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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Columnist: Abdul-Korah, Sundong

Ethics In The Media Forest: Bread Of Sorrow

“TWENTY-FOUR students of the Holy Cross Technical Centre at Anaji in Takoradi have been suspended indefinitely for allegedly stealing a loaf of bread meant for breakfast for the principal of the school, who is a Reverend Brother,” reports Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu for the daily graphic of Friday, March 18, 20011.

“In an angry mood, Rev. Kuditani (sic) was said to have stormed the third-year class of the school, screaming for his bread and warning the students of dire consequences if they did not own up or return the bread,” the skilful pen whizzed.
I should think that an abandoned orphan who has exceptional taste for bread will neither scream nor scramble for it as has been neatly sketched on an immaculate canvas for our reading pleasure even if it were snatched from her craving lips by a clawed hand. By such calculated combination of words, is the reporter not attempting to paint the principal’s profile as profoundly disgusting? Is he not determinedly downgrading the reverend Brother’s deep moral principles and sentiments which his profession professes to uphold? Is he not deliberately and deceitfully inviting us into the world of the shocking and dismaying when there’s virtually none? As readers, are we to see Br. Kunditani’s image as reminiscent of the shadow of a starving lion which a fat deer has just escaped its razor claws and gnawing teeth?
In an interview with Br. Kunditani he said upon arrival for breakfast on February 17, 2011, he was told by the cook that some loaves of bread meant for the Brothers were missing. But earlier in the morning, the principal had sought permission for a group of sixteen (16) third year Auto students to use a classroom at the Home of Hope residence of the Brothers since there were no other available classrooms. He added that two members of this class live with them in this same building.
He was soon accompanied by Br. Patrick to this classroom which is adjacent the dinning room. Br. Kunditani said he told the 16 students that something was missing in the Brothers dining room and that they would like to have it back and also to know why the person took it. “The students were given time and even told if they didn’t want to see the Brothers they could go to Sister Helen Sharp in the office or to any of the Masters,” the Board of Governors’ report regarding the events at the Holy Cross Skills Training Centre indicated.
Shortly the boys were heard saying that it was bread that had been taken, “even though bread had never been mentioned,” the principal noted. Though nobody admitted to have taken a loaf, a half loaf of bread was returned. Once none was ready to disclose who the culprit was, management asked the 16 students to go home and bring their parents on Monday, Feb. 21 so the issue could be resolved. Hence the affected students were not asked to pack bag and baggage outright as has been reported by the daily graphic.
Bread of sorrow indeed! Must we ignore such fine and essential accolades as discipline and honesty to the reigning comfort of mischief and theft? I should think that Moses is a Christian name; so the reporter is likely a practicing Christian who cherishes (and ought to appreciate) the teachings of Christ. Unfortunately, from his style, he appears to postulate that Thou Shall Not Steal has long ceased to be one of the Ten Commandments. As responsible parents, are we to allow or encourage the youth to imbibe heavy doses of television terror as ethical lessons? Wouldn’t it have been decent and easier for the culprit(s) to have admitted his guilt by simply saying “Rev. I took the bread and shared it with my colleagues because we were hungry?”
As a Catholic entity Holy Cross cherishes dignity and respect, honesty, hard work, a sense of duty, discipline and responsible living. “It’s for this reason that the motto of the institute is ‘disciplinae et sui honorem’, which translates as ‘discipline and self-esteem’, Rev Ken disclosed. With such clear orientation, Management sees moral aptitude as an indispensable corollary in youth development and will therefore not countenance the appalling conduct of students—hence the action.
What is germane and worth the critical attention of readers is that some of the students, the principal and other Reverend Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross share the same dining hall. Was the reporter aware of this very crucial information? Or he deliberately refused to feed his numerous readers the crucial facts? How many schools in Ghana have students, teachers and principals sharing dining halls and blocks? How many intelligent readers were able to deduce this piece of relevant information from the report? By willfully ignoring the school authorities, thus obtaining scanty details, the story appears rather retrograde, reactionary and personalized.
On the 21st of February, the Administration met with the parents of the affected students. At this meeting, the principal talked about the values of the church and the extent to which students’ misdeeds impinge on their industrial attachment among others. “The parents, led by Mr. Becham, who is not a parent, said the boys did not know anything about the bread. It was requested that the students be punished at the school and put this behind them,” the Governors’ report stated. Management did not find this feasible enough. Amazingly, as soon as the parents took leave, “one of the students, Francis Dadzie, told the head of department of Auto-Mechanics, Mr. Luke Aikens, that they would not tell who it was because the fellow would get sacked. The boy’s parent was there and was called to hear what the student said,” the report further revealed.
