Your Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues and Guests, Parents and Friends of SOS HGIC, Students of the various sister schools who are here, and above all, students of SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College, thank you all for being here today to support this 25th anniversary event. It's a great pleasure for me to see so many familiar faces and to have the privilege of addressing you. However, you are a formidable audience because there's not much I can tell you about education, national or international, which many of you do not already know or cannot access from multiple sources on the Internet. Nevertheless, I hope to exchange some ideas with you tonight which I trust will have some bearing on the future direction of education in this country-- and beyond.
The theme for the 25th anniversary of the school is simply the motto of the school and I want to elaborate a little bit on this because it is the underlying philosophy; the guiding principle; and ethos at the heart of everything the school stands for. I believe it is the reason alumni of SOS-HGIC CARRY SOMETHING BEYOND AN EXCELLENT ACADEMIC EDUCATION WITH THEM WHEN THEY LEAVE. As many of you know, the SOS International College was the dream child of the Honorary President of SOS Children's Villages International, Mr Helmut Kutin: his vision was to enable academically able SOS children from across Africa, together with their Classmates from Ghana, the host country, to have access to a school which would enable them to go to the best universities anywhere. My vision was to make this school not just academically excellent but to produce students with a Pan African focus, with leadership qualities and a commitment to uplift Africa; students who would recognize their privileged status in being fortunate enough to get such an education and who would feel an obligation to give something back to society, no matter whether their background was an abandoned child in a children's village or an affluent home in Trasacco Valley. We wanted to create a school where students would learn who and what they were as Africans; with the ability to understand the reasons for Africa's predicament in the world; why, despite its wealth and tremendous resources and human capital Africa forever seems to remain a beggar continent; students who would emerge as thinkers and activists with a pride in themselves as Africans, self-aware but with compassion for their fellow man, able to think critically and innovatively to contribute to finding solutions for Africa. In short, use their knowledge in the service of Africa.
In the 25 years since we started, we-- all staff and students, past and present--have come a long way and worked hard to achieve our vision, not yet with complete success perhaps, but I can confidently say that the vast majority of students HAVE emerged with the qualities I have just described. I was reading a research study about this school recently brought to my attention by one of our alumni and I would like to quote some remarks made by some past students who were interviewed for the research:
"That motto especially the service portion, the knowledge in the service of Africa is a powerful reminder that no matter where we are, no matter how high you’ve risen, our lives are meaningless unless you are giving back, unless you’re impacting the lives of others, unless you are changing other people’s lives. So, knowledge in the service of Africa, not in your own service alone, not in the service of everyone else in the world except Africa - knowledge in the service of Africa first and foremost, that’s what that motto means to me (Lolan).
I think that epitomizes what the essential core of the school's mission is and shows that our students actually get it. I will give you a few more from the same research paper which I think illustrate the College's emphasis on critical thinking, innovation, leadership skills, self confidence, practical solutions and Pan Africanism:
- “My education at SOS, in addition to all the other leadership camps and stuff that I went to, definitely made me feel like I have a role in like, shaping change in the world.”
- “You can actually bring about change if you put your mind to it. You can sit down, identify a problem, conceptualize a solution, think about ideas to execution, raise money for that.”
- Listening to all these great Pan-Africanists and African thinkers and you get to listen to Kofi Awoonor on your Friday afternoon – that’s definitely going to inspire you.”
I would like to say here that the late Pan-Africanist, philosopher, politician, historian and poet, Prof. Kofi Awonoor was not just an inspiration to our students but to me and countless others and when I invited him to be the keynote speaker at the first ever International Baccalaureate Heads of Schools Conference held in Africa, the speech he gave on Africa's history and predicament made an unforgettable impact on the delegates from all 5 continents and I will be forever grateful to him for making Africa proud--may he rest in peace.
