Catching up in a Concentric Race: The university as a site for impoverishing the defenseless

University Of Ghana  Tower University of Ghana

Sun, 16 Jun 2019 Source: Charles Prempeh

Yesterday (June 14), I heard a disturbing information from 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 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 making reference 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. 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 not fortunate 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 Science), 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 ever 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 PhD) and Mrs. Marie 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)!

Here are the reasons the public universities and the government are seeking to keep the impoverished away from the largesse of society. First, the impoverished are catching up with the enriched. There are many postgraduate degree holders in Maamobi and Nima now than a decade ago. Many sons of the peasants are becoming elite. This development is part of the failure of the capitalist world to solve the excesses of capitalism. The government and its compradors have for many years placed an embargo on public sector employment. Many graduates finish their First Degree education without the jobs the capitalist vampires promised them. In response, the government and its factors-and-collaborators are saying that these graduates do not have the skills. They only have book-knowledge. They can only manage to read and write. The industries are also saying that these graduates are not suitable. And instead of shifting the blame on the Ph.D. holders and professors and government, they blame the students! The victim is punished for the malice of the oppressor.

If the students did not know anything and they paid to be taught at the university and ended up learning nothing after their graduation, who is to blame? Why do you graduate students who are not supposedly fit for the market? It is only in an unjust society where the student, who has been robbed of his money and resources, will be blamed! Certainly, the African gerontological reasoning is at play here: the student is powerless and must be blamed for the oppression of the empowered: government, the university, and employers!

But the peasant son is not worried. To while away time, he forces his father who is a security man to borrow money from the bank to go back to school. The peasant’s son, through thick and thin, thorn and flesh now gets a master’s degree. He speaks good English. He qualifies to teach. He qualifies to get a good job to help his father pay off the bank loan. He is catching up with the enriched in society. But, the capitalist vampire must think fast. The capitalist vampire creates a new law: now you need a Ph.D. to teach in the university. Your Ph.D. must come from a ‘credible’ university.

The peasant’s son gets depressed. His hope of getting a job to feed his father is dashed. And since his father is unable to pay back the loan, his father is taken to court. The court rules that the peasant’s land, which he struggled to purchase, should be given to the state to defray his indebtedness. The peasant’s son and his father are thrown into the abyss of poverty again. There is no hope.

But somehow the peasant’s son manages to work with a few some ritual functionaries, who rationalize their profession on the occult forces. The peasant’s son does not support that idea. But a man must live, anyways. He makes a breakthrough. He mobilizes money, begins a Ph.D. at the University of Ghana, which costs nothing less than a whopping GHC11000.00. This excludes feeding, accommodation, stationery and so on. This is no joke.

The school fee was supposed to scare the peasant’s son away from acquiring a Ph.D. certificate. But through the help of the ritual functionary, he manages to begin the Ph.D. His supervisor feels threatened that the peasant’s son is catching up with the capitalist vampire. He decides to begin pugilism with the peasant’s son. The peasant’s son cries and weeps like a baby. But he gathers courage. He goes to one of these miracle workers. He is given a magic pomade to smear on his face. He succeeds. He finally passes the Ph.D. He grudgingly receives a Ph.D. certificate. Undoubtedly, his Ph.D. journey nothing short of a literal two pugilists engaged in pugilism.

He starts to teach. But, lo and behold, the capitalist vampire begins another trick. He brings in a new law. He tells the peasant’s son, “You must publish or perish.” Of course, this empty phraseology is part of the apism and mimicking of the lumpenproletariat. The peasant's son begins to take care of his family. He mobilizes money to free his father from debt bondage. He marries. He gets two children.

Now, he is encumbered by family life. He has no time to publish. He is not unable to follow the advice of Socrates (speaking through Plato) that the Philosopher-Kings should have sex, but should not involve themselves in family life. The peasant’s son is under intense pressure. He is unable to think and publish. He does not even have money for research. The vampire capitalist has firm control over the research funds.

The peasant’s son has a colleague who is a bachelor. He is energetic and not overtaxed by family life. He can write, but has not got enough money to publish. The peasant’s son pays to have his name added to an article his colleague publishes. Indeed, in the university, you can see a basic and trite article, which my illiterate and unschooled mother alone could publish, bearing the names of five co-authors. I mean a basic academic article in the Humanities. At least in the physical sciences it makes sense. The peasant’s son continues to make ends meet. He appears to be moving on.

But wait, before he heaves a sigh of relief, the vampire capitalist introduces a new law: ‘you must have a postgraduate certificate in education before you can teach in the university.’ The peasant’s son is troubled. He has passed the year of active cerebral work. How is he going to learn again for just a certificate?

