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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Letter: Moralising education in Ghana
Kwaku Sakyi-Addo feels he gained much from his strict education
Journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Addo considers the recent debate about education in Ghana, and whether by returning schools to church control, discipline and manners would improve among the young.

Ghana's defence minister Dr Kwame Addo-Kufuor has never fired a gun. He's never been in the military.

He's a clean shaven medical doctor with choirboy looks.

But the kind demeanour of this man in his mid-50s belies his renown as a tough street talker with firm views on old-fashioned discipline.

And so his message wasn't such a great surprise when he strode up to the podium the other sunny afternoon, just weeks ago, to address Seventh Day Adventist students at a technical school at Takoradi, a port city and capital of Ghana's western region.

Dr Addo-Kufuor told his audience that the churches who ran the country's schools until the late '70s, when the government took them over, should have them back.

The current state-run liberal system of education, he argued, was long on academic knowledge and short on morals and discipline - virtues that everyone from parsons to ex-convicts alike agree are in short supply.

Weak morals

Getting an A in maths and going on to become an accountant isn't enough, he argued. If your morals are weak you cannot be trusted with numbers.

And it made the headlines and fed the radio breakfast calling talk shows for several days.

But how do the missionary schools instil discipline? And should we indeed return to their methods?

A few weeks ago, I attended an old school reunion.

There was a lot to eat and drink, and plenty to talk and laugh about.

The soundtrack to the party was entirely from the '70s - Donna Summer, Silver Convention, Earth, Wind and Fire, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and vintage local highlife - the kind of music we used to dance to before the "Yo, what's up" generation showed up and ruined the universal party with their hip-hop and rap, and waistbands down at their calves.

There were all these people I hadn't seen in ages.

Friends reunited

I hadn't set eyes on Peter Kwakwa for 30 years or so.

He'd been away in England.

There was Addo Boadu, who's now a medical doctor. He carries a beer belly and that night it was obvious why.

Our beds consisted of two narrow wooden planks, softened only by a prickly blanket and a white cotton sheet
And Kwaku Gyampo, the all-round athlete, whom I've known since my first day at school. He's now a shipping executive.

And there was Gyamera who runs the largest road transport company in Ghana.

For being the lankiest boy in the class, Gyamera's nickname was Pinocchio.

I swear he'll kill me for letting the world know.

He was so skinny he was collapsible. He's got a bit more beef on his bones now, but he's lost none of his cheerful, boyish looks.

We swapped stories about our time at school, a Presbyterian boarding school at Aburi - a cold, mountain town overlooking the capital, Accra.

Aburi Boys, as it was called, was the school of hard knocks. It was a boot camp without the boots.

It was set up in the '50s by local Presbyterian missionaries to whip and mould the minds and the bodies of pre-teens for the rugged road of life.

Hard Knocks

At Aburi Boys, the wake-up bell rang at five; it always startled us out of bed. In a chilly mountain town, getting up at any time of the morning is difficult enough.

But when you're 10-years-old, as I was when I entered the school, five is very early indeed.

Our beds consisted of two narrow wooden planks, softened only by a prickly blanket and a white cotton sheet.

There were at least 50 boys in each of four dormitories.

As the toilet was several hundred yards away, at night we urinated into a large enamel bin outside the dormitory.

In the morning, we took turns in pairs to carry the bin, and empty its smelly contents into the toilet.

Poor academic work was simply not tolerated. It was dealt with in a Spartan manner. We had to be bright or we were sorry. There was no third way
Sometimes when it was full to the brim, we were bathed in the fermenting waste of four dozen boys, as it splashed to the rhythm of our footsteps.

We would then head to the lawns and the playing fields, but definitely not to play.

There, we spent the next hour cutting the most recalcitrant grass with cutlasses.

I don't believe the authorities knew, or wanted to know, about lawn mowers.

After we had acquired the day's complement of blisters in our hands, we walked a kilometre or so to fetch water from a stream, and have a cold bath from a bucket.

Ruthless regime

Breakfast was always one ladle of maize porridge, a cube of sugar and a loaf of bread.

The bread was so small that some boys just about swallowed it outright. They saved calories that way.

But, you know, this was the more pleasant part of the day.

The fun and games started at morning devotion, which began at seven sharp - not a moment later.

If we were late our little buttocks met the full force of four or five lashes of the cane delivered by the teacher on duty.

If our clothes were untidy, we got another four; our sandals unpolished, or our hair was unkempt, or a shirt button undone, or legs not oiled or dirt in our nails or wax dripping out of our ears, we got a sound walloping.

Children in classroom
Is there enough discipline in the classroom?
And if we cried too much or dared to protest? We were mince-meat.

