The Adisadel Centenary Durbar - Keynote Speech
By Dr. Sir Sam Jonah
Sat. 17th. July 2010,
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- Insist on a decent quota to be allocated to children from underprivileged
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
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
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.
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