Indeed, if a Ph.D. is not enough for him to teach, what will a certificate do? Indeed, Mafias run Ghana’s universities. These mafias are merciless to the impoverished. They care less about how the peasant’s son will survive in life. Well, the university says to the peasant’s son, ‘like the practice of old, we will give you five years of grace period to work for a certificate in education.’

This inane provision of forcing Ph.D. holders is nothing short of one of the tricks of the bourgeois elite to keep the impoverished in perpetual penury. If a Ph.D. could not help the university professor, how could a certificate do that? Excuse me! teaching is a calling. There are many three-year trained teachers out there who are wasting the time of pupils in school. There are equally many trained educationists from the University of Education, Winneba, and the UCC, who have resorted to quaffing and ‘blonting’ to numb their frustrations over the burdens of teachings.

I have never been professionally trained as a teaching, but since I started teaching at Hightech Preparatory School at Adjiriganor in 2001, I have produced many university graduates and a potential lawyer! Most of these children were from very poor homes in Adjiriganor. I also taught at Highway Nursery and Preparatory School in my community for two years and trained impoverished pupils some of who are nurses and university graduates. While pursuing my MPhil, I took three months to teach total illiterate old Muslim women in my community how to read and write Basic English.

There is evidence for this. As a natural teacher, I used my God-given skill to train these pupils. I have also taught virtually all the levels of education in Ghana. My students are out there to attest to my savvy in teaching. I don’t have a certificate in teaching. By the way, did the first person to teach in any university have a teaching certificate and/or a degree?

It is surprising that university dons cannot think hard enough to know that there is a world of difference between teaching and research. The university is not just a research institution. It is also an institution of learning. Researching leads to learning as learning leads to researching. Both are a true reflection of a university. They serve the utilitarian value of the university. The modern university did not start as a research institution. It started as a place of passing on received theological knowledge. Later it was used for training courtiers.

The focus on research is recent! This trajectory is a truism because speech (as a means of teaching) preceded writing (used for research). Now, whether teaching or researching, you may not necessarily need a certificate in education to be productive. Someone who teaches may or may not need some training to beef up his game. There are also those whose call is to teach. For such ones, they may not even need any certificate in teaching. Their undergraduate degree may be enough! Socrates belonged to this class of university dons. Humanly speaking, Jesus Christ, the only accredited savior of the elect, belonged to this category.

Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, belonged to this category. For those who are cut for research, they may not need a certificate in education for anything. They may not even be forced to teach. Their talent may not be one of teaching. In this category, we have Siddh?rtha Gautama, who out of research (not revelation) became a Buddha (enlightened). In rare cases, you find a scholar who is gifted as a teacher and researcher. In the end, there is no necessary and sufficient correlation between a certificate in education and quality teaching and researching!

To restate the above, I know professors, whose calling is not to do research. They are poor at teaching. The work of these research-professors is to provide analyzed data for others to teach. These professors must be hauled to teach. This was what Prof. Mahmood Mamdani could not understand about Dr. Stella Nyanzi, who is a researcher, not a teacher. There are also professors, whose call is to teach. They teach and create new insight that calls for research. They presciently say things that trigger research. Consequently, in the university, we have these two broad categories of professors. None is greater or lesser than the other. None is superior or inferior to the other. Imposing a postgraduate certificate in education without any qualification is emblematic of our atavism for certificates. It shows how the very certificate the universities and industries are using against university graduates is used against potential teachers in the university.

The attempt to force out some people out of enjoying the works of their labor through state-sponsored and bourgeois manipulations may lead to a true revolution that will not necessarily lead to communism or classlessness: But a revolution that has the potential of contributing to changing the paradigm in Ghana. Currently, the university system is oppressive and insensitive to the impoverished. The unjustified high cost of pursuing a terminal degree in Ghana is an apology to a nation that is blessed with potential resources. It is also a mark of how manipulative the vampire capitalist is.

This bourgeois people, armed by their exploitative system, are going to create a state that may not be governable in the long run (I pray against this, though). The more people feel oppressed, the more they are induced to indulge in ‘violence’. In conclusion, I ask all caring students to reasonably challenge the imposition of local neocolonialism.

If you are from the University of Cape Coast, this is the time to chant the chorus of the school anthem, ‘UCC, UCC, therefore rise to your call. UCC, UCC, to the call let us rise. To our call let us rise, veritas nobis lumen.” If you are a student at the University of Ghana, this is the time to invoke the chorus of the anthem of the university, “Arise, arise O Legon (students); defend the course of freedom. Proceed with truth and integrity to make the nation proud!”

The truth is our guide and the truth will win. If you are a fellow Casfordian, this is the time we need to faithfully combine our truth and courage mantra. We need to be encouraged by the truth to challenge the rot that has crept into our education system in Ghana.


Charles Prempeh (prempehgideon@yahoo.com), African University College of Communications, Accra

Columnist: Charles Prempeh