The Shame of our “Good” Schools

Merry Christmas everyone!

A first year student died while in high school. This might seem an odd subject for the season but I know what it is like to be in terrible grief when all around the world seems fine. Thank God we had successful elections in Ghana but I can’t stop thinking about the mother of the boy who lost his life. It breaks my heart every time. Which school? The Achimota Secondary School, formerly the Prince of Wales College. One of the so-called good schools in Ghana. Now, I don’t know what killed him. But let’s back track a bit.

While teaching in a secondary school in the Eastern Region of Ghana, I was appalled at the food that they served those kids. Everyone knows that teenage years are the worst years for keeping a healthy appetite down. I knew I ate a lot when I was growing up. But the food they served the students was neither good nor enough. Two times school authorities had to send the students home and vacate the school earlier than the official vacation date because they had run out of money to feed students. This was a boarding and day school. So we would wake up one morning and at assembly the boarders would be told that they had to go home that day because there was no food. That was Kuffour’s/ NPP’s Ghana, to show that our problems are not just because of any particular political party. But someone may say that was in the Eastern Region, that it was a technical school, that it was a village school. So okay, back to Accra.

100_1137Remember the Achimota School? The school Sir Guggisberg built. The school where several presidents of Ghana have been educated. A school for the so-called privileged. My father went there, on academic merit. He was a house prefect. And then my younger brother was also there. Same house, decades later. We were glad. But just a month after my brother had gone to school, that first visiting day, my mother was shocked to see her young strapping tall son, looking so bony that it seemed as if he would be blown away by the wind. His cheeks looked as if they were turned inside out and his shoulders stuck out of his white shirt. Poor boy. Thankfully, my mother’s friend whose son had been attending the school gave her sound advice which probably saved my brother’s life. She told her bluntly that the school’s diet was just not enough to keep teenagers healthy and strong. And as a parent if you wanted your child to be healthy, you had to more than supplement what they were given in the dining hall.

As a result, this became my brother’s standing food list for every month, every year, for four years.

  • 2 olonka of garri (cassava “grits” in two 900 gram-sized Peak Milk tins)
  • Two 450 grams pillow packs of powdered milk
  • 2 large cans of groundnuts
  • Sugar, lots of it
  • 6 cans of sardines
  • 2 cans of baked beans
  • I big jar of shitto (hot, spicy pepper sauce in jam-sized bottles)

Thankfully, unlike other parents, my parents stopped sending him water. Thanks to the Parents Teachers Association of the house (not the school), a borehole was dug for the boys. Before then, they had to go quite a ways to queue at 4 am, first fetching water for the seniors, before they did for themselves. After the borehole, they didn’t have to worry about water. Other houses saw this and began to do the same. After that, when visitors wanted a place to stay for events during the holidays, they opted to stay in the hall with a borehole. Not in the halls with beautiful tiling and greenery. Because water is life. 100_1132However, this project encountered a lot of opposition that it had to overcome. The school was against it and almost put a wrench in the project because some parents complained to the head mistress that they did not want to pay the GHC 100.00 per head that the project demanded. This matter went all the way to the Ministry of Education. Think about how messed up this is. As a parent you feel justified that you shouldn’t pay that amount for something your child already deserves, for something that the government or whoever is in charge should have provided in the first place. But at what cost? At what cost?

I’m saying that these things are not normal. After all, our parents and presidents did not attend international and Montessori schools before they learned impeccable English. They went to government schools, mission schools and village schools and got a good education.

I’m saying, we need to talk about these things. Everything is not okay. Unnecessary strictness in the name of discipline. Churlish ways. How does queuing for water in the morning make you stronger? Ask your parents (if you are of my generation) whether they had to do that in the good schools they attended. They will tell you that going to secondary school is when they got fat. But here we are, decades later, letting young people go through pain in the name of education. Yes, they are resilient. But is this what we want to continue? A child has died. I don’t know what caused his death. But I do know that many young people are passing through archaic and harsh conditions that are considered normal in today’s “good” Ghanaian secondary school.

I always say: I did not go to an international school. But I went to a good school. Can we have our good schools back?

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