You could say, GTS had to reset again after the war. By 1950, there were about 110 students in residence, and GTS was back on course. Students were highly sought after upon graduation, and many parents wanted to educate their children at the school.

Graduates were now occupying high positions at many technical institutions around the country. The curriculum was still principally Engineering and Construction, with English, Mathematics, and Science added as supplementary subjects.

In January 1953, the school was renamed Government Secondary Technical School, with a drastic curriculum revision. This revision involved the introduction of a secondary school curriculum, the hallmark of grammar schools, in addition to the technical subjects.

The review resulted in a change from a four-year to a five-year course leading to the School Certificate Examination. For the first time, GSTS students could take academic subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Elementary and Additional Mathematics, Geography, French, and Art.

The expansion also meant GSTS students and graduates could compete with students from schools like Achimota, St. Augustine’s, Mfantsipim, and other established schools on their turf, while maintaining our status as the top, premier and only technical institution in the country.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in January 1954, GSTS achieved another first with the formation of an Army Cadet Corps, the first in Ghana, then the Gold Coast. With an initial group of twenty students, this was not surprising considering that previous headmasters, staff members, and many alumni had served or were serving in the military.

The 1956/57 Academic Year brought more change with the introduction of subjects like Religious Knowledge, Music, and History as non-examinable subjects. These were added to broaden the knowledge base of students and to counter the perception of what seemed to be a narrow science and technical focus among GSTS graduates.

The post-independence years saw even more dramatic changes to the curriculum and administration at GSTS. In August 1958, soon after independence, GSTS welcomed its first Ghanaian Headmaster, Mr. Joseph W. L. Mills, who took over from the last European Headmaster, Mr. F.E. Joselin.

The GSTS model was considered so important by the Nkrumah government that they wanted it duplicated around the country. Mr. J W L Mills, who was highly revered by his students, would soon be transferred to the Ministry of Education, where, in his capacity as the Chief Education Officer, played a crucial role in the establishment of more Secondary Technical Schools around the country.

His work led to the establishment of Suhum Secondary Technical School, Obuasi Secondary Technical School, and Koforidua Secondary Technical School in the early 1960s. Incidentally, these new Schools were for a period also called Government Secondary Technical School.

An aerial view of the school.
After the short tenure of Mr. J. A. Atiase as Headmaster from 1960-1961, Mr. S M Adu-Ampoma took over as Headmaster from January 1961 until 1965. He steered the School through Ghana’s academic calendar changes at the time from January-December to the September – June school year. Students gained double promotion during those changes.

Mr. Adu-Ampoma is reputed to have established the Government Secondary Technical School as one of the best in academic performance. Not only did Mr. Adu-Ampoma raise the academic bar, but he also set and made the impeccable discipline of GSTS students known throughout the Western Region and beyond.

He insisted on a student dress code – the all-white attire on general and special exeat days. This dress code was obeyed even on trains and buses, as students went home or returned to school at the end of the school holidays. Mr. Adu-Ampoma authored two Chemistry practical books, “Practical Analysis in Inorganic Chemistry and Volumetric Chemistry,” which became the standard textbooks for the West African Examinations Council’s General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Chemistry’ practical paper’.

In September 1961, GSTS introduced the Sixth Form with Physics, Pure Mathematics, and Chemistry or Physics, Pure Mathematics, and Applied Mathematics combinations as the subjects on offer. Four years later, in September 1965, Art was made an examinable subject at the General Certificate of Examination Ordinary Level.

The sole student of the program was Giant K. A. Essuman ’67 ‘69, who created the cement sculpture known as “Mother Africa,” behind the Old Administration Block. The sculpture was for his General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level practical examination project in 1967. Giant Essuman returned to Sixth Form to read Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics and eventually read Architecture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi.

On 3rd November 1965, the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of the Republic announced that the GSTS would be adopted and turned into an Air Force Training College.

