Feature Article of Sunday, 7 October 2012

Columnist: Twumasi-Fofie, Kwame

Do Our Children Learn Anything In School Apart From ‘Grammar’?

By: Kwame Twumasi-Fofie

If there was an Association of Young Fathers anywhere I wouldn’t qualify to be a member because I wouldn’t meet what would be the most basic requirement. In short, I became a parent when I was already in my 30s. But I still had to wait till my children went to the Day Nursery before I learnt that it was wrong to dispose of dry cell batteries in the refuse sack we kept in the kitchen. That was one of the many useful lessons I learnt from them, my children, Osei and Ansuah. While they were obviously too young then to be able to explain to me and my wife the reason why it was wrong to dispose of used dry cell batteries in the regular refuse sack their message was simple and clear – their Day Nursery teacher says doing so was not good for ‘mother earth’ - a clear and simple message which could not have been misunderstood in any way by any responsible parent. In fact, with the way they persisted, including making containers available for the purpose, my wife and I would have appeared stupid if we had insisted on continuing with the bad habit of disposing of batteries in the rubbish bin (or ‘borla’, if you prefer).

To better inform myself therefore, I consulted Google, and the following is part of what I found: “Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.
“Batteries may produce the following potential problems or hazards:
“Pollute the lakes and streams as the metals vaporize into the air when burned;
“Contribute to heavy metals that potentially may leach from solid waste landfills;

“Expose the environment and water to lead and acid;

“Contain strong corrosive acids;
“May cause burns or danger to eyes and skin.”
Indirectly, therefore, that’s one of several things I learnt from my children as far back as when they were nothing more than ‘Day Nursery Students’. How wonderful would it be if in the various fora the leadership of our major political parties always organise for their students wings – TEIN and TESCON – they would also find it necessary to talk to them about issues that affect the environment. But at this stage perhaps if there’s one piece of information I’ve ignored to provide about my children, it is that they studied for their ‘Day Nursery Certificate’ in Bern, Switzerland.

Over the past few years, however, I’ve been back in Ghana, and the small private business I run happens to bring me in contact with many young Ghanaians, this time though, not Day Nursery ‘Students’ but rather JSS students to University graduates. And it is my impression of them that has prompted me to write this article. By the way, let me start by making myself clear that though for the purpose of this article I’m going to limit myself to our young children it does not mean that their parents, we the adults, are absolved of any of the bad conducts I’m going to discuss. But let’s start on a more positive note.
Is Education All About Speaking Good English?

Especially for someone like me who had my basic education under the ‘good old days’ primary, middle and secondary school system in rural Ghana, I must say I’ve been very much impressed by the fluent English spoken by most young Ghanaians I’ve been in contact with. Whether or not they have same command of the Language in writing, I have no idea but as for the ‘grammar’, oh they can speak! And here I’m not referring to what people sometimes refer to as ‘locally acquired foreign accent’ (or LAFA for short) but the type of English which in our time would instantly distinguish the likes of us from students of the top schools, say Achimota and the rest.

Again it’s worthy of note that quite a lot of our young children appear to have taken their ICT lessons seriously and as such are very good at ‘browsing’. But what they usually browse for is also another issue. Many parents would be shocked to know what some of even their very young children spend their time and money in Internet Cafes for.