It’s worth noting that on 23rd March Br. Dardoe, The Vicar General, the Chairman of the Board, and the PTA Chairman met with some parents of the affected students. Only five parents were present including Mr. Becham (Moses Dotsey?) and (un)fortunately, the father of the boy Mr. Becham had claimed was his ward was present.
On 28th February, Board Members met and endorsed the suspension action for reasons other than the missing bread. The Board of Governors’ report stated the following:
? Bread was not the issue, it was the moral issue of stealing, something that had gone on at the school before (stealing of 30 bags of cement, cutting and removing electrical cables and wires…).
? These students are sent out on attachment and the principal takes the responsibility of making the contacts himself with industries and companies and do the placement. If students go out there with this behavior, they will not only bring shame to the school but jeopardize other students’ chances.
? The school takes up jobs from outside and that takes students into peoples’ homes, businesses and offices; it would not be bread that would be taken.
? There needed to be time so the students and parents could work together to do the correct thing.
Clearly the suspension was not just about the missing loaves but the need to protect and ensure the students’ future.
The board members then met with parents for them to probe their wards to ascertain the truth for a quick settlement of the matter. Parents were given two weeks, and the students were to stay out of school until parents came back to the board of governors with feedback. The report indicates that the District Superior of the congregation of Holy Cross, Br. Daniel Dardoe, CSC, was duly informed of the outcome of the meeting.
Unfortunately, whilst the board members waited for a response from the affected parents, some together with their wards decided to go to the media for a solution. Mr. Becham who had introduced himself as a freelance journalist and deviously sat in as a parent during the first meeting, appeared again before the principal and wanted to know what management was doing about the students’ NVTI registration. When Br. Kunditani replied that the matter was between the board and the parents of the affected students, he was agitated, and quickly asked the principal if he would be willing to grant an interview on the values of the school. Br. Kunditani agreed but cautioned that that depended on the motive of the interviewer. At this point the journalist went out and met with students and a few parents who had crowded at the gate.
He said Mr. Becham had earlier on employed subterfuge and belligerence to obtain information from his assistant, Br. Patrick Adu, CSC, eventually confronting him. Br. Adu reported that Becham arrived shouting angrily and demanding that the boy be allowed back in school because they didn’t have any evidence that they took the bread: "This is a delicate issue. Do you know that? The boys must get back in school!" Br. Patrick continued “Lo and behold, within few minutes, they [affected students] returned at the gate side and Skyy TV also arrived to take them a video coverage. This time I came out of the office to see those students who took part in the demonstration and it was just nasty.” He said they yelled insults at them, and one student, Francis Mudey, tried to throw a concrete block at the security guard who had kept the gate closed, and tore the fence from the gate.
The principal said the students went berserk shouting “thieves...thieves, bring back our money”, adding that he had since been receiving anonymous calls from the students who either insult or threaten his life.Br. Kunditani expressed worry that students, even parents, could trip and slip down ethnocentric/tribal garbage, yelping without any hesitation that he (principal) is ‘pepe ni’ who only came to meet the school. “Was it an indigene who established the centre for particularly poor youth?” He asked.
“Let me indicate that this centre wasn’t a regular institute when I first came here but a centre which merely offered a two-year workshop in practical vocation to students. It’s also on record that I carried concrete during the construction of some of the school’s structures here at Anaji because as a professional teacher and a youth worker, I cherish education and youth development through the acquisition of relevant skills,” Br. Kunditani disclosed.
If only 16 students were in the class on the day of the incident—which the principal himself has confirmed--how could they extend the punishment to include innocent students? Rev. Kunditani expressed the belief that the rest of the class (eight students) who were not present on the day of the incident, merely declared their solidarity with their colleagues to enlist massive sympathy and support from the general public.
Perhaps with due diligence, this brilliant reporter who was adjudged the best journalist of Graphic Communications Group Ltd a few years ago would have established a few more facts, achieved reasonable accuracy and not to have sheathed himself in the critical readers’ tent of disbelief and dissatisfaction. Undoubtedly, he would have established the fact that soon after the principal’s directive that students fetched their parents, one of the loaves was secretly returned; that only sixteen students were involved and not 24 as reported etc. Rev. Kunditani wondered why many Ghanaians screamed when moral education was to be removed from the school curriculum a few years ago. “I thought moral education is essential because it has the propensity of molding the youth to be productive citizens,” he queried.
Old wisdom maintains that the formation of a child rests on a three-legged stool: the family, school and Church (Religion). And these three are integral and cardinal to fostering meaningful disposition of any child. A failure in one is but tragic to acceptable behavior in all societies no matter how heterogeneous! “Luckily, we at the Holy Cross here at Anaji are blessed with two of these legs. We are also living witnesses to the appalling scenarios of modern society--drunkenness, prostitution, fraud and robbery, and young men on death roll. The prisons and reformation centres serve as testimony,” the principal attested.