Now I would like to turn to the second part of my title, the role of national and international education. So far, I have talked about the elements that make SOS International College different but it is still essentially an International School with curricula which helped us to produce those creative, thinking, high achieving students who could face the world with confidence. What were the elements of that so called international education? It was not only that the syllabi were foreign-- the Cambridge IGCSE programme in the first two years or the International Baccalaureate Diploma, with its Theory of Knowledge, CAS, and Extended Essay; or that there were at any given time 15-20 different mainly African nationalities living and studying together, learning each other's cultures, songs and dances; or indeed that we sought to inculcate universal values of truth, integrity, academic honesty, tolerance, acceptance and respect for all cultures and religions etc; or even academic excellence. What was and is most valuable about the international curriculum we teach are their encouragement of intellectual curiosity; the teaching of concepts applicable to all kinds of situations rather than just known facts; the open minds encouraged by debate, challenge, and research; the practical application of taught theory, experimentation and practice. Not all schools which call themselves international deliver these elements but Students exposed to true International education experience a flowering of their intellect, a discovery that THEY are capable of invention, innovation, leadership and above all that THEY can be catalysts for change. These are what the national schools need to incorporate into their Programmes and no one should protest that it is too expensive! Everything I have mentioned is not about money but about vision, policies, leadership, attitudes and clear purpose and can be achieved without vast expenditure.
Another area in which the state schools can benefit from the lessons of international education is that International education has generally kept up with the changing concept of what education entails: for most of the 20th century, education was still about the assimilation of known facts and teachers were trained to be the fount of all knowledge which they did their best to drum into the heads of their students.
I have been an educationist for more than 40 years, teaching English and Literature mainly and sometimes History, and I can assure you that teaching was very different in the days when there was no internet or Spell check or instant word definition or Google from your iPad or laptop ( I had to interpret difficult poets like ee Cummings out of my own head and even write critical study notes for my students on the poems in their textbook, "West African Verse").
Now the students are way ahead of their teachers, able to get answers to all known exam questions from the Internet and facts, opinions, or downright misinformation from multiple sources on that same internet. So what they need to be taught is not the mere content of the subject but how to interpret or analyze it, apply it or judge its validity. They need research skills, thinking skills, the ability to conceptualize and apply knowledge to any relevant issue. As I said, good international schools are ahead in their recognition of the need to adapt their curriculums and practices to meet the new needs of the 21st century, including the routine use of technology in all aspects of their administration and teaching-- and that, indeed, does cost money.
But am I being too hard on National education in Ghana? I don't think so but if I am it is because I KNOW its vast potential to move this country forward, to change it for the better and to help achieve social mobility, and I am frustrated that it is not living up to its role. Was it not this same state education which propelled children of illiterate villagers from remote rural schools to Achimota and Legon and turned them into lawyers and doctors and economists etc in the 50's and 60's. And now? As someone who was involved in the implementation of the educational reforms of 2007, I regret to tell you that it has not helped Ghana to prepare for the 21st century, and would not have done so even if it had been fully implemented as envisaged, which it was not. But the problems of Ghana's education go much further back than 2007: they began with the acceptance of the JSS system, in 1986 I believe, because that was when we as a nation decided that 15 years of age was a rational and desirable end to education for the majority of our children. Note the word-- children, not youth. I wonder how many of you seated here today truly believe that your 15 year old daughter or son is capable of joining the world of work or fending for him/herself? But that is precisely what we decided as a nation almost 30 years ago and we are still perpetuating that delusion.
I was recently in Vietnam, a nation which was at war for more that 30 years and suffered devastating destruction before finally defeating both the French colonial empire and the American superpower-- yet today ALL THEIR CHILDREN ARE IN SCHOOL FROM KINDERGARTEN TO GRADE 12, with free tuition, uniforms, and one free meal a day for ALL students. I have no idea of the content of their education or its standards but I can tell you that they teach their history and engender patriotism and pride in their country in all their children.
Which brings me to the content of our truncated national education system. We are still demanding that children learn facts by heart to regurgitate in exams word for word as taught by the teacher and any student who asks questions is either troublesome or was not listening to the teacher. Where are the courses which teach critical thinking, understanding of concepts, history of Ghana and Africa, application of theory to practice? Our teachers are still standing in classrooms wielding canes, dictating notes and calling children stupid and dumb but still expecting meaningful results. You may well ask, under these circumstances what kind of knowledge will they have to put to the service of Africa? Meanwhile, elsewhere in Africa, as Kokonsa used to say, "things are HAPPENING!" They are not turning 60% of their school children out into the streets at 15 years of age-- they go on to the end of secondary school. Zambia has adopted the IGCSE Cambridge curriculum as its national programme; in Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique and many other countries they are revolutionizing the way education is delivered and its content and I'm happy because any progress in Africa is also our progress.
