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Opinions of Sunday, 18 December 2011

Columnist: Acheampong, Thomas

Breaking Out Of The Colonial Shells (Part II)

Breaking Out Of The Colonial Shells…how our social systems can be more effective and useful. (Part II)

If we were to succeed in changing our education system, (from the elementary to the college), by making it relevant to our social, economic, political and religious needs, we would achieve not less than 60% of independence from economic and political dependence on ‘the master.’ To reach this goal, our school curriculums, right from the primary schools, must be redesigned to address our deficiencies in mathematics, science, economics, Africa and Ghana history, geography, agricultural sciences, sociology, politics and religions. Unless these core areas of study are geared toward our needs as a nation, our academic achievements will continue to remain ‘foreign’ to us. We shall always be eager to migrate, after school, to ‘the master’s’ backyard to do menial jobs just for survival.

Let me again emphasize the need for the development and use of a common language ‘born’ out of one of our ‘mother tongues’ as the medium of communication at all levels of education in Ghana. The achievement of such a feat would bring true liberation and independence to us as a sovereign nation. Many fellow Ghanaians may think differently about this and I respect their views. However, no matter how differently we may think about this issue, it would not change the facts on the ground; that foreign language will continue to put us at disadvantage in the invention, designing, and the manufacturing lines of human achievements. We can never realize our sovereignty as a free nation so long as we use the ‘master’s’ language as the medium of communicating knowledge to our children in schools. This is because the essence of any language goes beyond just merely speaking it. Language, according to linguists, is also a culture in a broad sense. Language is the life as well as the driver of every culture. Every culture and cultural artifacts are interpreted, translated and expressed in the language of the people. It helps the people to gain ‘natural advantage’ from their environment by way of understanding, exploration and development based on their acquired knowledge. This automatically builds a comparative advantage for that group of people over all others who learn that specific language as their second language. Cases in point include our situation in Ghana as well as all other British colonized countries that have adopted English as their commercial language. They are taught English in schools only to go home and speak in their various vernaculars. They think and dream in their local languages but they are ‘forced’ to express their thoughts in a foreign language. This makes it extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, for most, if not all, such educated people to translate their ‘school’ knowledge into something beneficial to their environment. This is the secret ‘curse’ behind our inability to invent or create something based on our education and knowledge.

Unfortunately too, the type of English that we speak is, in most cases, archaic and obsolete. For instant, most of us, educated Ghanaians, still use words like ‘mufti’ to mean ordinary clothes worn by, say, soldiers or the police instead of ‘civilian clothes,’ which is now the commonly used phrase in both Britain and America. We say ‘stadia’ to indicate the plural for ‘stadium,’ instead of “stadiums,” which is in current use in the white man’s world, and many such others. We also often make such grammatical errors like ‘he was pressurized…,’ instead of “he was pressured,” ‘all the countries which…,’ instead of “all the countries that…,” and many others. Sometimes too, we are not able to pronounce certain English words properly simply because we do not use some of the alphabets found in such words in our vernaculars. Let none of my readers get me wrong by these comments. I use these examples to only stress the fact that so long as we use English as our second language, we shall always be at disadvantage. Besides all these problems, is the issue of dealing with our accents: Because English is not our mother tongue, and because we are greatly influenced by our vernaculars, we can not so much articulate ourselves in English. We lack knowledge of the English syntax and that makes it even harder for us to write coherently the little that we think we know.

It is to forestall all these problems that I strongly advocate for a common language ‘born’ out of our own culture. It will be no brainer using your own language to study. It will bring greater proficiency, flexibility of thoughts and expression, self-confidence, and above all, it will open the gateway to invention and development. Furthermore, it will build in the individuals a greater sense of patriotism or nationalism. The Germans, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, French, the English, the Vietnamese, etc, are the few examples I want to cite here. All these countries speak and use their own language to study everything from ‘Archaeology to zoology.’ Citizens from such countries carry with them some sense of pride wherever they go. It is either you understand them or you find a way to understand them. In our case, the opposite is the truth; we have abandoned our God-given language to struggle with a foreign language that has no reference to our culture and environment.

This, I know, will not be an achievement that can be realized by overnight, and neither shall it be in any way easy. However, others have tried and succeeded and therefore it is achievable if the people can understand and commit their political wills to it. Such a breakthrough would go a long way to revolutionalize our parochial tribal cultures and allay such non-existent fears as juju, witchcrafts, tribal gods, and many such others that have cowered us in and held us ‘slaves’ against our wills in our own land. It would ensure better participation, greater accountability, honesty, proper rule of law in the national system.

“He, who will try and fail, is infinitely better than the one who would wait until he can do all things well.” I love Ghana and I am proud of being a Ghanaian!

By: Thomas O. Acheampong (This writer can be reached at