Friday, November 16, 2018

Visit to the University of Ghana's School of Engineering Sciences 2018

It was fun to visit the University of Ghana's School of Engineering Sciences during my recent trip to Ghana.

Two weeks ago I was a guest at my friend Dr. Elsie Kaufmann's graduate class on Introduction to Biomedical Engineering. The students were working on an assignment to link African proverbs to the broad field of biomedical engineering. More on that later.

Yesterday, however, I had the great pleasure of presenting 70 engineering textbooks to the School on behalf of 4 senior Ghanaian engineers in the U.S. (AYASPAU). My wife Fran accompanied me and was touched by the gratitude and enthusiasm of the faculty, and took the videos below to capture the occasion.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Achimota School’s 88th Founders’ Day Celebration - Part 4

3. A Circle

As we noted earlier on, 360 degrees is also suggestive of a circle. Today Achimota our Mother is faced with many challenges. The report of the Headmistress presented last year lists several of these, including:
-       the physical infrastructure
-       underwhelming government support
-       overwhelming enrollment levels
-       discipline
-       pressures from parents and officials seeking admissions for their children outside of the established channels
-       theft of school lands

As we face these challenges it is easy to feel discouraged. Take the School lands issue, for instance. We can think of all the many Achimotans we have had as Heads of State and ask: if they could not protect our School lands, what can we do? We have had Akoras in high court and supreme court and they could not rule on our behalf, how can we resist the land-grabbers?  

But I am very optimistic about the future of Achimota. Clearly, having a Supreme Court judge among us is not enough. Having an Akora head of state is not enough. As we say in Ewe,“Eha ti deka mete kplo anyigba O, ke bon ne wo so gbo hafi.” A single straw can never be useful as a broom. Many straws must be joined together before we can sweep effectively.

I am optimistic because the coming together of the straws is already happening. Again, referring to the Headmistress’ 2014 Report, we learn that several year groups have recently completed or are initiating projects in support of the School. The report mentioned the following year groups: 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1995. Also, that the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has provided valuable support.

We are forming a circle around Achimota. It is quite clear that we cannot depend on government to come to the rescue of our School. Perhaps we need a fulltime development directorate to coordinate our fundraising efforts. I cannot say at this time whether this directorate should reside in the OAA Secretariat or the School itself. But we can put our heads together and figure this out.

We have firm invaluable allies among the PTA who are already taking it upon themselves to help provide the best possible environment for their children.

I am optimistic about the future of Achimota. There are many among us who long for the days when Achimota was autonomous. As we recalled today, the founding Principal, Fraser, could hire his own teaching staff. In the pioneer days Achimota even had an educational research laboratory where some among the teaching staff probed questions such as how best to connect with a child’s mind. But the irony is that it was under an Akora head of State that the Achimota School constitution was repealed. This was in 1961.

But I still remain optimistic. It is said that people used to think there would not be enough copper to link all of China up with telephones, given its huge population. Then what happened? Land lines, based on copper wires gave way to mobile phones, which are wireless. I feel the same way about the autonomy issue. As our circle around our School grows, arms entwined, this issue may become redundant.

It is easy for those of us who spent 5 years in Achimota to wonder if today’s students can really become Achimotans after just 3 years in the Outlaws Hill. My answer is a resounding “Yes.” Today we have internet-based social networking tools that are bringing us together in ways that were not possible in the past.  We now have a Facebook group managed by the OAA Secretariat, assisted by some enthusiastic Akoras. There is also an Achimota presence on LinkedIn. Connecting with the School as an Akora may very well happen sooner for the new generation of students than it did for us.

Sometimes there is a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water. A few days ago one of my senior Akoras and I were having a conversation, and, you know, he said “Kwadwo, people don’t realize it, but the boarding school system is part of our national defense system—we should view it as part of the Ministry of Defense.” When Gas and Dagbanis and Gonjas and Ewes—Akwapims, Fantes, Ashantis—stay together in a dormitory—they become friends. They cannot become enemies of the nation.

So, I am optimistic. And just as some of you who use computers know, if you look at the label, it says “Intel Inside.” “Intel” is the company which makes some of the gadgets that we put in computers. I want people to look at what is happening in our country—in the hospitals, in the politics, in the police services, every corner—in the universities, in the churches—and say “Achimota Inside.” We are the yeast. We are the salt.

