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Opinions of Sunday, 27 June 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Grandpa, what should I be when I grow up?

When I was asked the question, I wanted to cop out of answering it by saying, “You are the only person who can decide what your profession should be. Because no one is quite like you. You will have “likes” and “dislikes” which are peculiar to you, and which can only be truly known to you.

“Others may try to suggest what you can, or cannot, do; based on what they perceive as what you may, or may not, like. But they will be looking at you from the outside and the best they therefore do is to guess what you should do! Besides, they can entertain fantasies about you and your abilities, based on their love for you, which romanticizes everything about you in their eyes!

“What that means is that they will be programmed to look at you from their perspective, and that will spring from their own likes and dislikes. Whereas what they should be thinking about is what would really suit YOU best.”.

“But Grandpa, I would like you to guide me, please!”

“Well, I did some pretty foolish things in my life when I was young, so I have to be careful! Can you believe that at the age of 15, I left school and went to Accra to try and become a taxi driver?”

“WHAAAAT! You? But I thought you loved books to bits?”

“Hmmm! That was part of the trouble! I'd become bored with school. I'd read everything there was to read. Topped every class in every exam. No new challenges to overcome. I needed someone to spot that and take me out of there and get me taught new things in a new way. But because of the way our education was organized, I could only wait for the Common Entrance examination to be held. And wait for the results, and then undergo a great deal of bother before I could go to a secondary school. Even there, I might not necessarily have been introduced to knowledge that really interested me. It all depended on who was teaching what – because teachers have a lot to do with whether one takes to a subject or not!”

“And what happened to you? You did finish at the school?”

“Well, yes! My mother was illiterate but understood the need for qualifications that could get one good a job and things like that. So she was heartbroken when she realized I'd left school. She had emotionally invested a lot of hope in me because I was “doing so well” in school. Women do have an intuition about these things. I loved her madly, and so using persuasion, she managed to get me to take her to go and plead with my headmaster to take me back into the school!

“I shall never forget how, six months pregnant, she walked in the broiling sun beside me, sweating profusely, all the way to our school. She ardently begged the headmaster to reinstate me, and luckily, he agreed.! For he was astonished himself at my waywardness. He told her about his disappointment with my behavior: “It's he who's at the top of his class!” he emphasized! Of course, it would never have occurred to him to ask me why I'd left school. Schooling was what every good boy did. If one left school, it meant one was a bad boy! Tyrannical headmasters did not come into the equation – from their perspective, of course!”

“HAHAHAHA! But the story proves that you can guide me! Someone did know what was good for you: your mum! You're not suggesting now that she was wrong?”

“NO! I knew she was right, but inside me, I was doing it for her, for I still bored with schooling. Out of love for her, I allowed myself to be persuaded to go back. But that shouldn't have been the case. I should have gone into something that really interested me. Others can have an influence over our lives and choices – yes. But ideally, those choices should be made by us ourselves.”

“But things did turn out all right for you, didn't they?”

“Yes, but entirely by accident. When I left the school, I became a pupil-teacher. Secondary school was now out of the question – money was needed and my Dad had by then, like other cocoa farmers, begun to earn less and less money from his farms. They never knew how much they were going to be paid for their crop! Imagine employing laborers – on credit – to work on one's farm, and yet not knowing whether the Government would pay one enough money to pay those laborers! And how one would also have to worry about managing to cover one's home-keeping and other expenses.

The government of the time thought that paying cocoa farmers what their crop was worth on the world market would put money into their hands which they would use to “marry more women” or “do silly things like buying gramophones with the money!” So people like me could not depend too much on our fathers.

“Now, when I became an untrained teacher, the pay was terrible, but whilst teaching, I became friendly with a couple of teachers who had been to secondary school. They were working towards going to University, and they got the University of Ghana's Extra-Mural Studies Department (now Institute of Public Education) to start courses for them, conducted by graduates. They got me enrolled in a class devoted to the English Language as a subject.

“I soon realized that such a course was exactly what I had been secretly longing for. The graduate who taught us was a man who had read – and loved – the English language. And he took us through advanced English grammar and essay writing – things that interested me greatly.

