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Opinions of Saturday, 1 December 2012

Columnist: Owusu-Barnes, Carl

The IEA Debates – Observations From Afar

I’m a strong proponent of doing ones best in any and every endeavor irrespective of the circumstances, but for once I’ll allow for a little laxity and congratulate Ghana for the baby steps it took at further enhancing democracy in the country through the holding of the first Presidential and Vice Presidential debates in our political sojourn. That Ghana continues to show promise in harnessing its commitment to ensuring the entrenchment of true democracy is commendable and should be a welcome respite to all those who have been lamenting the lack of the basic tenets of democracy in our political dispensation. I am particularly elated for the fact that the “convention” ghost has finally been exorcised and a blueprint set which will make it almost impossible for any incumbent president to shy away from engaging his fellow contestants in espousing their views on very topical issues that have the potential of emancipating us from the present economic and social abyss.
There obviously were a number of things I believe should be worked on between now and the next debates but that’s not the premise of my article today, and I believe the organizers will do a fine critical assessment of their performance in order to produce much better outcomes in subsequent debates. Personally I’ll like to see the discontinuance of the presidential aspirants reading from already prepared materials so we can truly judge their ingenuity, and will also recommend that IEA partner or send some of its members on an internship program with the US Election Organizing Committee since the debate was formatted along the lines of the US Presidential Debates so as to overcome some of the little “clinkers”.
The issue of prime concern to me and which forms the basis of my article today was the performance of two of the candidates namely PNC’s presidential candidate Hassan Ayariga and NDC’s vice presidential candidate Amissah-Arthur. Much has already been said and laughed about their abysmal performances, and this is in no way intended to further ostracize an already dying animal but to point out something that happens to be the ‘elephant in the room’ which is the FEAR OF/POOR PUBLIC SPEAKING among Ghanaians and how we can overcome that as a people.
Whiles Amissah-Arthur sounded incoherent and unable to put together any intellectually stimulating arguments or points, Hassan Ayariga’s performance can best be described as comic relief, and to think of it that these two could potentially be the presidents of Ghana shows the level to which we need to seriously address this issue. But truth be told there are so many educated Ghanaians who cannot even hold a microphone before an audience of four (4), and will literally rather “die” than speak in public. It grieves my heart so much when I hear of or see people get denied jobs, visas, contracts simply because they couldn’t articulate their thoughts or speak intelligibly virtually borne out of an inner fear of a panel of interviewers. In light of this I think it’s high time a culture of confident and effective public speaking or communication is ignited because it’s a very serious issue that requires prudent discussions.
First and foremost I’ll recommend that schools from the JSS up should be encouraged to have debates and facing up to a panel of judges as part of the educational curriculum. This way it will engender confidence in people to speak in public and not have to overthink what they intend to say thereby avoiding mistakes and sounding unknowledgeable or birdbrained. Back in the day I remember at my preparatory school Englebert we had the Debate Club, Drama Club etc. as part of the curricula and I believe if we develop that it will help with peoples command over public speeches and presentations. Also I think Oral English should be made part of the educational curriculum as well and should be compulsory for all JSS and SSS students. Again back in the day at my alma mater Accra Academy all O’Level students had Oral English as part of their subjects but that wasn’t really the case for all schools.
Another way by which we can help our students is for the teachers to make their teachings more interactive based rather than unidirectional whereby they do all the talking and the students sit as ‘dummies’ just imbibing anything said with just occasional questions being asked. Not to berate any school even during my university days at UST (now KNUST) we never really had any serious intellectual discourse in class with our lecturers (emphasis my course of study), and the least said about presentations the better. The whole scenario in Ghanaian schools seems to be one whereby the teacher prepares the notes, students come in to “copy” the notes as we term it with a little explanation from the teacher and viola everyone is happy. This makes it very difficult for Ghanaian students to adjust initially when they pursue further education abroad because the opposite seems to be the norm. But for the fact that I had experience with public speaking partly due to teaching Social Studies at Achimota Secondary for my National Service after university I think all hell would have probably broken loose the first day I was asked to make a presentation in class for my Masters degree program.
Yes Ayariga made us all laugh but let’s look at the bigger picture and put in the necessary steps to mitigate against our children lacking these basic communication skills so that they will be able to intelligibly communicate and articulate their views without making mockery of themselves and the English Language. The sages say “anything that is worth doing is worth doing well”. Of course we are not English people but since we’ve decided to adopt it as our lingua franca then there’s no excuse for not having a good command over it especially if you’re seeking as high an office as the President of the Republic of Ghana.

God bless Ghana!!!!

Carl Owusu-Barnes
Maryland, USA.