According to the policy, students from GSTS would be allowed to prepare for careers in the Ghana Air Force and Civil Aviation Authority. This policy seemed to have been born out of the fact that Giants, who had joined the Ghana Air Force and Civil Aviation as Air Traffic Controllers, performed brilliantly. Following the announcement, ‘aero-modeling and gliding’ was introduced as one of the Saturday morning ‘Hobbies’ activities in the school and thrived for many years.

The 1966 academic year saw the first batch of GSTS students to take Biology as an examinable subject at the General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level. This batch would ultimately lead GSTS to become a fully-fledged Science and Technical school with both physical and biological sciences in addition to the technical subjects.

These additional subjects led to several Giants from that period to go into Medicine and Pharmacy. Before then, it was a rarity to find GSTS students going into the health or biological sciences.

There are, however, some Giants of the old technical program (s) of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s who still went on to read Medicine and even Law after GSTS. With the many post-independence educational changes, the Form One intake of the 1965-66 academic year, joined the first group of Ghanaian students to take the joint General Certificate of Examination (GCE O’ Levels) and the re-introduced School Certificate Examination in 1970.

By the end of the 1960s, GSTS had established itself as not only the top technical School in Ghana but also one of the top five secondary schools in the country.

According to a report comparing secondary schools in Ghana based on the results of the General Certificate of Education for the years 1966 to 1968, GSTS came first overall in 1966 with 80.4%, third in 1967 with 58.2%, and second in 1968 with 71.5%. In terms of candidates who passed in five or more subjects over the same period, GSTS came first with 68.7% overall. The headmasters of the epoch included Mr. D.V. Owiredu 1965-1968, Acting Headmasters Mr. R. W Aseidu 1968-69, and Mr. S. T. Lomotey 1969-70.

Academics was not the only thing that GSTS excelled in. In sports, the school was always first in athletics in the Western Regional Inter-Schools and Colleges Athletics competitions, while rubbing shoulders with other schools in hockey, football, basketball, and cricket around the country. One memorable achievement was during the 1962-63 academic year. GSTS won the National Inter-schools and Colleges

Hockey competition by beating Winneba Secondary School in the finals of the tournament after a close semi-final win over the Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School then based at Krobo-Odumase. Even though sporting facilities have deteriorated over the years, this excellence in sports at GSTS continues to this day. Also, extracurricular activities on campus were very vibrant. There were several clubs and societies to take care of both the social and academic needs of the students.

The end of the 1960s and early 1970s marked an important transition for GSTS. Following the change of government in 1969, the new government decided to convert the two government schools; GSTS (Takoradi) and Government Secondary School (Tamale), as well as, Peki Training College into Government-Assisted Schools run by Boards of Directors. Students at GSTS had elected a Student School Council earlier in September for the first time in its history. What to call GSTS, now without direct government control through the Ministry of Education, was a matter of debate on campus.

After considering various acronyms, the Students’ Council on behalf of the general student body opted for “Ghana” in place of “Government,” to maintain the abbreviation, “GSTS.” Hence, from the 1970-71 academic year, the school assumed its current name Ghana Secondary Technical School.

GSTS without government support was a new reality for the school. For a school that had full government support for almost 70 years, this was a shock to the system. GSTS, for the first time, would not be getting sports equipment, or chinaware, at the beginning of each academic year.

Maintenance of dormitories and infrastructure, stocking of the libraries, and replacement of workshop equipment would come to a halt. GSTS was no longer the “special” government school; it was now like any other secondary school. GSTS did not have the structures in place at the time to function as an assisted school.

For example, GSTS was probably the only top pre-independence schools in Ghana that never had a viable Old Students’ Association in the real sense of the term as we know it today. GSTS did not even have a PTA because frankly, it was not needed.

Up to this time, government support had always been assured. GSTS graduates had no problems finding jobs after school; no need for “networking.” Paraphrasing one senior Giant, most of the existing Old Student Associations in Ghana got together to play the “old school tie” or networking schemes where older products “fixed” their younger school mates with jobs and positions.