“But above all, the lecturer took an interest in me as a person, often wondering, before the whole class, about how a mere “Standard Seven” boy like me could write such “brilliant” essays. Of course, that made my head – full of vanity, already – swell enormously, and I read and read and read, in order to impress the guy even more!

“Well, he eventually advised me to take a correspondence course and helped me to pass my GCE O Levels within 15 months. I left to go and work in Accra, and managed to obtain “A” levels too, after a year.”

“Ahah! So, someone else could advise you to make the best use of the talent he recognized you had! I know you can do the same thing for me!”

“Yes, but remember my situation occurred entirely by accident. That man came into my life at just the right time and put me on the path to self-discovery. But suppose he had been a maths teacher instead of a lecturer in English, and he liked me and decided to teach me maths?”

“Hahahahaha! You still don't go near maths, do you?”

“of course not! That's why I say you should search your own self and decide to do what you are best suited for. Of course, you can be advised with information that can get you to know all about what you want to do and how best to go about it. But – and I'll never get tired saying this: It's all up to you!”

“All right, Grandpa, let's just assume for the moment that you are the right person for me and that whatever you say, it would agree with my personality and desires. What would you like me to do?”

“Well, you are a hard nut to crack, aren't you?”

“HAHAHAHAH! I am your grandchild!”

“HAHAHAHAHA! If you put it that way, I can't help but try and answer it. Let's do the basics first; what questions your education should help you to answer. First, what are we in the world for? Now, I don't know where we came from; or what we are doing here. But one thing I know is that we can improve the world we live in, despite our ignorance about much of it and our particular purpose in it.”

“Improve the world? Sounds great, but how do we do that? And take care of our own needs and desires as well?”

“Not easy, but I was coming to that. We can improve the world by learning as much about it as possible. That means tackling the difficult subjects – especially, physics, mathematics, biology, engineering, and chemistry.”

“But those are mostly science subjects? Suppose I am not good at science? That I prefer the arts, especially poetry and the fine arts?” You can still acquire enough basic scientific knowledge to understand how the universe began; how our solar system works and that sort of thing. But what I would hope you would specialize in is how to end the prevalence of poverty and diseases in the world, so that humanity can be spared hardships and be a bit happier than it is now.”

“So I should study medicine?”

“Acquire knowledge of medicine, not necessarily become a doctor. But not medicine alone. You should also try to learn how to invent new things that are technologically useful to humankind, especially things that are particularly relevant to the improvement of the lives of the people who live in “developing countries” like Ghana. To be able to do that, you would have to be proficient in sociology ad economics, for if you invent things and they cannot be put to practical use, that is, things that the market will patronize, there's no point to it.

“You see, for instance, how the world has moved from computers into smartphones? The knowledge – called “nano-science” – that largely brought that situation about did not occur in a single dimension. The physicists and engineers courted one another and combined their skills to invent things together. After they'd done their research and development, they sold their ideas to industry and industry employed them to invent more things that stood a chance of bringing economic prosperity to the world.

“Of course, industry often ignores the purposes for which the inventions were originally conceived, and concentrates on making money from them. But – hey! – it's not a perfect world, is it?

“I would like you to be among those knowledgeable people who want to help those of us that are called “poor countries” to bring an end quickly to the situation whereby we in the “developing countries” work very hard to produce raw materials and food substances to feed the world – such as cocoa and coffee – and get only a tiny fraction of the income that those products create. And to help in leveling incomes in the world generally, so that no human being can ever go to bed hungry, or have diseases that cannot be easily cured.

“If you set out to achieve objectives of this type, you will inevitably be drawn into politics and you will have to learn how to do that. Also how to acquire skills in communication so that you won't have to depend entirely on others to implement your ideas and tell the world about why you hold such ideas!....!”

“Grandpa, my head is swimming already! Politics, economics, medicine, communication …..”

“Yeah, I know it's tall order. But you have the brains and you can accommodate it all!!!”

“Thank you, Grandpa! I pray that you live long enough to be able to put me back on the right road if you see me deviating from it!”

“Thanks, my love. I'm sure you're gonna be the best of the best! And wherever I am when that happens, I shall smile and smile and smile! And I shall fondly remember how you forced me – sweetly – into this conversation!”