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The Adisadel Centenary Durbar - Keynote Speech
By Dr. Sir Sam Jonah

Sat. 17th. July 2010,
Adisadel Campus
Cape Coast

 

ADDING TO THE GAINS OF OUR FOREBEARS

I am humbled and honoured to be here today presenting the Keynote Address on this very special occasion. I must confess to feeling intimidated in the presence of His Excellency, the President of Ghana, John Evans Atta Mills and other distinguished guests including my former teachers and old Santaclausians who knew me in my original raw state, shorn of all the after-school accretions. There are countless others who fit the bill of keynote speaker better.

Naturally, I have asked myself what I could have done wrong to be saddled with this burden. Naturally also, the story of the biblical Jonah and the Whale comes to mind - somebody to be sacrificed; and who deserves to be thrown to the waves more than a contemporary Jonah?

Sir Sam Jonah

      Dr. Sir Sam Jonah

One hundred years ago, when the SPG founded this school, their modest ambition was, in part, to educate the youth for the Anglican Christian Ministry. True to this goal, the school, which later moved to this location and became known as Adisadel College, has produced countless priests and bishops. But beyond personnel for the Christian ministry, the roll call of products of the school in other areas of both national and international endeavours will take hours to read. Suffice it to mention here the following:

  • General Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa was former Head of State in the inter regnum between the First and Second Republic.
  • Kojo Botsio and K. A. Gbedemah stood closest to Kwame Nkrumah on the dais at the Polo Grounds at the proclamation of Sovereign Ghana.
  • Kojo Mercer was the Commissioner to the Court of St James.
  • Three Santaclausians in the persons of Philip Archer, Edward Kwame Wiredu, and George Kingsley Acquah have sat in the Chief Justice’s chair.
  • J. H. Griffiths Randolph and E. B. Sekyi Hughes occupied the Speaker’s chair in the Legislature of the First Parliament of the Third Republic, and the Fourth Parliament of the Fourth Republic, respectively. E.B. Sekyi Hughes had for his deputy another Santaclausian, F. W. Blay.
  • Robert Kweku Ata Gardiner was the first Head of the Social Welfare Department, subsequently becoming the First Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
  • William Abraham was Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, the first from Africa.
  • Dr. Ave K. P. Kludze Jr., Rocket Scientist, is the first African to ever command and control a Spacecraft in Orbit. Adisadel truly does the impossible.

It is appropriate, therefore, to express our admiration and appreciation of the founding fathers of the school, its headmasters, teachers, bursars, and other support staff whose shared zeal and dedication to excellence and discipline successfully imparted to the student body Adisadel’s defining values: Self Reliance, Hunger for Adventure (often mistaken for notoriety), and Self Confidence.

Coming back to these familiar environs four decades later, I cannot help but reminisce the past:

T.J. Drury was my first Headmaster. Drury’s wife acted as domestic bursar; and in that role, she ensured that the only way first year students could get a fair share of food at table was to restrict second helpings to them. This was positive discrimination at its very best! How we loved her for that!

When the Druries left, we had progressed to Form II. Our new Headmaster, was Mr. R.T. Orleans Pobee. Hear him “Some Headmasters permit their wives to become domestic bursars; me, I have told Comfort, you came for marriage, don’t go beyond the clock tower”. We loved Auntie Comfort for being compliant, thereby ensuring that others besides the First Formers had their fair share of second helpings. It was only fair and proper that equity be restored!

Orleans Pobee, our revered and beloved Headmaster who we courageously called Paa Kolo behind his back, was a true advocate of the maxim “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Paa Kolo wielded the famous cane with such dexterity and panache, that every stroke captured the spirit of the exhortation he gave Godfrey Solomon, when Godfrey was on the hurdles representing Adisco at Inter-Co: “Perfect form, perfect form, Solo o, Solo o, Solo o”. I will leave it to Professor Ameyaw Akumfi to record for posterity the fame associated with Orleans Pobee’s preferred implement of corporal punishment. I have never known anybody but Ameyaw Akumfi speak with such fondness about his encounter with this famous implement!