Old Boys of GSTS “were too proud to play those games.”. They left the four walls of GSTS with all the confidence from the workshops and laboratories, to “face the world.” Alumni provided large numbers of middle and senior-level personnel for the technical departments and institutions around the country. Old Boys of GSTS, therefore, got together wherever they found themselves in reasonable numbers, mostly for social purposes, to reminisce about their time in school and catch up with each other.

Fortunately, the early 1970s were not that bad at GSTS despite the cessation of government support. The school still had supplies, and well-maintained infrastructure almost intact from the 1960s. Air Marshall M. A. Otu (formerly Lt. General) and Senior Officers of the Military Division of the Ministry of Defence visited the school to clarify the intentions of the military’s involvement with the school.

This visit was a follow-up to the 1965 pronouncement by the Nkrumah government to turn the school into an Air Force Academy; a plan shelved following the coup d ‘état of February 1966. The first batch of cadets was admitted to GSTS for a two-year military sixth-form course from 1970-72. These young military officers were sponsored by the Ghana Armed Forces to pursue the Sixth Form education at GSTS, in preparation for enlistment after their A-Level examination.

The program started with Intake 15 from the Military Academy and Training School. It involved a combination of regular academic work, sandwiched with military training during the school holidays. This unique arrangement, perhaps fashioned after the United States of America’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, was discontinued after the first batch. In retrospect, this was a highly successful program as many members of the Class of 1972 A-level would go on to become senior officers, generals, and admirals in the Ghana Armed Forces.

Mr. B. W. De-Graft Johnson and Mr. A. R. Cudjoe served as headmasters from 1971-1973 and 1973 to 1980, respectively. The upward surge in GSTS’s reputation as a top secondary/technical school from the 1960s through the 1970s came with problems. The primary issue was pressure on the school for admission and, consequently, on the facilities of the school.

With no government support, the toll on the school began to manifest. By the late 1970s, the impact of a decade of minimal maintenance of the dormitories and other facilities began to show. Unlike the other established schools, the GSTS Old Boys Association was not organized well enough to help the school during those times except for individual donations from a few generous Giants. Despite the strain on the system, GSTS continued as one of the top schools in the country throughout the 1980s.

Admission to GSTS in the 1980s was extremely competitive, with parents fighting to gain admission for their wards often without considering the Science and Technical inclination of the school. Many students that entered struggled with the sciences and particularly the technical subjects. The school authorities at the time decided to create an Arts stream so that students could, for the first time, opt for a pure General Arts option for the GCE Ordinary Level Examination.

For a period, the school offered arts; however, its limited infrastructural and human resource capacity to handle the General Arts, resulted in a rethinking of the policy. In 1985, a decision was taken to drop the general arts program, with the last batch of full arts students completing in 1986. The introduction of the Senior Secondary School system in 1990, resulted in the reinstitution of the Arts program. Mr. B. E. Godwyll (1980-83), and Mr. P. B. Tuwor (1983 -1990) led GSTS through the 1980s. Overall, the school continued to do well academically and in extracurricular activities, as well.

For example, in 1984, the school administration under the headship of Mr. P. B. Tuwor formed a school band. It was the first-ever officially established band at the school. Mr. Tuwor created it with the principal purpose of demonstrating that GSTS students were not only excellent in science and technical subjects but also good in music and the arts. Surprising to some, but not to us, GSTS won the National Student Indigenous Dance Band Competition in 1984. The band played for a couple of years and will be making a come-back reunion at this year’s 110th Anniversary celebrations.

Mr. D. S. Gamor became Acting Headmaster in 1990-91 and was followed by Mr. I. K. Adams from 1991 to 1996. In 1995, GCE-A-levels ended nationwide and replaced with a three-year Senior Secondary School System. Owing to the shortened school program, it became difficult for students to combine the science or arts subjects with the technical disciplines at the same time.

