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Opinions of Friday, 22 May 2015

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

How Ghana Descended to the Bottom of Global Education III

By Samuel Adjei Sarfo Attorney and Counselor at Law

There is no difference between the ends of math and the ends of science. The purpose of the two disciplines is to search and certify unimpeachable truths, and to impose logic, reasoning, rationality and incisive analyses on the individual to enable him or her solve problems. But in Ghana, it appears that we have developed a pattern of patent hiatus between the study of science and math and the application of these disciplines to solve national problems.

Thus year in and year out, we have people that are pretty advanced when it comes to the resolution of the most complex mathematical problem in some abstract and theoretical sense. But when it comes to the stage where we have to translate the ways of math into practical resolution of social problems, we are always found wanting. Thus a typical Ghanaian can easily solve an abstract math problem without necessarily having any clue as to its practical application to everyday life. That is why such an individual is certain to fail any test based on the application of the mathematical concept to everyday problem.

Same applies to our science scholars who, after generations of studying science, are not able to complete the cycle of application for their studies to be of any benefit to themselves or to the society. They have not been able to engineer city planning to solve simple sewage problems. They have never been at the forefront of civil engineering to plan our cities’ drainage systems any better. They fold their arms in abject helplessness in the face of our electricity problems, taking refuge in the shallow excuse that they are not resourced to do anything about it. One engineer even stated here that the electricity problem has nothing to do with Ghanaian engineers because the lack of rains caused it! The doctors we have trained have not entered into partnership with the traditional medicine practitioners to inquire into the efficacy of herbal medicine. They have simply continued to be conduits for giant international pharmaceutical companies to pass on toxic drugs to the masses of the people. Our top scientists have not taught us even the simple act of eschewing superstition because they themselves are grossly superstitious. Some scientists are not ashamed to strike a dichotomy between what they teach and what they believe, stating categorically to their students that they prefer to believe in some religious dogma over what they themselves are teaching the students.

Thus our trained mathematicians and scientists are simply products of a failed system that was not structured to take into account our societal problems. Ironically, concerning math and science studies, we bunch up our best students into these programs just to waste their talents, time and energy pursuing programs that would not be of any benefit to them or to the country. And if, despite the effort we put in training our scientists and mathematicians of scientists and mathematicians, they themselves repudiate the purpose of their training and education, how can we expect that any miracle will put them at the top of the global educational evaluation. They would all continue to be a costly waste of our national resources doing nothing to help the country. And we should not be surprised if they are found wanting in any global evaluation that depends greatly on the application of knowledge, not merely the imbibition of abstract theories and ideas.

That we are firmly placed at the bottom of global education should never surprise us in the least. What should surprise us is the fact that for generations, we were talking about being among the best in the world and tickling our own arm-pits and gloating about some non-existent achievements in our educational industry. And of course the confusion came about because of the typical Ghanaian’s show of talent and competence when he or she finds himself or herself in competition with others within the well-resourced international system of education. For indeed, despite the fact that Ghana has nothing to write home about in educational resources and infrastructure, Ghanaians are beings of great potential who will overcome their initial disadvantage and do well for themselves if given the opportunity to excel. That is why the confusion and the charade has been consistently peddled that we are the best because we do well abroad. The fact remains that we are really bad when educated at home.

As to the fundamental reason for the crippling nature of our intellectual stasis at home, especially regarding our application of math and science, suffice it to say that the problem is rooted in the very things that we consider as cultural. If the cultural perception is deep-seated in the people that there are witches and wizards, then no amount of scientific studies will jettison this view which is antithetical to science itself. Rather, we will find a way to accommodate this cultural belief while going through the motions of scientific studies for the mere purpose of passing our exams or finding a lucrative job. In this sense, the inherent culture of superstition will remain atavistically intact in the mental background while we find a way to accommodate that together with our new science study.

If the culture permits the indwelling propensity of faith as a means of solving problems, we will learn the nitty gritty of the scientific method all right but the faith will run concurrently with the science, and indeed turn out to be the greater default and preferred method, if only because this is what is stridently reinforced every Sunday in the churches. So a common disease will be more likely to attract spiritual interpretation for its cause, rather than the scientific principles we have studied in school.

Even if the science contradicts tradition, our finest minds will still go for traditional belief as opposed to science. That is why prayer, libation and the deities will trump scientific logic and reasoning all in the name of culture. Our best politicians, science scholars and mathematicians will therefore call on the gods to fix our economy and enact rituals to resolve our societal problems, instead of resorting to scientific and logical reasoning. With this kind of intellectual bankruptcy arising out of our traditional systems founded on sheer superstition, our very thinking is circumscribed, and no matter what we learn, we cannot apply it. We can only conflate or rationalize it to conform to the sacrosanct cultural elements and thereby neutralize its effect. And this is both contradictory and antithetical because any scientific reasoning or mathematical logic emanates from strict repudiation of unscientific and unproven traditions, beliefs and assumption, and no matter how much we study, if we are not willing and able to question old assumptions and jettison archaic notions, there will never be any innovation or creativity on our part. We will remain with the old wine inside us that is only packaged in new caskets.

As for our political system, it has not even developed into the modern era in any real sense. This is because it also runs concurrently with the traditional system of chieftaincy which has no room for the incorporation of science or mathematics into it. Our ancestors began by offering drinks and food to the dead, the rivers, the mountains and the forests. In doing all these strange things, they dressed a certain way and danced a certain way. They performed sacrifices in a certain way and held certain unintellectual notions about certain people in a certain way. And today, we still follow after their ideas and ways and copy them. We do not dare to question any of these forms and rituals despite our science and math education, playing along with them and in fact showcasing these to foreigners as our cultural heritage.

But science cannot exist side by side with superstition, religious faith and cultural practices based on belief systems. And if a science or mathematics professor accepts to take part in this bunkum and even goes ahead and ascends the traditional office to promote these, then wherein lies the purpose and function of his scientific knowledge which is here diluted by his cultural posture? And in this compromise or sacrifice of science in trade with superstitious practices, how is he able to compete, with any intellectual diligence, in the global notions and application of science and mathematics? How possible is it to be scientifically capable while accommodating a tradition based on superstition and irrationality? And how scientific and mathematically feasible is it for one to argue that one deserves any better than the very bottom of the global pack?

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, J.D., is a practicing attorney in Austin Texas. He writes the weekly column, “Thoughts of a Native Son” for Ghana’s New Statesman. You can email him at