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Centenary of Western Education in Northern Ghana (1909 -2009)
Western Education is hundred years old in northern Ghana. A Great Milestone! Although western education in the north began with the Catholic White fathers’ school opened in Navrongo in 1888, its formal and broad inception was in 1909. The Catholic White fathers’ school, a kind of minor seminary was aimed at training priests to proselytise among the indigenes. This early educational initiative was at the threshold of the total colonisation of what later became the northern territories of the Gold Coast colony.
The total colonisation of northern Ghana coincided with the decisive battle of Adibo (near Yendi) on 4th December 1896, when the 7000-strong Dagomba army was vanquished by the German Army of about 100. The coming of the Dagbon Kingdom under colonial rule marked the beginning of a new era of uncertainty, the inescapable influences of new value systems and the transformation of this part of present-day Ghana.
The first government school in the Northern Territories was opened in Tamale in 1909 through the activities of one Amadu Samba, who organised a Boys' Brigade which was later transformed into a school. Two trade schools were established at Yendi and Wa in 1922 and 1924 respectively, and other schools were later opened in other towns. The opening of the Yendi School is a historic event in my family because my grandfather (Kuyini) accompanied the Korli-Naa, his cousin to Yendi and spoke of the event for years).
Most of the early schools were somewhat exclusive; reserved for the sons of kings and chiefs as way of entrenching the indirect rule of the British administration. Missionary activity was restricted by colonial policy and for that matter no schools were to be established /operated by missionaries in the Northern Territories, until the late 1940s. Despite this, the Ahmadiyyah Muslim mission (set up 1928 ) successfully established the Ahmadiyyah Primary school in Zogbeli, Tamale in 1940. The colonial government’s education policy also limited educational provision to basic education whereby school graduates from the Northern Territories could only attain a maximum of what was called Standard 7 education. There was also a concentration the trades, so that school graduates could learn skills for working in the mines and plantations in the south.
A slight shift in policy occurred from the 1930s when the reality of an expanding school system meant that schools in the territory needed trained teachers who spoke the local languages. This culminated in some exceptional school leavers, mainly the sons of the chiefs, chosen to train as teachers or further study at the Achimota school
Two of such scholars were Alhaji Yakubu Tali (Tolon-Naa) and later Alhassan Gbanzaba, who became the first university graduate from northern Ghana. The relaxation of the restriction on missionary activity in the late 1940s saw the establishment of missionary stations in major northern territory towns, including schools and health services. Notable among the health services was the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, near Gambaga, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. This policy change also coincided with the establishment of the first Senior School in Tamale. Students from the first primary schools could now travel to the senior school in Tamale for further education. This premier senior school evolved into the first Government secondary school (known today as TAMASCO) in 1952. The opening of the Bagabaga Training College was the beginning of expansive teacher education provision in the northern Ghana. Other teacher training institutions including the Nalerigu Training College (Now Nalerigu Secondary) Women’s Training College (Now Tatco) followed.
The introduction of the Universal Compulsory Education policy by the Nkrumah government in 1952 was a great milestone in educational expansion in the northern territories. Schools were established in other towns such as Walewale, Gushegu, Sandema, and Bimbila.
The expansion of secondary education coincided with independence in 1957. Riding on the euphoric wave of freedom and self-determination, the newly independent nation, tried to conceptualise education as a vehicle for crystallising new national goals and visions. This national vision witnessed the establishment of the GHANA EDUCATONAL TRUST FUND (GET) as part of Nkrumah’s educational agenda. Several schools were built under the GET Fund program beginning in 1959. In northern Ghana these included Navrongo Secondary, Ghanasco Tamale, Bawku Secondary, and Lawra Secondary.
In line with Nkrumah’s 7-year Development Plan 1963-1970, which tied educational development to the national economic vision, many technical colleges were also opened to meet the manpower requirements of the over 600 factories and industries being set up in new independent Ghana. Through this policy vision new technical colleges and secondary schools were established in the north and others projected for opening in the 1970s.
The climax of this educational development in the north was the establishment of polytechnics and ultimately the opening of the University for Development Studies in 1994/95.
In just a hundred (1909- 2009), this seemingly unimportant event, has culminated in a phenomenal development of new values and the transformation of northern Ghana and its peoples. The recognition of the schools as an additional agency of socialisation has entailed the acceptance of the idea that development of a child can no longer be limited to a socialisation and rearing approach couched within the philosophy of utilitarianism. Rather it must embrace the principle of individual development, which allows for choice of career paths. This is huge and irreversible transformation with positives and challenges (I intend to go into this any further). Nonetheless, the benefits of education are clear and western education is recognised as a dynamic cultural force; which holds the key to more creative solutions to our communities’ contemporary problems. The graduates from these schools have become indispensable to our collective effort directed at providing a decent social and economic environment for all Ghanaians. They are also performing positively on the international stage and these achievements are clear signifiers of the what education has to offer for our future.
However, there have been, and continue to be challenges facing the educational system in Ghana as whole, which have unique effects in the context of Northern Ghana. Statistics show that school enrolments rates are lower in this region than in most other areas; and institutionalised marginalisation due to deliberate policy massaging often leave schools without adequate share what is required to provide the best support for learning. Many girls are not attending schools and continue to join the bandwagon of Kayaayo/Kayaayei girls in Accra and Kumasi. These are indicative of reality that much more needs to be done in terms educational provision, support and outcomes.
The challenge for northern Ghanaians is to get organised in order to discuss, analyse and research the issues besetting the education system. This is a necessary first step as a foundation for action that would inform future practice, educational outcomes and develop the requisite human resources for the development of Northern Ghana.
This significant milestone deserves a commemorative event such as seminar or conference with a theme: Centenary of Western Education (1909 -2009): Using Education for Creative Solutions in Northern Ghana. This should bring together northern Ghanaian individuals and organisations to share ideas about invigorating the education sector.
Fellow Ghanaians are encouraged to support and be part of this important event in early 2010. A hundred years is a long time. And the next one is long way off.
**Between now and the conference/seminar I am looking forward to articles on localised histories of education in northern Ghana by Ghanaian educationists. These should capture the school experiences and contributions of educationists/ personalities such Mr. Wemah, Imoro Egala, S.D. Dombo, J.A. Braimah, Z. Zakari (Jilo-Naa), Jato Kaleo, Hilla Liman, Archbishop Dery, Alhaji Rahim Gbadamosi, Robert Ajeni, etc. ,
Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini
(For CEVS-Ghana, Tamale) Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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