Saturday, February 13, 2016

Achimota School’s 88th Founders’ Day Celebration - Part 3

Let us now turn to the second way of thinking about 360 Degrees as “all-round”:

 2. Holistic Education

Many of those among us who are active on the Facebook social network and signed up on the OAA Secretariat Group may have seen the discussion about the recent West African Examination Council (WAEC) exam results (WASSCE exams). On March 26 last year, an Akora shared an article from the Graphic, with the caption: “WASSCE league table: Mfantsipim, Achimota, PRESEC, Aburi Girls’ out of top 10”.

According to the article, a list of rankings, based on the 2013 exams, and published by the Ministry of Education showed Achimota ranking no. 78 among 716 schools (Mfantsipim, 39; Aburi Girls, 44; Presec, 52; Prempeh, 54; Accra Academy, 59).

This article generated a lively and heated debate among Akoras, young and old.
-       Several were dismayed by the ranking data, indicating that not only was Achimota not included in the top 10, but even the top 50 eluded our School. They asked, “Why?”
-       Others wondered whether or not only qualified students were being admitted.
-       Some questioned the competence of the teaching staff.
-       “Are the academic standards in the School as high as they used to be” some wondered.
-       “Is gender an issue” others asked, noting that the top 10 in the posted rankings were either girls schools or boys schools.
-       “Is Achimota losing its way, trying to be like other schools and focusing too much on extra prep times and cramming” some asked.
-       Others maintained that we should not overemphasize academics; Achimota is about well-rounded education.
-       “Well-rounded education includes excellence in academics,” others countered.
-       The science behind the ranking method itself was questioned in some of the postings.

It must be noted that in a later Facebook contribution on this subject, the annual report of the Headmistress was posted, in which it was stated that, “Achimota School once again had 100% excellent and quality passes.” I have also been informed that the whole newspaper article was false in the first place.      

It is not my intention here to resolve the debates about Achimota’s academic ranking.  Rather, I wish to use this opportunity to remind us, based on the historical record, of some of the things that made Achimotan education unique in the past. It is then for us to decide how much of this past we can embrace, as we look towards our centenary.
Here I lean on Prof. Francis Agbodeka’s great book, Achimota in the National Setting, written to help celebrate Achimota’s Golden Jubilee, March 1977.

According to Prof. Agbodeka, among the top foundational ideas that energized the pioneer Achimotan educators was the conviction that:
(1)  “students must be trained to use their leisure time for the profitable enjoyment of their neighbors and themselves” and
(2)  “no student was ever so dull or incompetent as to be unable to find his métier, provided that the range of opportunities was wide enough and the stimulants sufficiently varied.” (Agbodeka, p. 82).

Guided by these principles, Achimota did not focus solely on academic subjects, but the School also pioneered the introduction of several practical courses and the promotion of a culture of multiple hobbies for students.

In 1937, the School recruited the Asantehene’s Chief-carver and his Master-weaver from Bonwere to teach courses in wood-carving and weaving respectively. Achimota’s brass-casting course attracted the attention of the Oba of Benin who sent his chief brass-caster to Achimota for advanced training.

That this holistic view of education made Achimota different was recognized even by some of the School’s detractors.  To quote Agbodeka, “There is a standing joke that agility at cricket could take an Achimotan to the UK for further studies and carve out for him later a cosy manager’s position in public or commercial organizations in Ghana.” (Agbodeka, p. 60).

Let me share with you an experience I had recently. I was meeting with a class of engineering students in one of our leading universities. I told the students that before I proceeded with my presentation I’d like them to ask me a few questions, actually I said ten questions. They were free to ask a question on any topic they wanted.

At first, they sat down quiet, thinking perhaps that I was joking. After a while they realized that I meant business. So one of them said: Prof, I want to know much about you. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, I asked if anyone had a ruler. One of the students did and I borrowed it. I handed it to the first student and said, measure the length of my ears. He did. Then I asked him to measure the other ear. After he did, I asked him if the lengths were any different. He said, “no.”

I stretched out one of my arms and asked him to measure the length. He looked at me, puzzled, and I said, “What’s wrong?” “Prof. I cannot measure it.” I asked “Why not?” He replied, “The ruler is too short.”  I grabbed the ruler and handed it to another student, who proceeded to take measurements one ruler length by ruler length and adding them together.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my sons and daughters, and my grandchildren, for me this story serves as a metaphor for the educational challenge facing us as a nation. The holistic education pioneered by Achimota seeks to produce students who will not say the ruler is too short. We don’t come by this kind of education by adding more hours to prep time. It does not come out of taking copious notes and cramming all the points. It is nurtured by providing mental spaces for exploration and experimentation.

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