Africa is our collective homeland. When I am in Africa itself, I am a Ghanaian, but I discover that when I am abroad in other continents, I am merely an African -- and I am proud to represent all of Africa, though I do try to correct the misconception that Africa is a country. Most of you will have experienced the naive "Oh you're from Ghana! I knew a woman from Kenya called Helen Nguni -- perhaps you know her?"
However, perhaps we are the ones who have willfully got it wrong and we need to reevaluate our attitudes to what it means to be an African, why Africa is in its present parlous state, and how we can equip our children to rescue Africa from the adverse conditions our generation has left it in.
If you look at an accurate map of the world, we are the centre, not Britain or the USA as the old maps used to depict. Do our children even know this? Africa sits, massive and majestic, at the centre; it has a significant concentration of all the world’s resources which have been used to build the foundations and pillars of such colonial countries as Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and many others which still extract our raw materials to finance their high standard of living, but these resources have never been used for the benefit of Africa. It is my contention that until Africa produces a critical mass of leaders and citizens in their thousands and millions who understand the dynamics of global trade and competition; who have the vision and knowledge to plan for centuries ahead like the Chinese; and who also have the strength of character to resist the temptations of an easy life in Europe and America after their studies there, Africa will never attain its rightful, pivotal place in the world nor find a way out of poverty and into economic independence for its people. We do not only need enlightened and ethical leaders: we also need a better educated populace with the right skills and civic awareness to make Africa's transition into a truly independent economic entity a reality and to propel us into the true age of technology.
And as an aside I would like to point out that having a computer sitting on the desks of all government Ministries and offices or computers donated to poor rural schools or Internet cafes with youth running frauds or millions of mobile phones draining our electricity and probably giving us cancer do NOT constitute a leap into the age of technology-- you need to know how to use them for something other than games, emails, superficial chit chat or pornography.
In that as in everything else Education is the key to Africa’s development. I believe that only education, of the right quality, can help Africa achieve these objectives, but it must be an education which on the one hand ensures that all children have access to school as a right, with a truly transformational curriculum that trains the mind so that they can later become discerning citizens; and on the other hand, especially for the most able, an education that ensures that there is specific emphasis on leadership, entrepreneurial skills, critical thinking, African cultures and values and, above all, ethics. These are the skills lacking in most of the countries of Africa today and these are some of the reasons Africa remains in its marginalized and exploited state.
I remember reading in the June 2012 edition of the New African magazine, the answer the Ghanaian author and journalist, Cameron Duodu gave to the question; “Has education changed our lives for the better?” He replied in part that it had rather “brainwashed us to despise our own way of life”. Perhaps that is why we shun everything made in Ghana. After independence, we should have determined what kind of education would best serve the needs of Ghana and the rest of Africa but most governments continued with the British system of education (O and A levels) till well into the 70s and 80s, then even when reforms were made, we opted for the diluted secondary modern/junior secondary type of education, which taught no real skills nor any form of critical thinking or broader educational knowledge, and no training to cope with the 21st century and beyond. The result, as you all know, is that no longer can a child from a poor urban state or rural school scale the heights of an Achimota or Wesley Girls or SOS-HGIC or any top school, unless by deliberate quota or manipulation-- and yet, once long ago, from the Government Girls School near Makola, I passed the entrance exams to a rigorous British school without even one extra class.
