(On the indomitability of education in this Information Age; why education should never be used for political ‘piloolo’; and the urgency of advancing our human resource capital to global standards.)
Education—no, Quality Education
With the ‘Wakanda Life is This?’ series, we concluded: a nation is only as good as its human resource capital. This is particularly true in this era the world has couched for itself, or more accurately so, has evolved into—the Information Age, the highly Industrialised, highly Globalised Age. Coming before this, was a tortuous journey through the ages, like the prehistoric era where society was built on manpower—literally, on the strength of its inhabitants’ muscles. In this new age of ours, the brain rules all, making education the most vital tool in nations’ toolsheds.
In my incipient journey of navigating various rural areas—the remotest of villages, I have come to find that the Ghanaian, even the most disconnected, the most unlearned, does not need convincing on the importance of education. So then, you, reading, surely do not need convincing. So, I am going to save you the trouble.
However, when it comes to the issue of ‘quality education’, we do need, it seems, constant reminders of the importance thereof. We need constant reminders of the urgency of this matter—the provision of quality education. We need this reminder, for we bizarrely consistently dump this very important national issue into the vast hodgepodge of political mess—unnecessary political debates and disagreements, and sometimes (let’s just say it as it is) bad governance.
Case in point…
Urban center students are consistently doing better than their counterparts in the rural areas. This is so because the former has it better than the latter. This is so because economic/socio-economic disparities between rural and urban centers directly influence their educational outcomes. To put it bluntly: the rich child is ‘outsmarting’ the poor child—yet another arrow in “Money’s” quiver.
The National Education Assessment (NEA) since its institution in 2005, has found this fact unchanging. The sub-agency instituted under the Ghana Education Service, with the mandate to measure, in every two years, competency in English and Math at the primary school level, has consistently found city children at an advantage over their village counterparts. And this can be expected, can it not? With the endemic lack of infrastructure, lack of educational wherewithal, lack of supervision, unmotivated teaching staff (the rural teacher has it badly), etc., it comes as no shock that villages would fare this poorly in their bid at knowledge impacting and acquisition.
The rural child has it badly. While their counterparts in urban centers—particularly, in privileged urban centers come home from school to ‘extra-classes’, to a life of a child—one not plagued with part-time jobs of farming, hawking, keeping the home together, etc., the rural student-child comes back from school (school which barely qualifies as school) to a whole burden of adulthood. With these economic and socio-economic realities, there is bound to be disparities.
The rural child runs short on dreams—they dream in reality. While their city counterparts go wildly with their aspirations, the village child, this child forced into adulthood, this child devoid of childlike wonder, is forced into seeing the stark reality of their existence. They are forced into seeing the world only as presented to them by their communities. The rural child has a limited worldview.
“What do you want to be?” I asked a village boy. “I want to be a taxi driver…” pause “…because my father says so.” “So then, what do you really want to be?” Long pause. “I want to be an engineer.” He says gingerly—as though daring to dream outside the life he knows is a sin.
Let’s leave our national borders for a brief second: on 2nd September 2020, CNN ran a story on the ‘world’s fastest human calculator’, Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash—a 20-year-old Indian gentleman (why are you not shocked by this name and nationality attached to mathematical prowess?).
“What’s 869,463,853 times 73?” the CNN article begins—taunting readers, as I am you right now. Apparently, the answer is 63,470,861,269; apparently, Prakash answered within 26 seconds. This is our cue—you and I—let’s clap for Prakash. This young gentleman has a lot of awards and accolades to prove; he has been accumulating them since age 7.
A friend of mine related to me, in excitement, somewhere last year, that he had met a math genius. He was frantic, speaking; implying, with his bewilderment, that this was something not typical of his country, something one only saw in movies—these beautiful minds; in this particular instance, this beautiful mathematical mind. “I met an illiterate mason today. Herh! The man can just look at a long string of numbers and, without referring back to them, recite these numbers.”
In this golden, global age of knowledge, this Information Age, where knowledge is a principal, vital tool, this beautiful mind, this potential 21st century giant, is dwarfed by illiteracy.
