Education, in Ghana has always been used in a limited sense: specifically, literacy in centres of scholarship designed on the colonial educational system.
Citizens who have attended such centres of scholarship are regarded as educated; those who have not, are not, whatever their level of proficiency in their own craft or trade, and whatever the period that has been spent learning this craft or trade within the social system. This has been the case since the days of the Gold Coast. Here is an account by an educated Chief according to Nana Annor Adjaye in Nzima Land (London, 1931), Ch. vi.
"In the olden days the son of a fisherman spent his mornings by the seashore, swimming in the surf until he became proficient in swimming and diving as in walking and running. With a miniature net he practised casting in imitation of his father... The son of the farmer accompanied his father to the farm and gradually acquired the father's lore. He studied when the planting should be carried out, the right times for clearing and growing crops, and when the harvest was ripe and ready for the gathering.
In like manner the girl trod in the footsteps of the mother. Almost as soon as she could walk, she accompanied her mother to the well and to the market, carrying her little water pot or bundle of market produce... As she grew older, she took part in the household offices and was taught apprenticeships by mothering the younger members of the family... I may say, then, that the education of the African child by the African system is a preparation and practical training for the life that lies before it. The kind of education introduced here by our white friends was only literary. Boys' heads were filled with stuff they did not understand, much less apply. As we were taught, so did we teach."
The first attempt to found a colonial centre of scholarship may have been made in 1529 by the Portuguese. In that year King João III issued an instruction to the Governor of the City of São Jorge (Elmina) to provide literacy and religious education for African children. The Dutch and the Danes also established schools in the coastal forts primarily for their mulatto children.
The British re-established a school in Cape Coast in 1766 under the Rev. Phillip Quaque, an African who had been educated and ordained in England. Quaque was the only survivor of three boys sent to London by the missionary. From the days of the Gold Coast, it has always been a policy of the United Kingdom to educate a few promising Africans in Europe. With the support of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the London Committee of Merchants, this scheme was a hallmark success of the colonial era and it became an incubator for teachers as more centres of scholarship were opened. In 1788 there had been about fifty mulatto and African children from the Windward and Gold Coasts being educated in Liverpool alone. A school had been established at Freetown by the Sierra Leone Company in 1792; the first record of a Gold Coast child being sent there dates from 1795. In 1827 the Church Missionary Society founded a College for teachers and catechists at Fourah Bay which soon attracted scholars from the Gold Coast.
The British and Foreign Bible Society supplied bibles to the Governor, to be presented to the boys upon completion of their formal education. William de Graft was sufficiently enterprising not only to found his study group, but also in 1833 to ask the ship’s captain for a greater supply of bibles. According to G. G. Findlay and W. W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Society (London, 1921), vol. iv. pp. 151 ff, this request, reaching the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, prompted them to send out the Rev. Joseph Dunwell in 1835.
Two of Quaque’s students, John Martin and Joseph Smith, later emerged as leading civic personalities. Another ex-pupil, William de Graft, was indirectly responsible for bringing the Weslyan Methodist missionaries to Cape Coast in 1835.
By 1844 the Wesleyans had centres of scholarship in eighteen towns, mainly along the western part of the coast, but also including Accra, Winneba, and even a short-lived attempt in Kumasi.
The Basel Mission had started work in 1828 in Danish Christianborg, but their main educational effort began in 1843, when they founded a school at Akropong, followed by a catechists’ seminary in 1848. The North German (Bremen) missionaries, working across the Volta from 1847 onwards, soon established their first small school at Peki in an area later to come under British influence.
John Martin was the first African to be ordained as a Wesleyan minister, in 1852; he was followed by J. A. Solomon, T. Laing, and Prince J. Ossoo Ansah, in 1859. The first Africans ordained by the Basel Mission were T. Opoku and A. Clerk, in 1872.
European education was introduced to Ghana not as a result of any pre-existing demand, but as a fundamental part of the missionary programmes. Several momentary efforts were made over centuries before European education became the standard in the African continent.
Education had become the primary instrument of social change, as well as an artificially employed factor for social status and dignity.
The earliest teachers either went unrecognised for their acquired skill, or were actively opposed by members of the community. This is because, the privilege of reading and writing in a foreign language, was not immediately apparent as trade, and it was therefore considered wholly irrelevant to the needs of the traditional African society.
However, at some point in time, the Europeans cultivated a mystique around their radical socioeconomic revolution, inextricably linking their material development to their educational system. They also recognised that there willing Africans who had gone through European education to broaden their prospects of employment within the colonial economy. Education came to be regarded as a means of financial stability through a regular salary, prestige in society and an access pass to the international market.
It was also a means of avoiding manual labour which was traditionally the duty of slaves. Therefore, one can conclude that Say's law manifested itself in our educational system and the unwarranted provision of educational services and facilities began to eventually yield an internal demand and intellectual craving for European education.
The new educational elite, found it increasingly difficult to coexist with the traditional social order, where spiritual and secular authority where vested in the Chief and where one's status depended on birth and lineage rather than individual qualifications or achievements. The suggestion here is that the traditional political structure, regardless of its checks and balances, is largely one based on nepotism as opposed to a system, or culture, of meritocracy. And the Europeans identified this and played it to their advantage. The Education system, to a large extent, disoriented the social order.
Thus, there emerged a power struggle between the Chiefs and the educated community. This became more acute as some of the politically conscious staked a claim to leadership on a national scale, transcending the local authority of Chiefs. Nevertheless, it was the educated elite who were destined to become nationalist leaders.