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Opinions Mon, 7 Jun 2010

Mobile Phone Rampage Is Not Unique To The North

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The advent of mobile-phone technology among Ghanaian high school students seems to be giving “conservative” administrators a lot of headache these days (See “GHANASCO Students on Rampage” Ghanaweb.com 6/1/10). However, contrary to what some prejudicial critics would have the rest of us believe, the problem is nationwide rather than being peculiar to any particular district or locality. Thus the May 20 lockdown of the Ghana National Secondary School (GHANASCO) in Tamale, the northern regional capital, was only one link in a long chain of student protest demonstrations that have ignited on campuses in virtually every region of the country.

And once again, we must highlight the qualifying adjective of “conservative” in describing those administrators who have invariably and routinely been desperately caught up in these incidents of virulent and violent protests. “Conservative,” because it appears that the days, weeks, months, years and decades wheezed by and left behind these imperial chaperones and parental substitutes with mind-sets that are still stuck in the early twentieth century.

And so, perhaps, somebody ought to remind these administrators that not only are we in the twenty-first century, but even more significantly that mobile-phone technology – and, indeed, technology in general – must be organically synched with academic culture if, indeed, Ghana is to produce a generation abreast of the finest developments in science and technology worldwide. And needless to say, being conversant with the application of such technology healthily implies that tomorrow’s leaders would be poised to putting our nation’s development agenda on a sound footing, as it were.

Indeed, far gone are the days when the mere use of basic calculators was an anathema, largely on the grounds that most students were too poor to afford the same. The regressive result was that while many countries in the Third World encouraged high school students to adapt themselves to the deft application of the new technology, Ghanaian students were still tragically stuck in slide-rule mode. Consequently, it came as hardly any surprise that a few years ago when Ghanaian students were tested in math and language competencies against their counterparts around the globe, our students came in “butt-naked last,” as many a New Yorker is wont to say.

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This vacuous “communalist” orientation to education appears to have been inherited from both our British colonial administrators and the Nkrumah-led regime of the so-called Convention People’s Party (CPP). Needless to say, the colonial methodology was to guarantee the barest minimum of skills acquisition, one that enabled the colonized to barely function at the middle and lower rungs of society. Of course, inevitably, a rarefied stratum of an elite class was created once it became apparent that the lily-white colonial regime was unlikely to remain an entrenched administrative feature for long.

What occurred in reality was that having been specially and deliberately equipped for leadership among their own people in the modern era, these privileged African leaders came to envisage themselves as “Afropeans,” the new Black Europeans, rather than bona fide and indigenous Africans. And it is for this very reason that even to this day, most African governments continue to maintain such neocolonialist policies as free housing and automobile perks for officials who own private homes and automobiles which, as has become widely familiar in Ghana, these “public servants” then casually rent out for handsome profits far beyond the prevailing market prices.

The “communalist” mentality preaches that the use of a particular asset – in our present case the mobile phone – is not worth our societal while, even if only a statistically insignificant percentage of our citizenry are known to be incapable of affording the same. The catch here is that those who make such rules are invariably not bound by observance of the same. Thus in the early 1960s, for example, when the Ghanaian economy tottered on the brink of abject penury, President Nkrumah could cavalierly counsel “a tightening of the belt” to the ordinary worker while smugly enjoying the extravagant comforts of a lavish Flagstaff House with his young Egyptian wife and their three sheltered and fabulously indulged children. Indeed, a publicly funded zoo would be built and conveniently located for the especial benefit of the Nkrumah kids!

What the Ghana National Secondary School (GHANASCO) incident does not appear to adequately address is the very possession of these cellular/mobile phones by the largely unemployed student population. In other words, somebody with the wherewithal must have availed these students the use of the phones in question – and very likely that somebody is called a parent or guardian. In sum, the decision of the administrators to ban mobile phone usage among the student body ought to have been amply demonstrated to have won the prior unreserved approval of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), thus boosting such measure with the requisite legitimacy. If there happens not to have existed an actively functioning PTA, then, of course, one ought to be promptly emplaced, if a reprise of such violent confrontation is to be averted in the near future.

Now, regarding the use of mobile phones on campus, the more meaningful approach is to have such usage rigidly regulated. Thus, for example, students could be prohibited from using mobile phones during school hours and after “lights out,” when students are officially sounded off to bed, round about midnight. The liberal use of mobile phones could then be permitted on weekends, namely, Friday evening until Saturday or Sunday night.

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It can, of course, clearly be seen where mobile phones may be aptly deemed to be undercutting of administrative authority: in the main, the ability of students to promptly and constantly report on unpleasant activities on campus to meddlesome parents and guardians. There is also the critical question of academic distraction, but this can be readily resolved by having teachers get stricter with students, and school administrators not being averse to promptly expelling underperforming students.

Ultimately, as afore-hinted, the progressive and productive access to state-of-art technology among our high school students augurs well for the future development of Ghana. And you better believe it: the future is already here with us! What this also means is the salutary possibility of our young and most creative minds swiftly graduating from the largely unsavory status of mere impressionable consumers to cutting-edge creators of technology themselves. For it goes without saying that access creates familiarity and with the latter, command and control. And, of course, with creative control come both adaptability and further creativity, and/or innovativeness.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author of 21 books, including “Ama Sefa: Unrequited Love” (iUniverse.com, 2004). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net. ###

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame