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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa

Three Heroes Of Northern Education

A Tribute on the Passing of B. A. Fusheini, Majeed Hussein, and George Belko

Northern Ghana will perhaps remember November-December 2006 as the saddest period in the last quarter of a century due to the passing of three of our great sons who dedicated their lives to the development of education. In less than 4 weeks, news broke of the deaths of Alhaji B.A. Fusheini, George A. Belko and Alhaji Majeed Hussein.

Twenty-five years ago the death of Alhaji Imoro Egala, a pioneering leader from the first Government school established by the British in the Northern Territory, was a shocking loss. In fact, for Northern Ghanaians, an icon had passed and the tributes poured from colleagues and friends locally and internationally. Since then, great sons of Northern Ghana who dedicated themselves to service and progress have passed including Dr. Hilla Liman, Alhaji Bawumia, John Bawa and others. However, this occasion stands out because of the short timeframe within which the passing of Alhaji B.A. Fusheini, George A. Belko and Alhaji Majeed Hussein has occurred.

It is a fact of human existence that if you have been a good person, your passing brings sorrow to people and your field of endeavour. For the reason that many Ghanaians may be unaware of the contributions these three have made to education, I intend to write short paragraphs on what their lives meant for educational development in Northern Ghana.

The development of education in Northern Ghana began with the opening a Catholic school in Navrongo at the threshold of the 20th century and the first government school in Tamale in 1909. This was followed by the opening of schools in Yendi and Wa in the 1920s to provide trade-education as part of the colonial policy of limited exposure of the northerners to education, as a way of forestalling future demands for independence.

This initial seemingly rapid educational expansion stalled with the coming into play of the colonial government policy not to allow the establishment of mission-run schools in Northern Ghana until after 1950. Thus, at independence, there were only a few scattered schools serving the entire Northern Ghana (Upper-East/West and Northern Regions).

The growth in the number of school places began with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s universal compulsory primary education policy. The Tamale Government senior school, which became the first secondary school in 1952 was given a lease of life as this new policy increased potential for many children to move on to study at this distinguished northern institution of learning. No doubt, Tamasco, as it is known today, has given birth to great leaders and citizens.

However, an important issue with education in northern Ghana remained to be resolved. Western Style education was a novel and strange concept, standing in juxtaposition to the existing traditional and Quranic system in many parts of the Northern Ghana, and muslim parents were not necessarily enthused. Thus, the opening of schools did not naturally imply that parents were willing to send their children to school and did not also imply that the structures in themselves were enough to result in appropriate education. Rather, any education for the children of Northern Ghana required the changing of parental attitudes to western education and the availability of personnel ready to sacrifice and create a vision for education. It is in these two domains that Alhaji B.A. Fusheini, Mr. George A. Belko and Alhaji Majeed Hussein extended themselves unrelentingly and I would write briefly on each one of them.

Of the three educators, Alhaji B.A. Fusheini is perhaps more known outside of Northern Ghana, having been the Northern Regional Director of Education, Northern Regional Minister and Ghana’s Ambassador to Libya. However, I choose to start with Alhaji Majeed Hussein because his contribution to education related to a rather difficult part of educational development- the debate around the merit of western versus Islamic education, which was and is still central to parental attitudes toward enrolling children schools, especially girls.


Alhaji Majeed was the architect of the Arabic-English School system or model that has now gained currency across Ghana.

Alhaji Majeed came from the big and distinguished Gomda family of Yendi. Having trained as a teacher, Alhaji Majeed taught in schools and later became a staff of the Tamale office of the Ghana Education Service. As part of his role to inspect schools in the 1960-70s, he noted with concern that an important reason for the resistance of a substantial number of muslim parents to send their wards to western schools was their fear of christianisation. He made frantic efforts to explain the benefits of education to parents and to allay their fears about Christianity. He often used himself as an example of a good western educated muslim, and yet the negative attitudes persisted.

When I spoke to Alhaji Majeed in 1986/87 (while writing a paper on history of education in Northern Ghana for the Faculty of Education, University of Cape Coast), he noted that the reluctance to enroll children in schools was a burning issue to be resolved, requiring difficult negotiations and convincing. He made available his documentation on the different meetings, tentative models drawn-up in the early 1970s as part of his search for answers on the debate.

By 1970, the debate on Islamic versus western education had engulfed teachers of both the traditional Quranic schools (offered in homes and compounds) and the more established day institutions such as Ambariya, Nuriya and others. In fact, the heat of the debate was such that it became implicated in the already existing ‘doctrinal wars’ in Tamale. In order to sanitize the field, Alhaji Majeed organised several meetings with Imams and teachers from across Northern Ghana and invited prominent western-educated muslims to lend support on his call to enroll children into western style classrooms.

