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Opinions of Saturday, 1 November 2014

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

What is the Use of Our Education in Ghana?

By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

As a nation, it is always important for us to take a look back on our investments to determine if these are yielding the right dividends for our people. I have had several occasions to question the use and purpose of our science education insofar as our scientists have been found wanting in their capacity to bring about inventions and innovations that will transform our society. For example our medical, agricultural and infrastructural needs are all hanging in abeyance. After pumping billions of dollars of scarce resources into training scientists, we have hardly anything to show for it. Our medical doctors are running away from Ebola patients and are waiting for foreign scientists to find a cure for it so that they can prescribe it. Our agric. scientists have not impacted traditional agriculture in any real sense, and our farmers still use ancient methods of subsistent farming at the mercy and the vagaries of the weather. Our engineers have abandoned the simple concepts of city planning and waste disposal and have opted for white shining apparels behind comfy desks..........

When I had an occasion to decry the incapacity of our science scholars to solve any of the multifarious problems confronting our society, I was expecting some education that will offer some insight into what they have actually done with our investments; instead what I heard was a cacophony of excuses detailing why they have not achieved much. Many pointed to the lack of governmental support and the harsh economic conditions prevailing in the country. Others reminded me that I myself studied science at Koforidua Sectech so I should take the lead to invent something. So what I heard was not a denial of the uselessness of our science education, but rather a panoply of excuses explaining why our scientists remain useless. (By the way with my limited study of chemistry, I have discovered that febreze could be used to totally eliminate all body odor, including anal one, over a long period of time; and in a tropical weather like Ghana's, such a discovery could come in handy. I am also trying to invent a convenient finger-fitting stylus for use on I-pads and I-phones so that people don’t deface these devices).

We may assume a somnambulist posture that necessity is no mother of invention, and that hunger does not propel creativity, or that throughout history, none created who was not already endowed. We may even go further to assume the unthinkable that it is permissible for a third world economy to put its scarce resources to train scientists to keep international appearances of prestige. Don't we have the right as a people to demand of our trained scientists that they think scientifically, reason logically and lead in the quest for public rationality? So that when our scientists condone superstition and subscribe to thoughtless religiosity and join the bandwagon of irrationality, aren't we entitled to ask them of the basic use to which they have put our immense educational investments? There is a story of the Physics professor in the University of Science and Technology who begins his lectures with new students with a caveat that he believes in the Bible and that whatever scientific theory he teaches that contradicts the Bible must be viewed askance. I had a science educated friend who bought an old rickety car that gave him a lot of troubles. After spending a bunch of money on it to no avail, he accused his children of being witches, and after he tortured them to confess, he threw them into the church house to be exorcized. No wonder that he later went to some mountebanks to get his money doubled and was soundly duped. These children, who are now successful adults, are the very people trying to help him out. Recently, when I wrote an article questioning our belief in witchcraft, a pharmacist going by the ghanaweb moniker “Dungeon Master” explained that our history shows that people initially believed the world to be flat, until it was later proven to be spherical. In the same way, although some people today may not believe in witchcraft, there will come a time in the future when they will advance enough to discover that the phenomenon is real. He called this futuristic discovery of the existence of witchcraft the acquisition of a fourth dimension of vision. Talk of logic walking on its head!

If you listen to our scientists arguing in support of the unpardonable tyranny that has characterized our political history, you want to ask whether their minds are calcified by their inhalation of laboratory chemicals. Maybe they are pretty much like Apenteng Prawn who ate up the meat and means to his scientific knowledge. In 1983, an unprecedented drought assailed the country for which many fetish priests received a lot of cows to conjure rain. No amount of prayers from the religious leaders could however make the sky weep. So naturally, there was famine upon the land. And during the practicals of the Biology O' Level exam, students were asked to draw and label prawns. So there were these succulent prawns set on the lab tables at which students assiduously worked. The students were in two groups, and by the time the second group went to the lab, seven juicy prawns were reported missing .........until a mysterious aroma wafted through the air from the direction of one of the dormitories. The students charged upon the dormitory and discovered that Apenteng was busy cooking his lunch. From the soup pot were seven prawns bobbing in unison to an unsung song! From that day, Apenteng had another surname: Apenteng Prawn. Just like Apenteng Prawn, our scientists are consuming the resources put at their disposal instead of thinking of the solutions to our national problems.

I had a discussion of this issue of lack of dividends for our investments in science education with my former student and New Statesman editor Kwabena Amankwah. He retorted that the same could be said for our entire educated elite. He asked, “What is the use of those English teachers who have never written anything in English; or the music scholars who have never composed any song; or accountants who have no accountability; or the police men who are experts in criminality; or the politicians whose understanding of politics is to make a million dollars?” I was dumbfounded! In essence therefore, the larger question is how our education is helping with anything in the country. We are spending huge amounts of money to create unproductive and toxic scholars like Okoampa Ahoofe and Akadu Mensema who assume a sense of entitlement and lordship over the people and squander our resources all for nothing! Our education system is failing to expurgate ethnocentrism and superstition, and is instead breeding corruption, selfishness and greed. What the country needs are educated people who have demeaned themselves in high level philosophical reasoning devoid of ethnocentric, superstitious, ideological and partisan posturing…… people who can clearly establish the linkage between cause and effect, and are well advanced in their concepts of good leadership and what it entails to build a nation. Our education must focus on imbuing the patriotic spirit and civic responsibility in our people: a deep sense that we are all one country and one people committed to building a just and equitable society.

In the end, if all that our education does is to instill in our people scientific and logical thinking expressed through fear of corruption and devotion to duty, we would have made a millennium of advancement toward the creation of a more perfect society. As of now, we remain in the wilderness insofar as our present education does nothing to help us reason logically, eradicate corruption, and imbue in us the sense of patriotism and civic responsibility.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Doctor of Jurisprudence, is a general legal practitioner in Austin, Texas, USA. You can email him at