One of the most puzzling practices of the educational system to
which those of us who went to school over 50 years ago were exposed, was the insistence that we should commit huge chunks of barre facts, as well as poems and proverbs to memory and regurgitate them instantaneously, when called upon to do so by teachers and examiners.
A teacher would look into his “Teacher’s Notebook” and copy on to the blackboard, “Things to Learn”. And we would learn, “by heart”, such things as:
“Dr Aggrey was born at Anomabu in 1875.”
[Who was “Dr Aggrey?”
No-one knew until he or she had managed to lay hands on a book called “Aggrey of Africa” by the Rev. something-something Smith.
(Incidentally, I shall deliberately refuse to look up facts for the purposes of this article, because the main point I want to make is that such a dedication to learning “by rote” (or in our school children’s language, “by heart”) was often useless or even harmful.
You committed to memory, the fact that “Dr Aggrey was born at Anomabu in 1875.” And what had that told you? Where was Anomabu? What useful purpose would be served by not only knowing that “Dr Aggrey was born in 1875”, except to gain you a mark in an examination (where some of the questions would be headed: “Fill in the gaps….
‘Dr Aggrey was born at Anombau in dash’ –?”
Or ‘Nene Azzu Mate Kole is Paramount Chief of dash’ – ?”
Or Nana Sir Tsibu Darku is Paramount Chief of Assin –
Or “Takoradi Harbour was built by – ?”
Or “ Takoradi Harbour was opened in the year – ?”
If you merely committed to memory and reproduced in an examination, the fact that Dr Aggrey was born at Anomabu in 1875; that Nene Azzu Mate Kole was the Paramount Chief of Manya Krobo and that Takoradi Harbour was built in 1927, what had you really learned? What was the role of Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey in providing higher education to the people of the Gold Coast? Answer not required!
Where was Manya Krobo, of which Nene Azzu Mate Kole was the Paramount Chief? Answer not required. Apart from Nene Azzu Mate Kole, who were some of the chiefs who served as members of the Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs? Answer not required! What was the role of the Joint Provincial Council in the administration of the Gold Coast? Answer not required. Where did the Joint Provincial Council hold its periodic meetings? Answer? “Too complex and NOT required!”
For would your teacher have — himself — been taught that one of the weapons used by colonialism was “indirect rule” and that under that policy, powerful chiefs of the “Gold Coast colony” were fathered into a “Joint Provincial Council”, where it was pretended that colonial government policies were “discussed” with them before being implemented?
What happened to chiefs who did not “co-operate” with the colonial administration by refusing (for example) to levy taxes such as ‘lampoo’ (“land poll” on their people and sending it to the Government?
So school children acquired surface facts which bore no relevance to anything that really affected their parents’ lives. Where was one ever to go to Anomabu? To do what? Would Nene Azzu Mate Kole ever visit one’s town or village?
Did the opening of Takoradi Harbour mean that the price of cocoa was agreed upon with the cocoa farmers before it was announced? Were farmers allowed to ship cocoa through the Harbour to people overseas who bought the cocoa directly from the farmers? Why were the prices of motor vehicles (for instance) decided by the manufacturers before being shipped to the Gold Coast, and yet, the price of cocoas beans was decided by chocolate manufacturers based overseas, and NOT by cocoa farmers?
Why was some pieces of paper accepted as currency and used in purchasing real goods? Why was the head of the British King, George The Fifth, and later, George The Sixth, on our two shillings, one shilling, sixpence, threepence, one penny and half-penny coins?Why was the inscription on the coins written in Latin: Georgius Sextus Rex et Ind Imp?
We were not taught anything about the economic system that ruled our standard of living. If the price of cocoa in one year was “good”, then our fathers would be able to buy us nice-smelling brand new cloth, made in Manchester. Now, almost everything we used was labelled “MADE IN ENGLAND.” So prevalent was this term that when we were first learning to read, we pronounced “Made” as “ma-deh”! Why did everything bear that inscription? What was England? What did “made” mean in reality?
Occasionally, we would get a teacher who did not just ask us to commit facts to memory but related them to real, verifiable events.
My teacher in Standard Four [equivalent to Middle Form One in later years] was a godsend in that respect. He came from Asafo, which was very close to my town, Asiakwa, and unlike the other teachers sent to us by the Presbyterian educational system, he spoke the same Akyem dialect of the Twi language as the children under his charge.
More than that, he was interested in the history of the Akan peoples, generally, and had taken the trouble to re4search some of the facts about the people and places that were mentioned briefly in, especially, A Short History of the Gold Coast by W E F Ward.
He told us about how “Ntim Gyakari” was killed at Feyiase by the forces of Osei Tutu and Okomfo Anokye. I think it was he, also, who told us about something that happened at Nyasarawase but which was so unimportant to m,e that I can’t now recall what it was!
He also quoted something to us from A Short History of the Gold Coast which I shall never forget. It was that a King went to war with one of his subject chiefs after he had asked the subject chief to send him two of his wives that he fancied! One of the wives was called “Brebre” and the other was called “Amannier”. When they didn’t show up, the chief angrily yelled, “Se Brebre amma a, Amannier nso amma?” [So, if that wife of his called] Brebre didn’t come, [his other wife] Amannier, too didn’t come?]
You may not regard this offence as being worth the blood of many soldiers, but the chief is reported to have ordered his warriors to go and bring him “the head of the recalcitrant sub-chief! Which they did! Cassus belli? Forget it!
I have , in fact, deduced that Ward, who didn’t speak Twi (unlike, say, R S Rattray) but deigned to put statements in Twi in his book, got the whole thing wrong. I think what the chief said was, “Se breh-breh amma a, amannier nso amma”? That would mean: If soft words did not come (to placate him because the sub-chief had somehow offended him) the fine to be paid (as tribute) had also failed to materialise?
How I wish I could have met Ward and tease over the fact that he tended to make everything appear so irrational (if not barbaric) where the people of the Gold Coast were concerned!
Columnist: Cameron Duodu