He also reinforced the message that the call to educational participation had nothing to do with the doctrines around some practices already stirring controversy between different sects.

After listening to the concerns of parents and imams, Alhaji Majeed came out with a compromise model where by the existing Arabic/Islamic schools would accept the posting of teachers from the Ghana Education Service to teach formal school subjects in their institutions. He then took some time negotiating with the GES to agree to this proposal and modalities for posting and training of teachers. The outcome of Alhaji Majeed’s efforts was that the Arabic-English school concept eventually became an acceptable model of education in Northern Ghana and subsequently exported to other parts of the country.

Alhaji Majeed then turned his attention to consolidating the structures and championed the formation of the Islamic Education Unit, and the establishment of a training regime in appropriate teaching methodologies for Arabic teachers in Northern Ghana. He became the first Manager of the Unit and ensured that such units were established in other regions of Ghana.

By the 1980s and 90s many students from the Arabic-English schools were completing university degree courses. At the time of Alhaji Majeed’s retirement from active service, one of the products of his Arabic-English school concept / model was graduating from the University of Cape Coast and was in later years offered the position of manager- Islamic Education Unit.

I would state with unambiguous certainty that a substantial percentage of school and university graduates in Northern Ghana have had access to western education because of Alhaji Majeed’s unique foresight that contributed to shifting parental attitudes towards western education. In spite of this achievement, recent reports from both the GES and the Ghana Statistical Service show that Northern Ghana still lags behind the rest of the country in terms of school enrolment rates. This leads one to wonder - what would be the state of educational participation in the region without Alhaji Majeed’s creative and timely intervention?


Alhaji Fusheini was a role model and mentor to many young people while he was Headmaster of Ghana Secondary School, Tamale. In my opinion, two of his contributions stand out during his time at Ghana Secondary School. Firstly, he created a school environment with a sense of purpose and motivation through ensuring that the quality of teaching was comparable to any other school in Ghana, even in an era when it was remarkably difficult to get teachers to move from southern Ghana to the north. Further, through his unfailing requirement that only the hard working students would remain in the school and those who did were rewarded for their effort, students learnt to respect time, cultivated personal discipline and commitment to hard work The second area of his great standing was the identification and cultivation of non-academic talent including sports and the arts. To my mind, he stands out as one of the champions of northern sports; especially football, having identified and provided nurturing for many talented sports men/women, including the famous soccer player Abedi Ayew Pele. Alhaji Fusheini was also a strong patron of Real Tamale United and will always remain a visible pedestal, whenever the history of the club is written.


I do not recall much about Mr. Belko’s early days in Tamasco (a consultation with others would have provided a more richer material). However, I do know that he worked extensively doing extra teaching in Ghana Secondary and other schools. In the late 1970s and early 80s when every graduate teacher saw Nigeria as a greener pasture, our schools were in crisis and sixth-form history was in serious trouble. Mr. Belko kept the flame of history and the social sciences alive.

His greatest contribution came as Headmaster of Tamale Secondary School (Tamasco). Mr. George Belko succeeded in bringing Tamasco from the brink after a number leadership changes that resulted in the school appearing be departing from its philosophy and losing direction. Tamasco was becoming a shadow of herself and needed a disciplined leader similar to Alhaji Gbadamosi. In fact, Mr. George Belko did not fail because his enthusiasm culminated in a recognisable lift the school’s external examination results and the role of Tamasco as a leading institution and an all round performer re-emerged.

It is sad for northern Ghana that in the space of 4 weeks, three notable /prominent contributors to educational development have passed. It has to be borne in mind that these three have done their part and their best. Nonetheless, the there is still much to be done in the north, and some other persons must emulate their examples.

Northern Ghana owes these sons some recognition not only by erecting monuments, but also by unselfish sacrifice and service to a region stagnating in development as a consequence of some of the multiple factors that they fought to eradicate.

There is a great saying that permeates all of the world’s religious, linguistic and cultural philosophies, which says that it is satisfying to work for your community to ensure that you leave it a better place than you came to meet it. Alhaji Fusheini, Majeed and Belko have done just that. Which ones of us will stand in for them with such unwavering dedication and selfless service? The idea that Northern Ghana has a University (which is a fact and not a fantasy) and that several of those working for this new icon of northern education were students of these educators is an ambiguous testimony to their invaluable contribution.

May the God bless their souls and the very soul of Ghana!!

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

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