GSTS, therefore, adopted a new system whereby students did Science, Arts, or Technical Subjects with minimal overlap in courses apart from the core subjects. Until this new change, all GSTS students reading Science or Arts had to take either metalwork or woodwork and engineering drawing or building drawing to the GCE Ordinary Level. Some students even took engineering drawing at the GCE A-levels making first and second-year engineering drawings at KNUST a cakewalk.

In 1996, Giant Thomas K. Mensah became the first alumnus to be appointed Headmaster of GSTS. He also holds the record of being the longest-serving Headmaster by serving 17 years in that position. His tenure ended in 2013. A year before his retirement, GSTS won the prestigious Ghana National Science and Mathematics Quiz (NSMQ) competition for the first time in June 2012, beating St Francis Xavier and Achimota School in the final. GSTS had previously been runners-up in 2001, losing to Pope Johns Secondary School in the final.

Under the Headship of Gt. T.K. Mensah, the school celebrated its Centenary Anniversary in October 2009. The celebrations culminated in a grand durbar and Speech/Prize-Giving ceremony. The Guest Speaker was one of GSTS most celebrated products, Gt. Dr. Kingsley Y Amoako, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Giant and former Minister for Mines and Natural Resources, Gt. Mr. Mike Hammah chaired the occasion.

After the Speech Day, Giants attended fund-raising Dinner Dance with Giants from all over the world in attendance. Some of the guests included two members of the very first 1961-62 Sixth Form class and a Deputy Chief of Defence Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces. A Giant Minister of the Methodist Church Ghana, Gt. Very Rev Abedu Quarshie officiated at the Sunday Thanksgiving Service to round off the celebrations. The diversity of alumni present showed how far the school that was established initially to provide technical personnel for the British Colonial Service in West Africa had traveled in one hundred years.

Another change that occurred in 2007 during the tenure of Gt. T.K. Mensah was the introduction of the Senior High School (SHS) system throughout the country. This change converted the three- year SSS system to a 4-year SHS system without much changes to the SSS curriculum. Three years later, the new government rescinded the policy, and schools returned to the 3-year system.

Therefore, in 2010, no students graduated from secondary schools in Ghana; instead, two cohorts graduated in 2013. While the school continued to do well, the strain of an increased student population as a result of government policies and the continued preference for GSTS reached its climax between 2011 and 2014. Dormitories became overcrowded and life generally, miserable for students, staff, and administrators.

In 2013, Giant Asford Adams was appointed Headmaster of GSTS, the second alumnus to hold that position. The appointment of Gt. Adams coincided with the overcrowding crisis in Ghanaian secondary schools. Gt. Asford Adams, therefore, appealed to the government to consider expanding the school’s facilities. This request led to considerations for the addition of new classrooms, a much larger Assembly Hall, and additional dormitories.

Unfortunately, GSTS is limited by space, and these new constructions, albeit helpful, have changed the elegant architectural layout of the school, with buildings taking up almost all the open spaces on campus. During Gt. Asford Adam’s tenure, GSTS placed second at the National Science and Mathematics Quiz (NSMQ), losing to Mfantsipim School in 2014. Also, Gt. Mickail Hassan of GSTS won the best candidate for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE), both in Ghana and West Africa.

Mr. Asford Adams proceeded on retirement in 2016, and Mr. Samuel K. Essel was appointed Headmaster that same year. In July 2017, Mr. Samuel Essel visited the USA at the invitation of the GSTS Alumni Association of North America to tour a few technical schools and participate in the chapter’s 10th Anniversary celebration. With his team, Mr. Essel continues to forge ahead to ensure GSTS’s status as one of the top schools in Ghana continues.

On behalf of the GSTS Board, Administration, Staff, Students, and the GSTS Alumni Association, we welcome His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, to GSTS, to join us in celebrating our 110th Anniversary.

Happy 110th Anniversary! Ghana Secondary Technical School.

Written By: Gt. Dr. Amos Quaah’68 ’70 and Gt. Dr. Tetteh Abbeyquaye ‘89

Lord Kweku Sekyi
Lord Kweku Sekyi

Western Regional Correspondent

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