Which school did you attend? That is a simple question that is more loaded than perceived. ‘Ehm… ehm… ehm’ is sometimes the initial response which may never be completed. Other times the response has been swift with no hesitation whatsoever; and the school’s name is dropped with enthusiasm and unsolicited follow-ups: the principal’s name, the National Science Quiz, etc, until you get irritated and walk away.
In our days, the joke among non-elite students was: ‘Achimota Girls are coming, the only problem is the English language to meet them.’ ‘Achimota sandals’ was the footwear commonly worn to mark one’s social status.
Local values then compel parents to aim at ‘good schools’ for their wards: Achimota, Mfantsipim, Wesley Girls, Holy Child, Adisco, etc. and not Obra ye Oko (Life is War), or Ohia ma Adwen SHS, in spite of excellent results Obrasco or Ohiasco recently posted. The perception is made worse by bureaucratic labels like ‘Grade A Schools,’ ‘B Schools,’ etc. that classify schools by alphabets skewed to debase the less privileged. That classification could easily be stretched to produce ‘Grade Z’ schools one day. Beyond Grade Z, there would perhaps be a Grade Die.
Incidentally, one hardly sees labels like, ‘Schools Making Steady Progress.’ That is where Obrasco and Ohiasco could probably lead the rankings and trend in the social media.
This truth was evident in 2019 when an unknown school, Mamfe Methodist Girls High School disrupted the rankings and won for Ghana the World Robofest contest held in Michigan , USA, while jingle bells were nowhere to be found. That victory has since transformed the fortunes of Mamfe Girls up the Akwapim mountains.
Day in day out, perceptions are jolted. I myself wondered the school attended by my erudite friend Kofi Akpabli, a brilliant lecturer at Central University. When Kofi told me which school he attended, I was left with wide eye balls. Great students and their schools like precious beads sometimes do not jingle, but are noiselessly dotted in nooks across the country including Nsaba Presbyterian Secondary School (now senior high), where Kofi Akpabli graduated in 1990.
Yet, our great schools should be lauded for the high academic and leadership standards they set, which inspire the lesser endowed. Take the story of our premier University of Ghana. Its roll of Ghanaian vice chancellors produces a virtual who is who. Which schools did they attend? The first Ghanaian vice chancellor of Legon, Achimota; 2nd vice chancellor, Achimota; 3rd vice chancellor, Achimota; 4th vice chancellor, Achimota; 5th vice chancellor, Achimota; 6th vice chancellor, Prempeh College; 7th vice chancellor, St Augustine’s; 8th vice chancellor, Achimota; 9th vice chancellor, St Peters Boys; 10th vice chancellor, Holy Child. With this intimidating roll of honors, let’s pray the next Vice Chancellor of Legon breaks the monotony. For the next Legon VC, what about a product of Obra Ye Ko Secondary School, Obrasco, where life is war? We are indeed waiting for that occasion, which would surely be celebrated with a great ‘abunuabunu’ banquet at the VC’s lodge.
When I got possessed with writing in my late twenties, I once met a huge personality I never dreamed seeing. He was author of the classic book ‘Topics in West African History,’ which we voraciously read at A Level. My God! It was the venerable Albert Adu Boahen, a great scholar many suspected was the author of my anonymous newspaper column, late 1970s. In a tale dilated in my memoires (The Pen at Risk), I bumped into the big professor at a car park in Legon one day. Having learned I was the anonymous author of that weekly column, the professor posed a query that unsettled me: ‘by the way, which school did you attend?’ I almost melted but managed a feeble response; and it was none of the big schools he was expecting! A disappointed ‘Kontopiaat,’ his nickname, chuckled in disbelief and mildly boasted that as far as he was concerned, only Mfantsipim boys (Kwabotwe) were capable of the language in my column. Would I accept honorary membership of the great Kwabotwe family, he asked. The matter ended with a gentle surge in my entrails, the proud voice of my small school.
On 24th January this year, a reader privately in-boxed me after reading my Facebook post entitled ‘Pot Holes Epidemic.’ In her words: ‘I just read your article. It was very long but I was able to read to the end, and did not skip any line, because you write so well. Did you perhaps attend Achimota School? ….. Great article, well written. Kudos. Regards’. Signed.
The reader was an Akora, Achimotan.
In the past several years that I have been in public life, whether in my public speeches, writings, personal encounters, or outside the country, I have upheld that little school, glorified that school, lauded the school, and almost made the school a little object of worship, doing so with chest out without apologies. My outbursts have often attracted curiosity: ‘what at all is in that school Kwesi Yankah has so often extolled?’
The answer was tabled in 2016, when I was receiving the Education Laureate Award for my ‘impact on education in Ghana,’ given by Impact Africa Summit. This was at a time Prempeh College had just been announced as champions in the National Maths and Science Quiz. In my acceptance speech, I made bold to insert my alma mater. Hear my boastful words at the awards event:
‘Science quiz or no science quiz, by far the best school in Ghana today, often unnoticed due to modesty is the unsung Winneba Secondary School my alma mater [prolonged laughter by audience]. And this is in spite of the Mfantsipims, the Achimotas, and Prempehs who make the most noise only because they are empty barrels,’ I bragged looking over my shoulders.
The entire auditorium at La Tang Hotel, North Ridge rocked in jitters and that included the former President J. A Kufuor who was one of the five honored. JAK exploded in reels of baritone laughter expecting the climax of my speech to have been his Prempeh College.
The truth is I attended Winnesec more than half a century ago and have since not left, partly because I have been soaked, almost possessed by what appear to be the little things of life that can transform generations.
Winnesec I Love You.
I am dedicating this post to all lesser endowed schools in Ghana. Chest up, and go for laurels!
Congratulations for steady progress. Truly yours.
The writer, Professor Kwesi Yankah, is an author, educationist, and a former Minister of State in charge of Tertiary Education. You can reach him on Kwyankah@yahoo.com