In class the pace was ruthless.

The teacher's essential tool was the rod. We could not allow our minds to wander. We had to focus.

Poor academic work was simply not tolerated. It was dealt with in a Spartan manner.

We had to be bright or we were sorry. There was no third way.


Rudeness was crushed mercilessly; insubordination met with serious consequences, and truants were treated to "shock and awe", long before Donald Rumsfeld conceived of its efficacy.

As for stealing, the authorities bombed and deleted the entire concept out of our frame of reference. We just didn't go there.

But Aburi Boys wasn't an exception.

The school and the educational system at the time reflected that stern Biblical paradigm of proper child rearing: "spare the rod, and spoil the child".

After all, the churches ran most of the schools.

Indeed, until the government took over the missionary schools, that was largely what the Ghanaian society knew as the appropriate method of bringing up a disciplined, and well-rounded child.

Back then, in small towns and villages across Ghana, every child was every adult's responsibility.

Any adult had the unspoken mandate to discipline any child whom they found behaving badly in public.

In the same way, young people helped seniors across the street - it was their job to do so.

You were, in a sense, thanking them for helping you to cross the street of life, from childhood to youth.

Respect for elders

A grandma was every young person's grandma.

Young people stood up and gave up their seats to seniors.

We kept our hands behind our back when an adult, any adult, spoke to us.

We never challenged parents, or indeed any adult.

Parents and teachers were together on one side, and children were on the other side.

That's what Dr Addo-Kufuor wants to see. And I too.

Today, Ghana has changed. Aburi Boys is no more.

They shut it down more than 15 years ago. Aburi Boys couldn't keep pace with the new culture and methods of education.

As my children grow up, I would like them to be as disciplined as I was made to be

Teachers are not allowed to use the cane in schools anymore.

Indeed child psychologists now say that corporal punishment doesn't just leave physical scars, it leaves wounds on the minds of children and tends to make them resort to violence to resolve differences with others when they grow up.

Some have even suggested that corporal punishment may well be responsible for the political conflicts in Africa today: that when we have political differences, we tend to have a shoot-out rather than talk things out.

Well, I don't know about that.

What I know is that there are widespread complaints about discipline among young people in Ghana today.

Relationships between older and younger people have changed.

Changing culture

Some grandpa wants to cross a busy street? Hey, that's his business. What's a man that old doing walking anyway? He's supposed to be bed-ridden!

Should I give up my seat on the bus for some old woman? Are you kidding?

How am I supposed to enjoy my i-tunes when I'm not relaxed? Keep ma hands behind my back because I'm talking to an adult? Are you outta yo' cotton-picking mind?

How am I s'posd to do dat and hol' ma crotch with one hand, and gest'culate with the other and poke ma (bleep) fingers in yo' (bleep) face hip-hop style? Yo-yo-yo! Word Up!

Where are we headed?

No particular where, I s'pose! Perhaps we should herd all the children back into Aburi Boys. Aburi Boys worked for me.

And it worked for all those people at the party that night. We wanted to go from Aburi Boys to the best secondary schools in Ghana.

And we did. We went on to institutions of higher education, and became professionals.

Now, I have two little children, a daughter aged six, and a son who's three going on 13. They call me by my first name.

Ghanain students study a lamp
Schools have changed in the last 30 years
And despite my old-fashioned Presbyterian upbringing, I actually think it's cute.

It makes me feel as though I'm their friend, not just their father.

I don't keep a cane at home.

I've had cause to spank my son a couple of times though but I regretted it each time; and I told him I was sorry, and that I wanted us to be friends again.


Still, as my children grow up, I would like them to be as disciplined as I was made to be.

I would like them to volunteer to give up their seats for seniors.

And to keep their hands at their back, not fondle their crotch, when adults are speaking to them, even if they won't do that with me because, well, I'm their friend.

I'd like them to accept correction from other older people.

I'd like them to see every grandma and grandpa as their own, and to help them to cross the street.

But would I send them to Aburi Boys if it was open again, and the methods of teaching and discipline were just as Spartan as when I went there?

The simple answer is - hell, no!

But will my liberal attitude to child rearing and education without a little back up from a cane, deliver the disciplined and well-rounded youths that I want my children to become?

I hope so.

Aburi Boys was the best example of a good school 30 years ago.

But that was then and now is now. And I better be right.

See, at Aburi Boys you got six lashes when your judgement was wrong.

Kwaku Sakyi Addo is BBC correspondent in Accra, Ghana.

Letter is a new BBC World Service series in which one of a panel of international broadcasters reflects on the latest political, cultural or social developments in their region.


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