So I do not think I am being unduly harsh if I state the truth:
Our national education system has failed in what should be its primary objective: to produce an educated, literate, civic- minded, patriotic populace aware of both its rights and responsibilities. The result is that the level of discourse in the adult world, both social and political, is abysmal, and the level of selfishness, discourtesy, corruption, flaunting of laws and general disregard for civilized behaviour has risen to unimaginable heights. And yet Ghana was a different place 50 years ago and can be so again. I believe it can be done through a revamped, redesigned and newly enlightened, national educational system, which reaches 90% of the children, unlike international schools which only reach a minority and are a drop in the ocean, no matter how good they are. The schools are not the cause of this situation but I believe they and only they can be the major catalyst to finding our way back from it. Perhaps I place too much hope in education but I have seen schools like HGIC and African Leadership Academy, a truly unique school in Johannesburg, transform the lives of children so I know it can be done. If we do not use our educational system to inculcate nationalism and pride, to lay a rock solid foundation in Maths, the Sciences, history from our own perspective and to teach the equal value of our cultures in relation to others, we cannot raise a generation of youth and citizens who can solve the challenges Africa faces on all fronts. To quote S.K.B Asante in the Danquah Memorial Lecture series of March 2007,
“If we lose our sense of history, we lose our identity…it is important therefore for each generation to pass on to the next the stories that help us to make sense of our experience as a people.”
How many African students, for instance, have read or even heard of books such as "African Renaissance", which is actually a collection of papers from a conference held in South Africa in 1998? Among them is an excellent essay on “Eurocentric and Afrocentric Perspectives on Ancient African History” which, among others, should be required reading in our schools. Indeed, how many Ghanaian students have read Nkrumah's books such as Africa Must Unite, Challenge of the Congo, Neo-Colonialism: the last stages of Imperialism, to help them understand what is really behind Africa's poverty, despite its riches?
At present many of our educational systems are more an instrument of social stratification than of social mobility. As Prof Kofi Awoonor, whom I've already mentioned, lamented in one of the essays in his excellent collection of essays titled “The African Predicament”, in our schools, “we learn nothing about ourselves” or about our religions, culture, social systems. He states, “We were weaned away from that world view, that tradition, that culture, that survival system…. I was teaching African students in an African community. And nobody knew the name of an African bird that was singing in a tree under an African sky”. Nor do our children know of the scholars of Timbuktu in the 14th century or the ancient universities of Fez and Tunis and Cairo and the civilizations which existed before. Rather, what they learn seems to make them view everything from the West as superior to anything African. Do they learn in their classrooms anything at all which will give them pride in themselves as Africans and make them love their country and wish to serve it and see it prosper?. It does not even have to be in their syllabus if parents and teachers would feed them relevant information at home, during Assemblies or instead of weeding.
Let me quote you a passage from the Introduction to a collection of essays titled African Renaissance, which I mentioned before, edited by Malegapuru William Makpoba, as an illustration of what I call relevant information --what Africa has given and can give to the world:
"Besides being the cradle of mankind and the people of the earth, Africa gave birth to the first great civilization, the first system of writing (hieroglyphics), the first scientists in mathematics, medicine and architecture, and the first territorial state….Again, our continent and its people are the laboratory and model experiment of humanity in reconciling humanity, and humanity with history. Africans, wherever they are, have been champions of this. In South Africa, it is called ubuntu.”
I'll give you a closer example. At SOS-HGIC, our famous Friday Assemblies are used to give our students food for thought as well as values to guide their lives and some years ago one of my presentations focused on this very topic about what constitutes Africa's strengths:
- ~ Since Mankind was indeed born in Africa, this means everybody on earth is descended from us
- ~Africans are survivors, strong enough to withstand slavery, colonization, imperialism, wars, disease, natural disasters, poverty and worse. Unlike the Red Indians, of America, the Aborigines of Australia, or the Indians of South America no one has succeeded in killing us off or herding us like animals into reservations.
- ~The strength of our humanity in the face of often inhuman conditions is unparalleled: it is our sense of community living and sharing rather than individualism which has enabled us to survive.
- ~Africans have deep spiritual belief systems which give meaning and structure to their lives.
- ~We have a rich and vibrant culture, different across the continent but connected, and our creativity in music, arts, dance and the rhythm of life is unsurpassed
- ~ Our women walk like goddesses while our men are all kings—or so they believe!
- ~The best athletes, sprinters, boxers, and entertainers come from Africa.
