The labour of our great forbearers who gave their lives to put Ghana among the league of respected nations in education will be turning in their graves for recent happenings in Ghana’s education. Sadly, secondary school education in Ghana under the first batch of the Free SHS is confronted with myriad of challenges with possible dents if seriously consented and corrective steps are not taken to restore its glory and dignity.
In a three (3) part article, I will review the biographical data of some of the dedicated Ghanaian educationists who served unflinchingly. The remembrance of these great men will perhaps call our attention to the essence of quality education for nation building.
James Kwegyir Aggrey (1875 –1927)
As said of Jesus Christ, “what good can come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) same can be said of James Kwegyir Aggrey, “what good can come from Chorkor?” Christ was born in a lonely manger in Nazareth. Aggrey was born in Chorkor, in the Ablekuma South Constituency, one of the poorest parts of Accra. He arose from the lonely background and made great stride in educational development for Ghana.
He excelled in Wesley Boys (now Mfantsipim) where he triumphed over subjects like Greek and Latin which many students hated. Later in his life, his dexterity over languages manifested in the many languages he spoke including; English, Ancient and Modern Greek, Latin, French and German. His graduation with three (3) degrees from Livingstone College (USA) and subsequent studies in Columbia University was a testimony of his determination and hard work.
His educational expedition from America to Africa later turned to have great impact on many of whom some became Presidents of their countries such as Kamuza Banda, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah. It was at the recommendation of Aggrey that Achimota became a mixed school.
His popular saying which propelled the Achimota conversation from boys school to a mixed school still echo “the surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.”
Aggrey used the keys of the piano as an analogy for racial equality when in a public lecture in South Africa he said “I don’t care what you know; show me what you can do. Many of my people who get educated don’t work, but take to drink. They see white people drink, so they think they must drink too. They imitate the weakness of the white people, but not their greatness. They won’t imitate a white man working hard…if you play only the white notes on a piano you get only sharps. If only the black keys you get flats; but if you play the two together you get harmony and beautiful music.”
In his magisterial account, Aggrey in his book “the eagle that would not fly” espoused the virtues of the eagle in the midst of the chicken, ducks and turkeys. The eagle never knew its potential and therefore stood at lower level of the chicken, ducks and turkeys until someone came along and persistently gave it a push until it believed it is an eagle and flew higher and higher. This calls for visionary leaders in our educational space to propel the hidden potential.
Aggrey returned to Ghana after his studies in America to influence educational development particularly in Achimota School. His contribution to educational development in Ghana is today remembered as a dedicated Ghanaian educationist.
Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972)
Like Christ and Aggrey, Nkrumah was also born in an insignificant poor village in Nkroful in the Nzema area of the western part of Ghana. Raised by his mother, Nkrumah started early life like many other coastal rural children. Nkrumah like Aggrey showed early tenacity in education from his elementary school level in Half Assini.
Nkrumah progressed in his education to the Government Training College (Now Achimota). At Achimota, Nkrumah was influenced by Kwegyir Aggrey who introduced him to the thinking of Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois. It was the colonial era and the ethos of Achimota School was the promotion of co-operation between the colony and the colonial administration but Nkrumah’s exposure to Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois gave him a revolutionary posture to the co-operation of Aggrey and the colonialists hence the urge to pursue self-government by Africans.
Nkrumah’s practical education involvement began early as a teacher in Elimina and later a headmaster in Axim. Successively, he became a lecturer in Lincoln (USA). His political desire for self-government lingered into his early vocation as an educationist in then Gold Coast.
He advanced his education at Lincoln University (USA) where he completed a degree programme in Economics and Sociology. Later, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Theology and Education respectively. Upon his return to the Gold Coast where he became the First President of Ghana, his contribution to education development was unparalleled.
Nkrumah built several leading educational institutions to expand access to education for the speedy development of Ghana. His contribution to educational development in Ghana is today remembered as a dedicated Ghanaian educationist.
John Evans Atta Mills (1944 – 2012)
John Evans Atta Mills like Nkrumah was born in Tarkwa, the western part of Ghana. Had his formative years of education at Huni Valley Methodist Primary School and progressed to Komenda Methodist Middle School. Mills successfully gained admission to Achimota from forms one to sixth for his Ordinary and Advance level certificates respectively.
Mills entered the University of Ghana where he studied Law and subsequently to the Ghana School of Law where he obtained a Professional Law Certificate. In search of higher academic laurels, he enrolled in the London School of Economics and Political Science for an LLM and followed up with his doctoral studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and earned a PhD in Law after a successful research in taxation and economic development.
After his doctoral studies, he spent twenty five (25) years of his life as a law lecturer at his alma mater, the faculty of Law of the University of Ghana. His intellectual contribution to humanity was not limited to the University of Ghana but also Temple University (USA) and Leiden University (Netherlands) where he served as a visiting scholar.
Upon becoming the President of the Republic of Ghana, he pushed his educational development a notch higher by ensuring that the faculty of law of the University of Ghana moved from the then poultry-like structure to its new building which is co-named after him.
At the lower levels of the educational ladder, President Mills gave free school uniforms, exercise books, laptops and the expansion of school feeding programme to cover more schools. Tuition fees for teachers who sought higher education were paid and a massive construction of classrooms to eliminate basic schools under trees was pursued.
Two (2) new universities were established under his Presidency namely; the University of Health and Allied Sciences and the University of Energy and Natural Resources. His contribution to educational development in Ghana is today remembered as a dedicated Ghanaian educationist.