The Generation that Missed it

Mon, 23 Sep 2013 Source: Quaah, Amos Ofori

(Part 1)

Dr A. Ofori Quaah

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.” T.S. Eliot

Nelson Mandela was 76 When he Became President’ Shirley Temple was 6 when she became a movie star on “Bright Eyes’.

We were right there, from Class One in the Primary School to Form One in Secondary School. Back then, the school year began in January. Independence was only months away. There was excitement in the air. Even in primary school, we had to learn all the three verses of “Lift high the flag of Ghana”, the National Anthem and “I solemnly promise to be faithful to Ghana, my Motherland,” the National Pledge. Yes, we were the children of independence, born between 1942 and 1952. We studied in Civics – good, passive and bad citizens. We could point them all out on the sports field, in the school garden and at the playground. At home, we explained the concept of citizenship to our unfortunate siblings and cousins who did not have the opportunity to attend formal school lessons. Some of them had the chance to learn to read and write at “Mass Education” at night school. Many went on from there, to train as draftsmen, auto electricians and mechanics. We were sure of who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do for the new Ghana.

Later, we sat the Common Entrance Examination and went through the interviews. Finally, we were sent off to the boarding secondary school. There were the old established ones like Mfantsipim, GSTS, Achimota, Prempeh College, Adisadel, St Augustine, Abusco, Presbyterian Boys’, Wesley Girls’ High School, Holy Child, St Monica’s and the rest. Under the New Ghana Education Trust, new schools were being established, as well as those that were established by private individuals – Ghana Secondary School, Nsawam Secondary School, Koforidua Technical Institute, among others.

Many of us arrived bleary-eyed, straight from village middle schools, with brand new trunk boxes, others with well-polished wooden boxes from all over the country. We slept alongside total strangers. Most of us were away from home for the first time. We were children of farmers, carpenters, masons, fishermen, teachers, catechists, civil servants, to name but a few. Having been used to sandals and “Charlie wote”, many of us learnt to tie shoe laces for the first time that first Sunday at school. (Folks at the time wore ‘Achimota’ and ‘Bata’ sandals.) It was an experience. Most of us from village schools had strong foundations in arithmetic and written English, but the spoken word was something else. However, by the end of first term, we were at par in spoken English and French with our friends from the then “posh” boarding schools, mostly from the Akwapim Hills and urban areas like Accra and Cape Coast.

For those of us who went to GSTS, the only government secondary-technical school at the time, getting to terms with carpentry and metal workshop tools, geometrical and technical drawing equipment (set squares, the drawing board and the pair of compass), posed its own challenges, but we were soon filing and planing away!

“African Headmasters” like Adu-Ampoma, T. A, Osae, Abruquah, Agyepong Yamoah, JJ Mensah-Kane, Bruce Konuah, Bartels and others, had replaced European Headmasters. Those were well-grounded academicians as well as disciplinarians who had accepted the challenge to groom the young men and women of the future. They believed in the axiom, “ a sound mind in a sound body.” Very soon, many of us whose only idea of sports had been football, volleyball and athletics, were whacking away at cricket and hockey balls and twisting and turning table tennis bats.

Academically, the libraries were well-stocked; the laboratories were bursting with chemicals, equipment and glassware. There were bursaries, government scholarships, as well as Cocoa Marketing Board scholarships for the able but hard up students. Companies like R.T. Briscoe, UTC, UAC, Consolidated Diamonds and others sponsored the children of their staff, especially the junior staff who otherwise could not afford the school fees and incidentals for their wards. We were the future of the new Ghana!

Where did it all go wrong? My old headmaster, Mr. Adu-Ampoma often said, “we have received you here as boys, and we will send you out as well-rounded men” and they did. For many of us and Ghana as a whole, things began to go seriously wrong at the universities and training colleges. Here we were, straight from well-disciplined environments where our £1 per term pocket money was strictly controlled by the father-figure housemaster, who made sure that you had enough at the end of the term, for the concession train ticket, State Transport Corporation bus fare, or the Mummy truck, as the case might be, just in case your “slip” did not arrive in time at the post office.

You had option then to either enter the university or the teacher training college. The latter went on to train as Post-Secondary school teachers. At the university, there was free “allawa”, fifty-five cedis for first term, forty-two for second term and twenty-three for third term (Trinity at UST), meant to cater for books, stationery and other incidentals. Some of us managed to buy everything we needed and actually sent ‘something’ home to help cater for younger siblings in the secondary schools.

For others, the freedom of the university environment where no one told you when to go to bed or rise for breakfast and whether to attend lectures or not, was a “licence to kill.” Technically, a student in the university had to skip lectures for three weeks before he or she could be sanctioned, and even then, without a ‘class register’, who could tell whether someone had broken that rule or not? Chilled beer sold at 35 pesewas a bottle, at the Junior Common Room. It was not uncommon to find people still sleeping with beer bottles strewn around them, as one passed through the JCR on the way to the dining hall on Saturday morning. And there were the others who ran from their sleeping berths at the JCR to the bathroom to brush their teeth, on their way to lectures on Monday morning! The strict discipline that would later serve many of us well in far-away universities around the world was completely lost on some of our compatriots. I have heard similar stories told about the teacher training colleges.

The ladies could not be left out. Some of them could drink any village palm wine tapper under the table.

Out of the universities and teacher training colleges into the world of politics, Ghana—style, the smell of raw, absolute power became an intoxicant for some of us. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely indeed, so states Lord Acton. Our friends out there walked on cloud 9. The nation as a whole was not going anywhere fast.

Be blessed and stay tuned

Columnist: Quaah, Amos Ofori