EducationGhanaOpinionPublic Service

The Accra New Town experiment – implementing quality education

Our correspondent in England reflects on the education debate in Ghana … and looks back fondly to a bold pilot primary school that shaped his future

Sane Eteshi – Matters Arising


At a time when most advanced countries are debating the quality of education, Ghana has centred its debate on access to and the cost of education.

One would have thought education is an investment that would yield returns by making the people more productive and the country wealthier. Access to education in a developing country should be a fundamental human right for all, on a par with the right to breathe clean air freely and unfettered access to health care.

In Ghana, however, we are still struggling with the cost of education from the primary to the tertiary level, and whether all citizens should have free access to it and how. Adult education and the issues around lifelong learning, more important matters for us in the developing world, have been shunted aside or kicked into the long grass.

Quantity ≠ quality?

The fiercest arguments have centred on secondary education in its present form. Some assert that education is too expensive for the government to bear and that boarding and lodging should be decoupled from tuition. Others contend that the double-track system is giving students too many months at home and that they will unlearn what has been taught in the school system.

I find the whole debate sterile: if education is good for industrialisation, good for national development and therefore good for all, then it must be available in all parts of the country to people from all different parts of the country. If we are to be more productive as a nation, potential workers and managers alike, as well as budding entrepreneurs, must all be well educated.

To deal with access, our English colonial masters set up about 100 government schools during the 100 years that they ruled us. President Nkrumah did much better and gave us over 1,000 schools at all levels in the ten years that he ran the country. The hope then was that successive governments would provide more schools to keep pace with the growth in population.

Nkrumah must have been concerned with creating an educated workforce for the increased productivity that will result in economic growth and social development. His objective in providing more schools was framed around shortening the number of years in school without sacrificing the quality of education. He decided that this must start at the primary level.

I can imagine him calling his Minister of Education Clarkson Thomas Nylander and his top chief director of education, B A Brown, and telling them to shave two years off the system before going to secondary school. Their response to him would have been thus: “No, no, no, Your Messianic Dedication, we cannot do that without an experiment.” To which Nkrumah would have retorted: “Go and create the experiment.”

One system, one uniform

They did create the experiment, in lowly Lagos Town, and it surely did work, probably too well. So, in September 1960, my mates and I, the third set in that experiment, ended up in secondary school and it took only two terms to do the Common Entrance in our final year, because the start of the school year moved from January to September.

These excellent results were achieved because of a focus on the objectives: how do you get pupils to pass the Common Entrance after six years of primary education, not eight years, or ten, as when people had to take the Standard 7 Hall examination? All the elements of a good education system – premises, teachers and curriculum included – were explored thoroughly. Finance must have played a part in it but I do not think that the school was provided with any more money than other schools.

Certainly we schoolchildren wore the same khaki-khaki uniform meant for all cyto schools. Whether the uniform was run up by a bespoke tailor or “akɔ yɛ tso lɛ nɔ, it did not matter.

Test … and test again

I do not think that premises played a very big part in considerations, however. As you can see from the picture of the senior section of the school, we did not even have a library. But there was a very good mobile library system that brought books to the school and I made sure to borrow a book every Friday.

We did, however, have a good public toilet.

A school playground for football was later used to build a larger school. We were encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities and I joined and stayed in the Boy Scouts Movement until the Young Pioneer Movement came to town.

We did have excellent teachers, however. Master Ofosu-Appiah led the team of Mr Sottie, Miss Quarcoopome, Miss Danquah, Mr Davies, Mr Owusu, Mr Wussah, Mr Armah and Miss Dotse – dedicated teachers all, who inspired and motivated their charges to bring the best out of our fertile minds. They were not paid any extra for taking part in the experiment, but they were special, and they were proud of their pupils. And they did not spare the rod, especially in matters relating to testing and testing and testing.

The curriculum was streamlined and fine-tuned: we focused on English, arithmetic, general knowledge, civics, geography and a bit of history. The alignment of the syllabus was not to fit a defined political agenda or to rehabilitate a political bent: it was not about revisionism, but about imparting factual knowledge.

No local languages were permitted around the school, to enable us to practise our newfound skills in the English language, which was the main medium of instruction. I have written about this experiment in a piece I published some years ago.

Cape controversy

Sadly, the experiment was never evaluated properly and rolled out in the state school system. However, it spawned several private sector wannabe institutions that led many middle-class parents to reject the state primary system in favour of these preparatory schools, as they came to be called.

Yes, middle-class parents may be able to pay for their children’s education, as most are already used to private education at the primary level. Their objective, however, is to ensure that their wards can enter into the excellent further education institutions built by the European missionaries, most of which are located in or near Cape Coast. Perhaps some of them are even thinking of sending their children to private boarding schools abroad – in the Western, advanced countries rather than the socialist countries of the East. Yet still that does not explain why we need an airport in Cape Coast.

To those of us who were active participants in the Accra New Town Experimental School, I am sure that you are as proud as I am to put on my CV that I studied in one of the best schools in the world and was educated with the best in the land.

If we want a better education system, let us consider the Lagos Town experiment.

Croydon, September 2020

Ade Sawyerr

Owula Ade Sawyerr is a writer, social activist and founder partner of Equinox Consulting, which works to develop inner-city and minority communities in Britain. He comments on economic, political and social affairs and is a past chairman of the UK branch of the Convention People’s Party.

Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online.
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