- ~ The African continent is a place of beauty and abundance and contains within it all that we will ever need, from the gold, diamonds and other natural resources to the game and fish and wildlife, from the fast melting snows of Kilimanjaro to the beaches of the Atlantic coast and tropical forests
THE FACT THAT WITH ALL THIS WE ARE STILL THE POOREST OF THE EARTH IS SOMETHING WHICH POINTS TO THE NEED FOR DRASTIC CHANGE AND ACTION.
Are we telling our children in our national schools these simple truths? Are we inculcating in them the idea that they are the ones who have the obligation and responsibility to do something about the conditions in which we live, the poverty, the dirt, the chaos on our streets, the dependency on foreigners, the inequalities in our society? Because who else is going to change this country and continent?
The Americans and Obama? Aliens from Mars or Jupiter? No one but ourselves but since our generation of adults have made a fine mess, we must look to the next generation to clean it up and we need to give them the tools and self belief to succeed.
To do this, it is clear that we need to effect a change in the attitudes and mindsets of the mass of the peoples of Africa. And to effect that change, we have to start with the children and youth, to imbue in them a pride in themselves as Africans; a knowledge of their background and history so that they understand their place or role in the world. We need to engender within them a spirit of Pan-Africanism which will transcend ethnic divisions and narrow national identities which only lead to conflicts and wars, and prevent them from seeing emigration to Europe and America as their only solution. At present many of our educational systems are more an instrument of social stratification than social mobility because 85% of tertiary students come from the urban private or Class A schools while children from the state schools are the ones roaming the streets. This must end if we are to survive and thrive as a country.
We also need to stop preparing our students for a world which no longer exists and for jobs which have no place in this technological world-- why are our secretarial school still forced to use manual typewriters, for instance? They belong in museums! While we need to anchor Africa's youth in their past and in their own traditions and culture, we also urgently need to launch them into the 21st century with the rest of the world and this means taking full advantage of modern technology by learning from the technologically- advanced countries everything we need to know to meet them on equal terms.
This is what independent international schools like SOS-HGIC are doing to a greater or lesser degree but the greater need is for our state school systems to embrace not only syllabuses which actually prepare students for the world they will live in but also to embrace the Pan African agenda as an engine of change which transforms the vision we have of ourselves and our relations with each other across the continent, and with the rest of the world. Why do I say this? The continent of Africa will never catch up with the rest of the world until it's people know without a shadow of a doubt that they are as good as, as clever as, as creative as, the same as, any other continent in the world. Our SOS HGIC students KNOW this and we must aim to make every other child know this.
Youth should be the period of idealism, of a ferment of ideas to change the world but somehow, globalisation and the market driven economy seem to have led to greater inequality, fueled by a cult of individual fulfilment which, ironically, fails to deliver inner peace and satisfaction or true self-worth to the youth. We follow the West blindly and instead of our traditional reliance on community action and service, it is every man and woman for himself and God for us all. Our youth want to be rich, to have big houses and cars because these are the values our present society demonstrates. But have you noticed that with all the ease of life in the western world, the unimaginable profusion of goods in the stores, the scientific advances which seem to indicate the conquest of nature and even creation by man, many of their youth languish in an excess of materialism, credit card debt, “recreational” drugs which hide their despair, seemingly without a purpose in life? This is a blight which increasingly affects the more affluent levels of the developing world also, including Ghana, on top of all the problems the so-called Third World already has.
More than half the population of Africa is under 18 years old and they represent a vast potential for action and change, if only we can unleash their potential. Given equal opportunities and a meaningful education (academic/vocational but also social, moral and cultural and Pan-African) they can play their part in changing the face of Africa instead of turning to crime or emigration for alleviation of their situation. I have witnessed what children from even greatly deprived
backgrounds, who have been rescued from war, poverty, abandonment and worse have been able to achieve with the right education which broadens their perspectives, enables them to think and appeals to all that is best in them. But they need to be given the opportunity to discuss the social ills of our society and to think through possible solutions and to be given the conviction that young as they are there is something positive they can do or contribute.
I said that youth is a time of idealism-- you need to appeal to their natural altruism and energy --it never fails. However, this does not happen in a vacuum or by itself. They need to be inspired to focus on ideas and achievable goals; to be given a curriculum which makes them think and analyse and question rather than swallow facts without thought, to be given a values education which encourages a spirit of optimism and compassion, and the self confidence to strive for the seemingly unattainable, and it is our national schools which should be given the means and the tools to help deliver such an outcome. This means that our teachers also need a different kind of education and an orientation which emphasizes the absolutely crucial role they and their schools can play. Where else can you find the possibility of shaping the future generation but in schools?