In closing, let me point out the symbolic significance of our year group’s gift of a modern kitchen to the School. We need to feed the whole person: body, mind and spirit. The formal opening of Achimota occurred in front of the Dining Hall. 88 years ago when Governor Guggisberg inserted that gold key into the door he was opening up a future of opportunities for thousands of Ghanaians. Let us then surround our dear School, form a circle around it, and carve out the new gold key for the next generations of Achimotans.

I thank my year group for giving me this opportunity to speak on our behalf. And I want to thank our various 65-year group committees who worked faithfully to make our project come to life. And I want to acknowledge, especially, our year group’s President—George Boi Andoh—whose vision, sacrifice, and numerous sleepless nights were so vital in driving our project forward.

And to all of you here gathered, I say, Medaase, Menɛ ɛne mpkɛ. I thank you for your attention.

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.

Achimota School’s 88th Founders’ Day Celebration - Part 2

1. Full Circle

Let’s begin with the idea of 360 degrees as going full circle. And here I acknowledge a great debt to one of our senior Akoras who has now gone to heaven, Professor Francis Agbodeka. If you haven’t read his book on Achimota, I strongly suggest you get ahold of a copy and read it. And if there is no copy in our library, I would be happy to look for a copy and donate it to the library. I learned a lot. As I went through the book, every day I became more and more proud that I went through this school. Our elders say “Enam dua so na hama hu soro.” Clearly, all of us Akoras owe a debt to this school. We climb to the sky, we see new vistas, because of this tree, because of this mother we call Achimota.

It is Friday, 28 January, 1927. Assembled in front of the Dining Hall are about 6,000 people.

This includes several traditional kings and their advisors, among them the Asantehene, Nana Prempeh the first, at the head of a 200-strong delegation. Also present is Nana Ofori Attah the first of Akyem. There are representatives from the new African elite, including the Cape Coast and Sekondi lawyers. Leading officials from the colonial administration are in attendance too, as are several representatives from the African and European communities in Accra.  But perhaps the spotlight is on the students: the first Achimota students – sixty kindergarten children and 120 students from the Training College.

When Governor Guggisberg and his entourage arrive at the Dining Hall at 4:30 p.m., they are welcomed by the Principal, Vice-Principal, and the Bursar. The Governor inserts a gold key into the lock, turns it, and with the door of the Dining Hall now ajar, Achimota becomes formally open.

In his speech at the function, the Principal, Rev. Fraser, implores that Achimota be granted independence from government. In reply, Governor Guggisberg announces that Achimota would be an autonomous institution.

This means Achimota was permitted to function outside the jurisdiction of the colonial government’s education department. Fraser could recruit his own teachers and experiment with educational methods, as he and his team saw fit.

The new educational establishment faced many challenges, right from the beginning. We’ll recall only a few of these. The responses of Fraser and his team to these challenges demonstrated flexibility, sacrifice, and creativity.

Flexibility. The Founders’ dream was to prepare their own young people in the primary school to feed the secondary school. This was why the first young Achimota students were actually six little boys who were received into the kindergarten in August 1926.

But the African communities were restless. They wanted to see more action. In fact, during the opening ceremony, Nana Ofori-Atta the first, in his speech reminded the Colonial authorities of the resistance they had received in the past, as they sought to convince the Colonial government to promote African education.

In response to this pressure from African leaders, Fraser modified his plans and in 1929, upper primary and secondary students (taken from other schools) were recruited to Achimota. Among this group were the first girls to enter Achimota.

Sacrifice. The financial support Achimota received from Government was more than generous. By 1923 Governor Guggisberg had already ordered the government architect to commence work on designs for Achimota school buildings and grounds.
Achimota received “the Lion’s share” of the funds set aside for the Governor’s Ten-Year Development Plan (1920-30). Historians suggest something between 60% of the total, others assess it as amounting to 85% of the educational budget (Agbodeka, p. 47).

In 1924, the cost of Achimota was estimated at £640,000. Three years later Guggisberg announced that expenditure had already exceeded £607,000.

But starting from 1930, the world economy collapsed, this was the major downturn, often called the Great Depression. The economies of both rich and poor countries were shaken by the Depression. As a result of necessary belt-tightening by the Gold Coast administration, in 1930-31 Achimota returned £15,000 to government coffers. In 1931-32, £11,680 was returned.