Ghana And the Plastic Waste Menace

Let’s say the reason why dry cell batteries should not be disposed of in the regular rubbish container (like those now provided by Zoom Lion) or the open refuse dump site is too ‘high tech’ for our kids in the Kindergarten and Day Nursery to appreciate, but what level of education does anyone require to be able to understand that it is wrong to litter the surroundings with plastic waste? Therefore what do you say to a University student who enters your premises carrying his own water, and in the end dumps the plastic container wherever it pleases him? Perhaps you might excuse him if after drawing attention to his carelessness he expresses a sign of regret or embarrassment, but what if he makes you feel as if you have no business questioning him for doing what in his view, everybody else does¬? In short, he doesn’t see anything wrong with what you’re accusing him of doing because neither his parents nor teachers have told him it is wrong to do so. But if you care to check, you may find out that all through his school days through to the University he’s always been in the top five! He may eventually enter politics, become a Minister of State for Education, the Environment or Health but have no idea whatsoever of what can be done to contain our plastic waste menace. Let me offer some free advice to the authorities. If we start teaching our kids in Day Nurseries today that it is wrong to dispose of plastic materials indiscriminately in our homes, school compounds and streets, by the time they complete Senior High School we would have defeated the very serious threat plastic waste now poses to our environment. The least that is expected of the central government and local authorities is to provide plastic containers in schools and at vantage points in the towns.
I remember when I first brought my children to Ghana at the ages of three and five there was no way they would eat even a biscuit and throw the wrapper on the floor. Since waste containers were not always available they would either hand them over to me or their mother. And I’m not about to claim credit for teaching them this – after all didn’t I also attend school in Ghana? They learnt that culture from the ‘Kinderkrippe’ (you may call it ‘Creche’)! So why can’t we also do the same? Interestingly our Minister responsible for the Environment seems to believe that we can make our environment cleaner by banning the importation of second-hand vehicles, something which not even the most developed car manufacturing countries would consider as practicable or even helpful to their economy. Maybe, by the understanding of our Honourable Minister, the smoke-producing, rickety vehicles on our roads were not at one time brand new.

Our Money And How We Handle It

I started with plastic waste because its menace is very clear for all to see. But the one particular instant that prompted me to write this article was the crumbled state of a currency note a young woman handed to me one day and where she brought it from. I remember reading it somewhere that our currency, the cedi, is contaminated with bacteria. Well, actually I wonder why anyone should be surprised at this, knowing the way we handle our money. What did we expect knowing all the areas people keep their cash, with the sweat, the high humidity and dust, as well as through how many hands a particular note will pass in its life-time. In the first place I wonder how long it will take us to accept that our One-Cedi Note has no business circulating in our markets and on our streets since after all, you need more than one to buy even a bottle of Coca Cola. Our money is so filthy not only because they over-circulate but also because we have not been taught this culture of handling money properly. And here again, if just a fraction of all the time our three-year old kids spend on ‘academic work’ is devoted to teaching them the most basic dos and don’ts of living we wouldn’t find ourselves in this situation.
How We Behave As Road Users
One other training which we lack as a people is the way we – from pedestrians, road-side traders to motorists – behave on our streets. It’s astonishing to see a normal thinking, full grown adult walking on the street without as much as sparing a thought about on-coming traffic and then turn around and ask an approaching driver whether his/her car doesn’t have a horn. Here again, you can’t blame them much because you don’t normally blame people for not knowing what they haven’t been taught. Of course I’m aware of what is known as ‘common sense’ but who says even that can’t be taught? In other countries where authorities put premium on the personal safety of its citizens in general and children in particular, right from Day Nursery children are taught not only how to behave on the street as pedestrians but also how to ride a bicycle through the town safely. In these same countries children who are less than 12 years old or not taller than 150 cm may travel on front seats of vehicles only on specified children’s seat. Growing up with all these dos and don’ts, these children, apart from learning to take care of their personal safety, also grow up becoming responsible adults who value human life. Contrast that to the pride with which Ghanaian parents allow their children – sometimes up to three of them – not only to sit, but also stand dangerously on the front passenger seat while some parents even carry their children on their laps while they drive. Sad, isn’t it, if such irresponsible behaviour is one any child is going to say in future that he learnt from his parents.

One of the more positive developments in Ghana today is how very eager people are to give their children proper education, and which of course explains why private schools are springing up everywhere. But then, if I may pause to ask: what are our children learning in school, apart from speaking fine, fine English?

Kwame Twumasi-Fofie
Sunyani, Ghana