My French teacher, Alphonse Bulliard, whose relationship with the English language was as strained and difficult as mine was with French, used to say “You laugh me for English, I laugh you for French; I give you zero eh?” “You misbehave; I take you to Mr. Pobee to give you six lashes eh?” My dear friend of blessed memory, Dr. Kweku Sampson, made desperate efforts in vain to reconcile my relationship with the French language. Several attempts to help me pronounce correctly the “r” in French, by making me gargle water whilst saying “accra, accra, accra” failed miserably. There was mutual antipathy between the French language and myself.

As for our Biology teacher, Cullain Morris, until I met him, I thought all witches and wizards were blacks. His snakes handling skills could only be attributed to sheer wizardry. I pitied his numerous attempts to convince us that not all snakes were venomous. Where we came from, the only harmless ones were decapitated snakes!

D. R. Essah, affectionately called Dr. Essah, was our music teacher. It was from him that we learnt that goats have no sense of appreciation for music. “You are a goat”, easily came to him, whenever he got frustrated with any student in class.

The devotion, diligence and commitment of Mrs. Rachel Lokko, who spent her entire working life as our school matron must be the stuff of legend. Of course, she alone must bear responsibility for the spate of threatened strike actions by students of other schools in Cape Coast, whose only complaint was that the quality of food in their school did not measure up to that served at Adisadel. Personally, I have her to thank for my exponential increase in height, from a four-footer to a six-footer during the last two years when I became a beneficiary of her special diet program.

I must prolong my reminiscences to report that when my year group arrived for the first time at this great institution, we were a ragbag of young (and not so young) boys. Many came from rural areas and small towns. Almost all of us came from the public school system, and our fathers were not called “Daddy”, only “Egya” or “Paapa”. Back then, the simplicity of assessment for secondary school, the Common Entrance exam, covered only the elements of education (the so-called Three Rs: Reading ‘riting and ‘rithmetic). This allowed the village boy from a government elementary school and the son of a wealthy town dweller equal chance of entry to the best secondary schools.

Many of my classmates were the first in their families to attend school; some had never worn shoes before, and indeed some reported to school barefooted with the prescribed shoes securely embedded in their trunks (after all the prospectus said ‘bring shoes’, it didn’t say ‘wear shoes’). For most of us, this was our first encounter with the cutlery and the experience wasn’t always pleasant. Few had a thorough proficiency of English. You can imagine our laughter and shock when once in Form 1, in conversation, one of us said he had ‘conceived an idea’. Conceived? How could he conceive? Was he pregnant? It took a more erudite senior to explain that conception need not be anatomical. Much later, I reportedly earned brownie points with some first formers when I used the expression, ‘pregnant with meaning!’ We were so green!

For us, Adisadel was a leveler and it speaks volumes of the camaraderie and respect for one another that we did not care about who was from a poor or rich family background. I can also tell you that nobody ever enquired about one’s tribe; it was of no relevance. We all belonged to “Tribe Ghana”, and within that tribe, the Adisadel family was a unified force, led by highly dedicated and revered teachers, whose profession enjoyed a status at par with medical doctors, lawyers, engineers and other glamorous professions.

We were taught to be self reliant. In the same spirit that Alan Knight supervised students to build the school on this hill, Drury harnessed volunteers over a school vacation period to construct the sports pavilion. Later, Orleans-Pobee established the school farms to give us practical lessons in self sufficiency and respect for labour. This self-help ethic and the desire to assist one another permeated the student body. I remember sharing, sometimes involuntarily, the contents of my ‘chop box’, popularly known to us as “provisions”, with fellow class and housemates.

We first year students came in different statures, Petterson and John Otoo were giants as compared to some of us Lilliputians, and most times our John did not make you forget that fact! His belief in the argument of force, and not the force of his argument to settle disputes was well known and respected. I enjoyed his protection, thanks in a large measure, to the readiness with which I shared the provisions in my ‘chop box’ with him. My seven years on this campus was most rewarding. Indeed, friendships formed have endured to this day.

The school’s curriculum changed with the times. Reflecting the best traditions of English public schools, the classics enjoyed pride of place in the initial offerings in the Humanities. It was the training of the British Civil Service, and it served Ghana well when at the approach of independence Ghanaians had to take the place of departing expatriates. After independence, the establishment of GET Schools would make post-primary schools more accessible. The curriculum also needed to be adapted to support Nkrumah’s major industrialization drive that would lead to the construction of the Akosombo Dam, the establishment of the VALCO aluminum smelter, and many other state-owned manufacturing enterprises. Successive Headmasters, notably T.J. Drury and Orleans Pobee, read the signs and responded by creating more than ample space for science in the time table.

