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By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
A March 15, 2009 news article published by Ghanaweb.com reported the remanding of an elementary schoolteacher into police custody for having, allegedly, administered two lashes, or strokes, of a willow-cane on a 14-year-old pupil whose subsequent death, several hours later, was circumstantially attributed to her caning by Mr. Kwabena Gyan, an on-duty teacher.
That Mr. Gyan, whose age and professional experience were not given, would administer two lashes of the cane on Ms. Victoria Ampofo, should hardly come as news to any avid student of Ghanaian elementary school culture. Indeed, if merely being meted two lashes, or strokes, of the cane, as an officially sanctioned punitive measure, could be aptly reckoned as a “cruel and unusual punishment,” as Mr. Albert Owusu Annor, the local magistrate who remanded Teacher Kwabena Gyan into police custody appears to have reckoned, then almost none of my elementary school teachers, including my own now-deceased mother, of course, would have spent more than a day or two instructing their pupils in the classroom; they most certainly would have spent the bulk of their professional careers in police custody!
What is more, this is hardly the very first time that a Ghanaian pupil or child has been reported to have died shortly after having been administered corporal punishment. To be certain, during my own day, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the number of lashes, or strokes of the cane, typically administered as punishment was about five or six. And so being administered a mere two strokes, as reportedly unleashed by Mr. Kwabena Gyan, of the Oda-Nkwanta Local Authority Primary “B” School, near Akyem-Oda, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, could be literally and dismissively reckoned as a proverbial “slap on the wrist.”
Still, this is in no way to suggest that corporal punishment must continue to be accepted as a standard punitive practice in Ghanaian elementary schools. A better and more constructive method ought to be found, doubtlessly, such as Teacher Kwabena Gyan’s being reported to have also instructed tardy pupils to collect litter around his school’s compound.
In my day, tardy pupils were also put to work in the school garden. I did not, however, deem the latter punitive mode to be very constructive, even at such early age, since this practice psychologically tended to almost irreparably degrade the inherent dignity of farm labor, an indispensable economic endeavor in a dirt-poor agricultural country like Ghana.
The magistrate, Mr. Owusu Annor, appears to have been under some modicum of pressure to bear down hard on Teacher Kwabena Gyan; this is because his very decision to remand the latter into police custody and his curious upholding of “provisional murder” charges against the former do not muster judicial scrutiny. In sum, Mr. Owusu Annor’s decision lacks both critical sensitivity and common sense. First of all, it presumes the obviously traumatized Teacher Kwabena Gyan to have been on the lookout to deliberately, sadistically and flagrantly committing the hideous act of murder, rather than merely enforcing protocol, however unnecessarily exuberantly.
At the worst, a “manslaughter” charge, provisionally or tentatively, ought to have been preferred against the defendant, while full and thorough forensic investigations were conducted into the direct, or objective, cause of death of Ms. Victoria Ampofo.
Secondly, the fact that the deceased pupil was not the only “latecomer” to have been administered two strokes of the cane, ought to have readily apprised Magistrate Owusu Annor of the glaringly apparent accidental death of Ms. Victoria Ampofo. In sum, causing Mr. Gyan to be remanded in police custody long before thorough and comprehensive forensic investigations have been conducted is what may aptly be deemed to constitute “a very cruel and unusual punishment.”
My plausible speculation here is that prior to that fateful day of her instant punishment, Ms. Victoria Ampofo had already taken seriously ill, either with or without the full knowledge of her parents or guardians. If so, then what the court needs to be examining and recommending is the imperative need for all Ghanaian elementary and secondary school pupils and their teachers to have ready access to at least one on-site, or resident, Nurse Practitioner to closely monitor their health status at all times.
Finally, the perennial problem of pupil/student tardiness ought to be seriously and frontally tackled at the level of parent-teacher association conferences, with the onus of pupil/student tardiness resting equally and squarely on both pupils and their parents/guardians. For it goes without saying that by and large, the level of responsiveness or punctuality of pupils towards academic enterprise closely reflects parental attitude towards the same at home.
*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 the author of twenty books, including “Crosscurrents” (Atumpan Publications/lulu.com, 2009), his latest volume of poems. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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