I am going to, with this article, exclude myself from the bunch. I am going to present myself only as an onlooker; I advise that you do same. That you and I put on our caps of recollection and think back at some phenomenal people—phenomenal brains we have met in our lifetime and make examples of them—case studies. In this vein, I nominate two childhood classmates of mine: Nkrumah and Addae—one female, the other male. Such an intelligent duo they were! While their classmates were, for the most part, oblivious of the world around them; while their mates were trying their best to grasp (and sometimes failing) the lessons being taught them, these two were already contemplating the vast world around them. They were speaking things that—as I reflect back on—stand the test of time, still hold relevance, and still exude maturity. These two were just Primary 4 children.
At this juncture, I may have to refer back to my beloved rural students already referred to, and say that I have met in them, an Nkrumah and an Addae. But be careful when measuring the brain prowess of a village child, you might find yourself wantonly writing their potentials off. Be careful when subjecting them to these standardised measures we have come up with—these standardised tests, finding their accumulations in our BECEs and WASSCEs. Be careful when judging them by those red inks, their test scores, their command (specifically, lack thereof) of the English language, their seeming ‘limited-mindedness’, their closely walled aspirations. Be careful not to hurriedly judge (misjudge?) the village boy and girl, because theirs is a world plagued by scarcity. A lack and scarcity of the physical: infrastructure, motivated and qualified teaching staffs, educational wherewithal, etc. These students lack the indispensables—things without which one cannot expect a child to flourish. And these lacking ‘physicals’ have repercussive sociological and psychological effects: limited world views, scant sense of self-worth etc.
This section of the article is proving quite problematic, isn’t it?—because I have not included another very deprived bunch: children of underprivileged urban Ghana. So, there you have it: the student-child of rural and deprived urban Ghana is plagued with scarcity.
I have met an Nkrumah and an Addae in rural and underprivileged urban Ghana, but the truth is when it comes to these students, one ought to have a sixth sense to be able to sniff out capabilities—these capabilities shrouded by depreciatory environments. One should not approach these students seeking tangible and immediate proof.
Even with the inclusion of ‘deprived urban Ghana’ this article still is proving problematic, because it creates the impression of an ever-flourishing ‘grass-is-greener’ section of Ghana. The part of the country where students are constantly acing the BECEs, the WASSCEs; the part seemingly grounds producing the nation’s future leaders; an un-plagued nirvana Ghana—privileged urban Ghana. I laugh at such suggestion. Because the entire nation, with its manpower and brainpower, with its children youth and adults, are automatically, too, plagued with a limited worldview. Our dreams and capacities are pretty much limited to the beautifully shaped boundaries of our national border. (Topic for another day, eh?)
The Chinese / Indian Wisecrack
I have such visceral reactions to those racist-fueled biological explanations we tend to, without scientific proof, or with pseudo-scientific proof, give to certain sociological phenomena—and this abhorrence I have communicated in a number of articles. Because these explanations always are to the disadvantage of the Black mind and capabilities.
So, when you say Chinese, Indians are naturally brilliant I go into anaphylactic shock (I tell you) and retort: it has been a conscious decision by these nations to pursue and build the mental prowess of their populace. And in fact, this Prakash gentleman, in this CNN article said something along those lines. He, refusing the tag math ‘prodigy’, stated: “…I find the word ‘prodigy’ a little troubling as it just doesn’t capture the efforts and experience, it’s just a state that’s obtained out of nowhere.” Brilliant, brilliant gentleman.
Quickly I must add: genius, like greatness, does not happen in the vacuum, it requires work. Genius, like greatness, can exist in a person but be easily strangled, and never see the light of day in the face of unfavourable environments. Think about all the Ghanaian geniuses—all the brilliant Ghanaian children being suffocated by a lack of quality education, by a lack of a globally-minded environment. We all who could, with the right environment, influence not just our nation but this vast world around us, are left to die—our capacities untapped. Think about this illiterate mason with a photographic memory, these village and underprivileged urban boys and girls, very much an Nkrumah and an Addae but not really an Nkrumah and an Addae because of their circumstances, think about the great Ghanaian minds you have met…
The Grand Inquisition
So then, Ghana, which of these four Biblical grounds are you? ‘Soil-less’ ground? Rocky ground? Thorny ground? Fertile ground?
This entire nation, having within it, its fair share of great minds—minds that ought to inspire global awe—we all are relegated to the audience seat, watching on as other nationals marvel us with their brains, as they change the world with their beautiful minds. You know it already: this is our cue—you and I—let’s clap for them.