Ghana’s post-independence economy had more jobs than there were graduates to take. The burgeoning civil service, new industries, new schools and clinics required staff. The winds of political and economic change were sweeping right across Africa. Ghanaians were highly sought after as administrators, engineers and teachers all over the continent. We watched with admiration and envy, young dashing fresh graduates enjoying the finer things of life on their 680 Cedis annual salary.

Teachers like C.K. Owusu, Thomas Essilfie, Ebo Daniel, Frank Gyimah and Charles Stephens spring to mind.
It was a totally different world then, and for the adventurous, Europe and the United States were open and welcoming to African students without any complicated visa processes. We could compete globally with others anywhere in the world - after all the content of our education was virtually identical and we were all proud members of the generation of blackboard, chalk, seven figure log books and slide rule users.

Clearly under the conducive circumstances of my time, the metamorphosis of a village boy, born of illiterate parents, into a lawyer, doctor, judge or other professions was not uncommon. Adisadel embodied Thomas Jefferson’s view that “talent and virtue needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth and other accidental condition”.

It is a different world out there now. In a Commencement speech at Vanderbilt University, about half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy, could see “ an age of movement and change, both evolutionary and revolutionary, both good and evil. And in such an age”, according to Kennedy, “a university has a special obligation to hold fast to the best of the past and move fast with the best of the future.” As we celebrate with justifiable pride, the first 100 years of Adisadel, we must pause and reflect on these prophetic words of President Kennedy and affirm that Adisadel will act to renew its very best traditions.

CHALLENGES OF EDUCATION TODAY

Today’s world has changed politically, economically, technologically and socially. Indeed for the greater part of our school’s first century, a third of the world’s population represented by India and China were not active participants of the World Economic Order. This has changed. These countries, India and China, are now the prime movers of the world’s economy with commensurate increase in geo-political influence. For us in Africa, their new role presents both opportunities and threats. Each year, these countries are churning out over a million graduates in the field of engineering alone, and most of these are specializing in Information Technology and the technologies of the new sunrise industries. Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere there is an internet connection. Is the Ghanaian graduate of today globally competitive in the job market where thousands of other contemporaries in India and China are being educated longer and better than before?

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is heralded as the ultimate level playing field, because it can provide instant access to information which in the past would only have been available to those who could afford expensive books and encyclopedia. But that level playing field theory only obtains if you have access to a computer and the internet. It is shocking that a Ghanaian student can leave school today without ever seeing or touching a computer. Let me illustrate the seriousness of our present situation by quoting a few statistics:

Percent of Second Cycle Schools Connected to the Internet (2008)

  • Singapore - 100%
  • Malaysia - 14.7%
  • Ghana - 1.4%

We are witnessing a total global economic restructuring because of ICT. Industries are no longer labour intensive. If you are not computer literate at an early age, then you are seriously disadvantaged in the global labour market, where you must compete with the best graduates from across the world. Knowledge is increasingly the prime production resource, not labour or capital. To develop a successful knowledge society requires investment in research and development, innovation and creativity. Is our national educational curriculum adapting sufficiently to cater for the age of the internet and the knowledge society in the same way as at a crucial stage in Ghana’s history, the study of the classics had to make way for the sciences in schools like Adisadel? And how are we going to engage with the new world power, China?

Countries in the developed economies are adapting their school curriculum to allow for the study of Mandarin, the main Chinese language. They are also actively encouraging their nationals to study in China. Serious consideration must be given to the inclusion of the teaching of Mandarin in the national SHS curriculum. Meanwhile, Adisadel should explore opportunities for exchange programs with Chinese schools.

We have recently experienced the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Companies have been bankrupted, employment opportunities have diminished. A major cause of the crisis was greed and the short -term materialism of individuals in the financial sector. There has been a total failure of leadership at all levels, as the quest for profit blinded fellow-feeling and reasonableness.

