Some Ghanaian school authorities still living in the 16th century?

GES Ghana Education Service Ges 680x375.png File photo: Ghana Education Service

Wed, 16 Jun 2021 Source: Abdallah Sulley Omoru

I have never imagined that schools funded by the public purse can become so powerful as to make the educational authorities helpless until recently. This is what we witnessed with the Ghana Education Service (GES) and the Ministry Education during the case between two Rastafarian students and the Achimota School.

Imagine if the Rastafarian students didn’t go to court, that would have been the end of the dream of getting educated in that school by those two brilliant young men. What if that happened to the children of an uneducated African Traditional Religious practitioner in remote rural Ghana?

To begin with, I salute those two students and their families for showing the way.

A lot of Ghanaians are asking why Ghana, our beloved country, has sunk so low. What has brought this shameful attitudes/rules about? There were even thoughts of appeal against such a shameful case, eh?

Well, it didn’t start today. It is only coming to the limelight because of enlightenment, social media and vibrant press. When we went to school in the Volta Region, Kpedze to be precise in the 1980s, we joined children of African Traditional Religion (fetish priests as they were called) and Christians. The community was cohesive, mutually understanding.

But all the teachers (I dare say) didn’t see anything wrong in inflicting corporal punishment on pupils, no matter their background, for not attending church service. This happened in many schools across Southern Ghana and in the Northern part of the country, it was indoctrination of overzealous converts or adoption of Christian names to conform. We are aware of similar instances in Mount Mary College, Somanya, in the Eastern Region.

There reports to Ghana Muslim Students Association (GMSA) in the Eastern Region in the 1990s, of Muslim students hiding to pray on their beds in Krobo Girls, for fear of being caught and punished. I am sure the country hasn’t forgotten an incident in the Adisadel College, where Mustapha Abdul, a muslim student jumped from the 4th floor of a storey building to his death for fear of a teacher who was compelling him to attend a church service in March, 2008.

Many muslim students across the country experienced similar crude religious compulsion in the hands of teachers or school authorities. Most students bore this pain quietly because one could be expelled or victimized. These teachers were the output of colonial schools in the strictest sense. For instance, K.G Davis reports of sponsorship by Royal African Company for the early Europeans schools in 1694 in Cape Coast Castle, where the teachers, who were chaplains, taught Christianity in addition to reading and writing.

It is reported one reverend Thomas Thompson, who ministered from 1752 to 1756 in the Cape coast Castle, imposed fines on workers who absented themselves from church service to finance the in-castle educational project. So the reverend-turned teacher could impose a fine for church absenteesm.

Rev Thomas Freeman reports that the opening of the first Methodist (Wesleyan) school in Cape Coast Castle saw the addiction to religious education, increasing the number of such church-based schools to nine by 1841. These religious teachers prescribed uniforms and hairstyle.

One dared not oppose their rules, and their graduates promoted the same kind of education to the African child, no matter the belief and social orientation of the child.

Some of those teachers still exist today, one of such is Mr. Angel Cabonu, the president of NAGRAT. He thinks the court ruling will promote different types of hair styles in schools, which, in his view, will undermine discipline. Well, how many indisciplined students does the French school system produce every year because they permit different hairstyles in schools? He went far to call the counsel to the Rastafarian students a mere lawyer as opposed to a seasoned educationist like himself.

Such teachers enforce colonial legacy rules at the expense of freedom of education and training. Such teachers don’t understand why a girl child should come to school in Kente with their hair plaited or ponytailed? The hairstyle of the girl-child must be sakora or Davi for in the name of disciplined.

Another issue that has escaped our attention as a nation is school uniform. Shouldn’t a child wearing fugu or kente blouse or shirt be allowed in a public schools? How does the attire of a child, granted it is clean and decent, impact negatively on knowledge acquisition? The Government of Ghana spent millions of Ghana cedis in 2009 to distribute school uniforms to about 1.6 million school children in 77 deprived districts according to the Ghana Education Service.

Well, it seems a good argument to spend on procuring uniforms for school children because those in deprived communities absent themselves from school when their uniforms are torn or worn out. So why make the wearing of uniforms compulsory in the first place if it hinders enrollment? All those arguments about discipline and conformity are untenable and seriously flawed because such reasoning cannot supersede the right to education.

The German public school system doesn’t prescribe uniforms for pupils and students. Does that make their education of lower standard than Ghana’s? It was Ghana’s colonial masters who introduced the wearing of school uniforms – that was about four centuries ago - must we continue to make uniforms compulsory in schools, even though we don’t have the resources to finance their procurement for the under-privileged or more seriously, when, in our context, they are causing children to drop out of school?

If the case of Rastafarian students had happened in the US, the UK or any Western country, the people involved in managing schools that impose these discriminatory rules would have called it racism. But they do it to their fellow countrymen or Africans. I dare say to the people enforcing educational discrimination that they are sinking Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. It must stop now!

These incidents of applying rules that contradict the country’s constitution must not be tolerated any longer. A lot of schools across the country have similar rules, only that those schools, public or private, have not come under public radar and scrutiny.

It is now time for the executive (especially the educational authorities in this case) and the legislature to have an open discussion with the citizenry and formulate laws, regulation and policy that is unambiguous. The policy must be very clear in order that schools do not misunderstand and surreptitiously misapply them to favour their worldview or religious convictions.

Similar discriminatory practices or indiscretion by civil or public servants exist in several organisations in the country. Whether is a lecturer who called muslim girls in hijab Boko Haram or a senior nursing staff in Ridge Hospital who refused a student nurse work because she wore a hijab or the traditionalist in Dzodze who was refused admission to a secondary school, the rules must be clearly stated as to what action must be taken in a particular situation.

Many more of such incidents will be reported if the leadership does not proffer unambiguous regulations as we have recently head the Minister of Justice suggest.

This is very important because if schools like Achimota or Wesley Girls (who for several years survive on public funds, but discriminate against muslim students) are not stopped, it may lead to an unwanted consequences. There is a lot of concealed anger in some communities regarding these discriminations that do not come to public attention.

It may take just one little incident to trigger confusion and anarchy as has been experienced in other countries. We prefer our freedom in peace.

Leaders like Sheikh Nuhu Sharubutu, the National Chief Imam, has tried very hard to quell some of these tension. Other leaders have made similar appeals for restraint. The approach by the Rastafarian students was excellent.

To crown it all, the national authorities must act very fast to provide unambiguous legislation and policy regarding discrimination in all public life.

Because discrimination is like cancer, it kills fundamental rights slowly and surely.

Columnist: Abdallah Sulley Omoru
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