By 1934, the government grant of £68,000 per annum had been cut to £48,000 per annum.

It was during this difficult time that the Achimota staff decided to forego their leave allowances. They also voluntarily initiated a levy on their salaries, thereby generating £4,000 per annum to support the School.

Creativity. A major challenge concerned how to maintain civility and discipline in the Dining Hall. Apparently students from some communities refused to eat food from other ethnic groups. At meal times, some wanted to share their tables with only members of their communities.

Fraser invited the students to a meeting and explained to them that it was this kind of ethnic hostility that sustained the slave trade. It is said that a leader of the ethnic separation movement, one Gyamfi of Asante royalty, found Fraser’s arguments so compelling that within two days he had convinced the other boys to give up their ethnic separation efforts. By the way, Gyamfi House is named after this student.

An additional creative approach to this food challenge was this. The kitchen staff deliberately prepared food favored by one group in insufficient quantities, so that the students had no choice, but to learn how to eat other people’s food.

Another challenge came in the area of “original sin.” Achimota was planned as a co-educational institution from the beginning. And as the number of older students began to increase, making this work in practice became a challenge. How does one deal with the proddings of original sin as young teenagers become older teenagers and the hormones start kicking in?. . .Achimota found a clever partial solution: they admitted sisters and brothers and cousins . . .

But here I think they sometimes went a bit too far. Remember one of our School songs: 

From Gambaga to Accra
From Wiawso to Keta
We are brothers (and sisters),
And our Mother is our School…

Some of us took this song too seriously. And now many of our girls are married to non-Achimotans . . . But, I suppose some would argue that is all part of our mission to the nation.

Achimota School’s 88th Founders’ Day Celebration - Part 1

Last year my high school in Ghana, Achimota School, celebrated her 88th Founders' Day. Founders' Day celebrations are a three-day affair. Day 1 (Friday) is bonfire night; Day 2 (Saturday) is the cadet corps parade and durbar; and Day 3 (Sunday) is for the thanksgiving service. I had the honor of representing my year group (OAA'65) as the guest speaker at the Saturday durbar. Friends who were unable to attend the celebrations have asked for copies of my speech. Partly in response to their requests, I have decided to share the speech here as a four-part posting.  The title was provided by the Headmistress of the school. Below is Part 1.
Educating the Child the 360 Degree Way

Presentation by Akora Kwadwo Osseo-Asare, OAA’65; Achimota School’s 88th  Founders’ Day Celebration; Saturday, 7th March, 2015

Members of the Board of Governors, Nananom, Kings and Queens, President and Members of the OAA Secretariat, Madam Headmistress and Staff, Directors and Officials of the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, The PTA Chairperson and PTA Executives, The OAA Executive Members, Akoras of the 1965 and 1990 year groups, Akoras of all walks of life, Parents, Friends of the School, Friends in the Media, Students, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.


As many of you know, we Achimotans are a playful bunch. We love to poke fun at each other, tease each other . . .

A few days ago our year group was meeting to work some more on details of our Founders’ Day celebrations. Someone suggested, “Let’s now discuss the table of conTENTS”(sounds like “conTENT” = happy/pleased).” This was in reference to our brochure—many of you are holding copies of this in your hands today. By the way, if you don’t have one yet, please make sure you purchase a copy before you leave for home today. And so our Akora announced, “Let’s now discuss the Table of ConTENTS.” Immediately, another said, it’s not “conTENT”, it’s “CONtent (as in what is inside a box, for example)”; the previous Akora shot back, “ah you too, why? conTENT.” No, “CONtent,” the other Akora complained again—and we went back and forth, with lots of laughter.

But I assure you that it was no laughing matter when the real reason why my mates volunteered me to represent them today as the Speaker for this function dawned on me. In our days there was an exam—one of the required courses for the school certificate (the O level)—this was Oral English. I almost failed this exam. I think my mates conspired, “let’s give him another chance to redeem himself.”

One of my earliest memories of our first few days in Achimota was when Alan Rudwick, then Asst. Headmaster, came to welcome the new students, “ninoes.” It was in the Dining Hall. As I remember it, I did not understand a single word of what he said.