We see these negative traits playing out in our national life. Our youth lacks patience to pursue apprenticeships. “Get rich quick” at all costs and by any means is the overriding philosophy. This is compounded by the celebrity culture, where instant fame and wealth in the easiest and quickest way (no matter how base or illegal), are the goals. Virtue and talent have lost relevance. ‘Greed is Good’ which is the mantra of Wall Street has overflowed its banks to the Main Street everywhere. Materialism is the new religion. These are the cultural messages bombarding our children. Believe me, no family is immune from these pressures and the dire consequences that can ensue.

This moral breakdown is reflected in the plummeting status of teachers in Ghanaian society. Teachers are underpaid, undervalued and understandably demoralised. The practice of extra classes taught by the same teachers privately in order to complete the syllabus was unheard of in my day, but it is common today as teachers struggle to make ends meet.

Adisadel and many second cycle government schools are witnessing the collapse of school infrastructure. Built for fewer than 600 boys, Adisadel now accommodates 1,500 without a commensurate expansion of facilities. A class room designed for 30 students now squeezes in 50. Dormitories for 90 boarders now house 200. Sadly, this situation is undermining the core of the Adisadel tradition.

There was a time when it was the hope, wish and prayer of alumni that their wards will be educated at their alma mater. It was part of the legacy you bequeathed to your ward. Clearly you wanted them to imbibe the culture, tradition and values that made us the men we are. The Mercers, the Philips, the Kyerematengs and others followed this family tradition. Sadly, this tradition is dying. In preparing this address, I came across a most shocking statistic; only 50 students, representing 3% of the total school population of 1,500 today, have Santaclausian fathers. The cycle is being broken, because quite frankly, alternative private schools at home and abroad are much, much better resourced. The poor infrastructure, of course, impacts negatively on student life, the quality of teaching, and on learning outcomes. So what is to be done?

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION AT ADISADEL

We simply cannot stand by and watch the erosion of the Adisadel brand of excellence. The school’s leadership, alumni, parents, teachers and students must do all in their power now to reverse this unhappy trend. To do this, we must deal with two challenges.

Firstly, Funding: At the time when missionary schools, such as Adisadel, were taken over by the state, there was only a small number of institutions for the government to support. Today, there are hundreds of public schools, all of them depending on a cash-strapped government for financial survival. With limited resources and other priorities (such as the provision of health, energy and water), it is simply not possible to provide the funding required to maintain the level of excellence that identifies schools like Adisadel. Democratization of mediocrity is what we promote when resources are spread thinly across schools.

In my view, the way forward is for partnership between government, alumni and private enterprise. Successive governments have talked about Private Public Partnership (PPP) initiatives. If there was ever a time when this can work, it is now and we can start with the education sector. We would implore Government to consider the following: Starting with Adisadel and any of the other ‘first choice’ schools that may wish to participate, let government conduct an experiment:

  • Sell a controlling equity stake in each of these schools to the private sector, represented by alumni, the PTA and other stakeholders.
  • Allow these schools to be run on commercial lines with the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to promote specialization in science and technology.
  • Provide scholarships and bursaries for promising but financially deprived students.
  • Insist on a decent quota to be allocated to children from underprivileged background.

Incidentally, partial privatisation is a path that the new British Coalition Government is exploring for UK state schools. I am throwing a challenge to the Alumni of this school, to take this suggestion up with government in particular and all other stakeholders. On implementation, such a move would immediately lessen the huge financial burden on the state, while bringing a speedy injection of much needed funds to our dear school. There are other potential advantages.

Private-Public Partnership funding would allow Adisadel to resurrect its founding ethos of public service in two major ways:

  • Firstly, government funding could be dedicated exclusively to bursaries and scholarships. Currently, less than 10% of the school population benefits from a bursary or scholarship of any kind. Yet, this is an important provision, enabling bright but underprivileged boys to attain the same career prospects as others. Alumni could complement government efforts by endowing the school with bursaries and scholarships in keeping with the very best traditions of schools that they have attended in North America and Europe.
  • Secondly, the school could establish outreach programmes with rural junior and senior high schools with a view to imparting best practices, sharing materials, mentoring and interacting on a cultural and educational level in areas such as sport, music, arts, drama and debating. Such an outreach programme would be a practical way of raising the performance of rural JHS students, particularly in our host region, Central Region.