“As men with hope to bring,” he reiterated, “we educate hearts and minds. That’s why we always insist on the total and complete moral uprightness of our students because we feel skills alone are inadequate and incomplete to excellent professionalism. A skillful electrician or auto-mechanic’s fraudulence may compel him to buy cheap materials/parts to fix a problem and this may land his/her client in disaster.”
From Adam to Atom, it is well established that professional thieves and ardent robbers usually begin their trade at tender ages. They may begin by stealing an egg, then a fowl, a goat and eventually a cow. And as they mature and their deeds remain either unnoticed or unchecked, they end up as hardened, elusive criminals capable of plundering half a nation’s wealth. And I dare ask: is stealing accepted or encouraged in any institution or society?
According to the principal, the decision to suspend the students was not taken by him but the board of governors of the school. “So it would have been very wrong on my part to have unilaterally revoked such a collective decision.” Besides, he said cards for online registration had already been purchased and he is conscious of the deadline of the registration. He further explained that management has so far not asked any student or parent to come for their registration fees as some of the students and wards are reported to have said
The principal said he did grant interview to reporters from Skyy-FM/TV and wondered why Moses Dotsey of the famous Daily Graphic would be denied access if he indeed expressed interest. “He willfully chose to write a carefully unbalanced story to satisfy his curiosity and taste… and I’m not surprised he again failed to contact me when he filed his second report because he might have then developed a thorough sense of guilt to have approached me,” Br. Kunditani lamented.
Br. Kunditani also claims as false the second report filed by same reporter to the effect that “the board of directors of the Holy Cross Technical Centre has ordered the immediate recall of the students who were suspended for allegedly stealing their principal’s bread.” Brother Daniel Jojoe Dardoe, who the reporter named as a board member is indeed the District superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross and a former director of the centre; he is therefore not a board member.
Though he was of the opinion that recalling the students without finding the culprit(s) as well as ignoring the functions and powers of the board of governors would have undermined the administration and jeopardized the cordial relationship existing between them, Br. Kunditani said “because I was told by religious obedience to recall the students, we made every effort to contact them but only four returned later in the afternoon.”
The board members’ report posits that there was a scathing article on the front page of the Daily Graphic… “Many of the facts in that article were incorrect.” I duly and dutifully reproduce here some of the principal inaccuracies of the separate reports of the Daily Graphic as chronicled by the principal and supported by the governor’s report:
? The number of students who were suspended was NOT twenty-four (24) but sixteen (16). The total number in the class is 24 of which only 16 were present on the day of the incident.
? It was not the Principal who suspended the students but rather the Board of Governors
? Management felt it was necessary to meet parents to talk with their wards about the matter so that the culprits could be identified.
? The decision for the students to stay home for some time is not the highest punishment as the Graphic reported.
? The issue of no concern for the future of the students is neither here nor there. They were not dismissed from the school—they were just suspended for the exercise to be completed.
? The incident took place in the private residence of the Principal and his assistant, and not anywhere else. Nobody was in the building apart from the cook and the 16 students at that material point in time.
? The fact that one of the loaves was returned.
? The Graphic report was one-sided; this is from the point of view of the students and not the views of the school authorities. No reporter from daily Graphic contacted us, either physically or on phone.
? The parents were to report back to the board. They failed to do that and resorted to the print and electronic media to settle their grievances.
The Issue that the Principal is Not Compassionate and Forgiving is Addressed Below:
? Which private institution in Ghana today is charging only GH¢30 per term as school fees?
? The school sponsored the registration of some of the students, and the registration deadline is not passed.
? There are no salaries for the reverend Brothers working/teaching in the centre including the principal.
? The board never dismissed the students. They took into consideration the closing date for registration and the dates for the examinations. They were only asked to stay away. Had the Board wanted to, they could have sacked the students outright.
? The centre offers free accommodation and scholarship even to some of the students involved.
? How many principals go out there to look for attachment for their students?
? The fact that students can cut and steal electrical cables in their own classrooms and not be sacked should be compassion and forgiving enough.
? Board members are not paid for the work they do for the school, yet they always find time to come for meetings. They have the interest of the School and Students at heart. If they had no compassion for the students they would not attend meetings.