Another outlet for our playfulness was in the invention of nicknames—for our fellow students, as well as our teachers.Many of us still remember FOAMS—he taught us Applied Mathematics. And those among us who were more sophisticated world-wise had early on come to the conclusion that FOAMS frequently communed with the spirit, with lowercase s, before coming to class. We loved him and he was brilliant. I think the connection between the sound of his initials F. O. M. S. and the foams in a glass of beer or a calabash of nsafu did much to inspire us to greater exertions in our mathematical thinking.

Another great nickname in our days was Akyakya—this was for one of our female teachers—she taught English. This special name, Akyakya—meaning mattress—was, I think, in recognition of her generous endowment of posterior anatomical cushion.

One of our mates acquired the nickname “Atremendous.” He never stopped astonishing us with the words that came out of his mouth. Among the more famous was when he announced to us that, quote, “A tremendous conflagration has consumed the edifice,” end of quote. A fierce fire had destroyed a building! There was an important students’ handbook by the name Student’s Companion. A chapter in this book had the heading Big Words for Small Words. Our mate “Atremendous” must have spent hours studying this section of the book.But we are not here to play with words. We are gathered here to celebrate. To give thanks for our Founders—for their bold visions and sacrifices. And to reflect on the challenges and opportunities before us, Achimotans, as we move towards our centenary—our 100th Founders Day celebration (only 12 years away!).

As our Dagaarti elders say, “A person of modest height does not estimate the depth of a river by stepping into it.” (“Ning mw aba manna kuo.”) But here we are. I’m in the water. I’m a bit nervous, but fortunately, I know several of my Akora brothers and sisters are great swimmers. And they are behind me. So, here we go. As we say in Ga, “wɔyɛ mi.”

360 Degrees
Our theme for this celebration is “Educating the Child the 360 degrees way.”  This theme can be approached from several different angles. We will consider three today.

First, 360 degrees conjures the notion of going full circle. Going back to zero. Sankɔfa. So we’ll go back to the beginnings of Achimota School. We will reflect on what motivated the Founders. What were some of the major challenges they faced? And what can we learn from their experiences?

Second, 360 degrees connotes “all-round”—all angles are included, holistic education. So we will ask ourselves, what was the Founders’ understanding of holistic education? How has this evolved over the years?  What have we lost? What is worth keeping? What must we throw away? What must we revive?

And third, 360 degrees suggests a circle. Is Achimota School under threat? What is the nature of this threat? How can we link hands and form a circle around our dear school, our Mother, Achimota, to protect her, to preserve her, nourish her, to advance her, so she continues her role as a river of life.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Tribute to Excellence: Virginia Ciminelli

It was a pleasure in October 2014 to attend the induction of Brazilian Prof. Virginia Ciminelli into the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE). She was recognized for her "contributions in environmental hydrometallurgy, and for leadership in national and international technical collaboration."

I was reminded of a conversation I had with her in 2011 when we were working together and I was spending time in the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Belo Horizonte. My wife videotaped parts of that casual exchange, which covered topics ranging from international collaboration and exchanges to career paths and cultural and gender issues in academia, and research leadership.

Prof. Ciminelli and family at induction brunch

I am currently back in Brazil once again on a sabbatical leave at UFMG, and decided that the interview was worth posting.

Part I (8:08)


Part 2 (10:18)


Part 3 (6:39)

Part 4 (7:27) 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Those who don't know where the rain began to beat them . . .

My 1965 year group at Achimota Secondary School was probably the first to be assigned Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart as one of the books for the O Level English Literature course. 

On Thursday March 21, 2013 this Nigerian writer who has been called the "founding father of African literature in English" died at age 82. Achebe's works, taken as a whole, focus on the pathologies of Africa. He was a very wise man.

It has been well over 50 years since the publication of Things Fall Apart.  These days, when I arrive in Abuja international airport on my way to teach at the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja (AUST), the car that takes me through downtown to the campus travels on a new freeway being constructed by a German company. The future campus of AUST will be designed by an Italian architectural firm. Just this week, there was an official ceremony where the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana handed over the keys to the new headquarters of Ghana's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, designed and constructed by Chinese companies.

You wonder, why after 5 decades of independence, have so many African countries not yet found ways to seriously involve their own scientists and engineers in infrastructural development?

This question reminds me of one of Achebe's proverbs in Things Fall Apart: "Those who do not know where the rain began to beat them cannot say where they dried their bodies."
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