In the spirit of self-reliance, parents and alumni must accept that without our input of financial resources the school will diminish into a shadow of its former self. Harvard University’s greatness – its ability to provide the best lecturers, the best infrastructure and to produce the best research - is directly related to the strength of its world leading endowment programme built on the donations of alumni, which in 2007 totalled a staggering $28bn!

Now more than ever, Adisadel needs to professionalise alumni gift giving and nurture a culture of giving. It should be automatic, once a Santaclausian starts his working career, to make a regular contribution to the Adisadel Endowment Fund. The amount is irrelevant. What is critical for success is that every working alumnus shares the responsibility. Regularity of contributions, however modest, will allow the school to plan for improvements.

The second solution lies in a return to our core values of Self Reliance, Hunger for Adventure and Self Confidence.

Schools like Adisadel must take a lead in the rediscovery and re-emphasis of these seemingly old –fashioned values to counter the breakdown of society’s value system. This matter is, and must be, of interest to all Ghanaians and therefore I will suggest that the SHS curriculum includes the teaching of ethics and leadership.

Like me, another Santaclausian, Patti Ofosu Amaah, had the rare privilege of being invited to be the Keynote Speaker, at the 150th Anniversary of a school not unlike ours, the Munro School of Jamaica. He came away with the impression which I share, that there is a lot still that Adisadel can do for itself to rekindle its self-help spirit. Patti saw Munro school generating its own power from a Windmill. Adisadel’s location on these hills overlooking the Atlantic offers an ideal opportunity for the installation of a Windmill to generate its own power. This is a project which Alumni can finance, just as Munro Alumni did in their case.

It can bear repeating that Adisadel is the product of its Headmasters, Alan Knight built the school. Drury and Orleans Pobee were agents of its transformation. I believe there is a lot that current school management can learn from the leadership examples of Bartels of Mfantsipim, Father Gillet of St. Augustines, Biney of Aggrey Memorial, J. J. Mensah Kane of Ghana National College, Ms. Compton of Wesley Girls and Mother Column of Holy Child. It will surprise many that the idea of sixth-form schools came from informal discussions among this proactive band of visionary heads of schools. The formation of a Conference of Heads of Secondary Schools (CHASS), to formalize their meetings was another product of their thinking. Instead of merely responding to directives from the GES, CHASS must proactively review aspects of the national SHS curriculum to promote global competitiveness for our schools.

Immediately, how come that only 1.4% of the school population has access to computers, compared to Malaysia’s 14.7% and Singapore’s 100%. How can this critical situation be improved? We can start by abandoning the national policy which allegedly bans all laptops in Ghanaian Senior High Schools. Needless to say, the political, economic and social circumstances which Adisadel finds itself today demand new responses, if we are to ensure a hundred more years of glory.

In summary, I make a clarion call today for PPP as a new dimension to the management of our schools, a return to the schools’ core values, a redoubling of efforts from alumni to make regular contributions to the school’s funds, no matter how small; and a return to public service by reaching out to able but poor rural children.

There are many within the Adisco community who have the wisdom, the love of the school, the spirit of service and the energy that will be necessary to mount the collective efforts that this moment in our history demands. Let us not be daunted by the enormousness of the task. Let us recall the famous words of Reverend Alan John Knight, ‘we in Adisadel specialise in the wholly impossible’. Now more than ever before, all hands are needed on deck from all stakeholders, past, present and future. Throughout the history of this school, generations labored for successive ones to share the glory. It is now our generation’s turn to do exploits and add to the inherited gain so that future generations take up our story. This is what our school ode enjoins us to do and I pray that our story will be worthy of singing again.

My guess is that when the history of Adisadel’s next century is written, what is happening in today’s world and how Adisadel responds to it will be the most important story. Adisadel cannot, and indeed must not, “send students out into a 21st century world through the doors of a 20th century school”. Needless to say, Adisadel’s ability to generate another 100 years of productive, well-rounded scholars will depend crucially on how well it adapts to the circumstances of the 21st Century. Finally, a lot has been said and done over the last hundred years but I pray that in the next hundred years, more will be done than said! My faith is that even after 100 years, with the courage to change, Adisadel’s greatest contributions lie in its future.

Thank you.


 


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