Feature Article of Monday, 3 December 2012
Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Among those who decry the popular overthrow of Ghana’s first prime minister and president on February 24, 1966, Nkrumah’s fee-free 10-year basic public education policy is almost invariably mentioned as one that made the Ghanaian leader stand out among his peers. For, on the eve of his overthrow, Ghana had the highest rate of literacy of any African country south of the Sahara. Ghanaians were also until some thirty years ago described as being among the most sophisticated readers – or critical thinkers – on the African continent.
And so, naturally, it comes as rather shocking to hear Caretaker-President John Dramani Mahama loudly, wildly and shamelessly campaign against Nana Akufo-Addo’s fee-free Pre-K through 12th Grade campaign policy proposal, on the rather curious and ironic grounds that this policy, which seeks to radically create an enlightened citizenry on a level playing field, as it were, and as clearly articulated in the country’s Fourth-Republican Constitution, is a sinister recipe for disaster (See “Mahama: Free SHS Would Collapse Ghana’s Education System” Vibeghana.com 11/30/12).
Indeed, it is criminally ironic that Mr. Mahama who loudly and proudly touts his fee-free Achimota education should now be vehemently impugning the integrity of the same. And so the question which all well-meaning Ghanaian citizens ought to be asking is: why was a fee-free education good for “Little Dramani” at Ghana’s top and elite junior academy, Achimota, but has all of a sudden become deemed as the bane of our society? We also need to quickly point out that the fee-free public education afforded Ghanaians born in the three northern regions, and fully funded by the central government, with the Ghanaian taxpayer’s money, of course, has not been faulted by the same man for collapsing the country’s economy.
And yet, President Mahama would have Ghanaians believe that “other African countries such as Kenya and Botswana have reintroduced fee paying in their secondary schools[,] after a free education policy nearly collapsed their secondary system.” In the case of Kenya, what ought to be quickly pointed out is that there has been absolutely no systemic collapse, except the all-too-predictable fact that an overwhelming increase in school enrollment and attendance has significantly dwarfed the existing capacity of educational facilities.
The preceding, needless to say, is, in principle, far better than continuing to cynically and arrogantly maintain an elite educational system which sharply divides the country into the extremely rich and the dirt poor.
We need to also point out that in the Kenyan situation, as I personally examined a couple of weeks ago, school-age girls whose culturally conservative and poor parents would have otherwise kept them illiterate and hopeless on farms like work animals and prime preys to sexual predators – or prostitution – are today gainfully enrolled in school and are studiously forging more productive and meaningful academic and professional careers for themselves and their families.
It is therefore unpardonably hypocritical for President Mahama to, on the one hand, vehemently decry the plight of female head-porters, or Kayayei, while at the same time callously and expediently closing off the one significant avenue that could facilitate the socioeconomic and cultural empowerment of these victims of cynical and hypocritical politicians like Mr. Mahama himself.
We need to also underscore the incontrovertible fact that about the only practicable way to ensure that each and every Ghanaian family directly and fully benefit from our oil-endowed economy, is for the central government to guarantee both a fee-free basic public education and an all-inclusive National Health Insurance Plan/Scheme. On the preceding score, President Mahama has amply and shamelessly indicated that he would rather have the unscrupulous likes of Mr. Alfred Agbesi Woyome take the Ghanaian taxpayer to the cleaners than have our national resources equitably distributed across the board.
At any rate, would Mr. Mahama also brazenly argue that the current ramshackle educational system, with its attendant massive failures of students at terminal examinations and the graduation of woefully ill-equipped and morbidly undereducated students is far better than even a decidedly mediocre system in which all Ghanaian youths, regardless of family background or ethnicity, have an equal chance of being educated, or even under-educated? Come on “Little Dramani,” get a grip!
Free education or no free education, an underdeveloped and a grossly mismanaged Ghanaian economy will continue to solicit foreign technical and economic assistance. And so this “jazzy” talk about Botswana and Kenya soliciting foreign assistance is a rather cheap and facile smokescreen by President Mahama to throw dust into the eyes of well-meaning and discerning Ghanaians. Needless to say, we know far better than the Bole-Bamboi petty chieftain is willing to credit us with.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
Nov. 30, 2012