Factual Inaccuracies in the Daily Graphic Report March 19, 2011

? Brother Daniel Dardoe is not a member of the Board. He is the District Superior of the Brothers. He has a representative on the board.
? Nobody from the Daily Graphic visited the school on Friday, and since there is no “Third Year” classroom, how could they have visited one?
? The report said the enrolment of the school is 400 students. The daily graphic reporter’s source is unauthentic. Its current enrolment is 250 students.
? The report makes it sound like all the students were either living in Home of Hope or the hostel. This too isn’t true.
? No one, not the chairman of the board or any individual on the board can dismiss or recall students. Rather, since the Board members collectively called for their suspension, they should be the ones to take the necessary action.
? The article posits that the school denied the students NVTI registration, although some had already been registered and the deadline is not over.
? The reportage is one-sided and seems to suggest that the school is not interested in the future of the students.

Once more, the daily graphic devoted its editorial of March 21, 2011 on the impasse at the Holy Cross Vocational Centre. It categorically stated: “character formation is an essential component of formal education. This is why educational institutes punish students who misbehave or flout school rules in various forms”. Ironically it concluded: “The recall [of the affected students] should not end the matter. The conduct of the principal should be investigated and the appropriate remedies put in place to prevent future recurrence.”
“What the editorial essentially meant, irrespective of the scanty and spongy information the newspaper gathered, is that all of the school’s problems is the principal’s fault,” he surmised. Br. Kunditani also finds as puzzling and nauseating the fact that the article next to the daily graphic editorial reads “Discipline Is Not Just Preached, It Is Enforced.” “How is discipline enforced?”He demands of the daily graphic.
The board of governor’s report has cause to question the line of authority in the school: “Who makes the decisions about any discipline, punishment or other matters in the school? It wondered the role of the principal since an investigation has been called for. What is going to be investigated? Who is to be investigated? And what, if any, is the role of the Board of Governors?”
In the face of this unfortunate impasse, the school authorities and the board of governors have been meeting for a final settlement on the matter. “In spite of our frantic efforts, the media have largely reported to the contrary,” the governors’ report indicted.
If our societies must take on a new and more conscious development, then all stakeholders, particularly the media, must rise to a more meaningful and constructive task. Sure, the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclar Havel, couldn’t have been more eloquent: “The hidden root cause of the main threats confronting the world today, from atomic war and ecological disaster to a catastrophic collapse of society and civilization is the imperceptible transformation of what was originally a humble message into an arrogant one…The solution is obviously not just a linguistic task- responsibility for and towards words is a task which is intrinsically ethical.”
It’s indeed worth drawing attention to the fact that both the accommodation and feeding extended to a few students are said to be free and are being sustained by the scanty salaries of Brothers of the Holy Cross who work outside the centre and some benefactors which include the Knights of Marshal. No wonder the daily graphic wrote, “They had to return to their parents because they could not fend for themselves since the school fed and accommodated them as part of their admission.”
Holy Cross Skills Training Centre is a vocational school conducted by the congregation of Holy Cross-- a religious group in the Catholic Church. It seeks to continue the mission of Christ by bringing meaning to the lives of the youth through preferential option for the poor by providing vocation education and thereby given them a reason for living. It’s purely on this account that each student still pays a meagre sum of GHC 35.50 including PTA dues a term and still enjoys other services as computer laboratory services.
Established in August 1982 by Br. Raymond Papenfuss, CSC, it was under Br. Ken Kunditani’s direction in 2001 that students were privileged to write the NVTI external examinations as a student group from the school and not as private candidates. With these crucial facts, which are conspicuously missing in the daily graphic newspaper certified reportages, are readers/audiences not better informed to take informed decisions?
If the faithful clergy of the media begin to chant as though God were dead, we the lay faithful will not only reprimand them, but will implore all sharp-edged rational parishioners to reorient, urge and edge all unprincipled ministers into constructing constructive cantos devoid of the least slant.

Sundong Abdul-Korah
Filmmaker, Poet, Songwriter
Director of Social Communications
Archdiocese of Tamale
P O Box TL 42, Tamale, N/R, Ghana