In an age when students can access almost all known facts from the Internet; when definitions of a word or its spelling appear like magic on your iPad or smart phone, our teachers are still dictating from their notebooks notes they made 20 years ago.
They have to learn to teach concepts; to be ready to debate WHY with their students, to learn that teaching means facilitating the students' learning rather than being the repositories of all knowledge. Above all, they actually need to be in the classroom, since recent research has revealed that in most state schools teachers are late or absent 70% of the time, and Headteachers actually have to supervise their teachers.
It is from these schools that the future politicians, economists, professionals, technicians, business men, middle management, tradesmen, farmers and leaders of the country will have to emerge and they must be given an education which can help them fulfil these roles. How adequate is our present curriculum? In order to compete on level terms with the rest of the world, Africa’s children must also have the same knowledge base as the developed world and it is for this reason that many private schools at the senior secondary levels frequently adopt the curricula of the western world, such as the British IGCSE and ‘A’ Level, the French Baccalaureate or the American high school syllabus or the International Baccalaureate and also their more analytical and critical approaches to learning. These schools create very well-educated students who have much in common with other worldwide youth, with the same outlook and aspirations as their western counterparts, and they can be found all over the third world, whether in India or Latin America or Africa, but what is important is that they must not become alienated from their own cultures or concentrate only on the actual curriculum. It must be supplemented by a national agenda which also teaches cultural values and the history of the country. Every culture in the world has its national heroes, but here in Ghana we cannot even agree on whom our heroes are, except perhaps for the devious, cheating, corrupt Ananse-- is it any wonder that our children do not seem to have role models or dreams to inspire them? How, then, can we recreate the Ghana of the 50s and 60s when we were the pride and envy of Africa for our education?
I believe I have outlined some of the ways in which our school has tried to create an institution which would deliver those results. The school was built for the children of SOS Children's Villages from across Africa and at the beginning only
a few brave Ghanaian parents took the risk of entrusting their clever children to us. The SOS children had no self belief or high expectations 25 years ago and yet from the first graduates who are now successful managers and doctors and IT specialists etc, it was clear that given a clear vision and steadfast resolve, nothing was impossible.
I have not forgotten the first day we began SOS HGIC, how much I and the rest of our team had to learn along the way, and how much of our individual selves we poured into this great adventure. I can tell you truthfully that there's nothing more fulfilling and inspiring than guiding and shaping young lives to be the best that they can be.
Twenty five years later, we have graduated over about 1200 students both SOS and non-SOS who have since studied in all the best universities in Africa (Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda) the USA, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale etc, Canada, Australia, India and Singapore. SOS Children, both boys and girls, have become lawyers, doctors, IT specialists, MBAs, bankers and university lecturers etc. Better still, the College has been a source of inspiration to all the other schools in the SOS Children’s Villages in Africa, as well as other schools in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa etc and our SOS children are now competing and achieving success side by side with their classmates, in all aspects and in all fields.
However, the greatest achievement of the SOS International College is the fact that its students emerge as potential leaders with strong analytical skills, compassion for their fellow man, a commitment to service and a confidence in themselves as Africans and this, I believe, is the true measure of the school’s strength. That is why I believe in the power of a goal-driven education to turn around the lives of any youth, whether the education is academic, vocational, technical, artistic, or a football academy, so long as it has a strong ethos, a steadfast vision and goals understood by all. We have sometimes been called an elite school and I have no quarrel with that so long as you mean an elite of achievers who earned their place there and at those universities purely on their own academic merit. But if it is a moneyed elite that is meant, then I beg to differ because at any given time between 30 to 40% of the students are our own SOS children from our Villages, and I dream of the day it will be at least 50%, and I would say that another 30-40% are parents who struggle and sacrifice to pay for an education they believe in because it is more of a priority for them than a new car or other deserved luxury. Ability to pay the fees is not an entry requirement, only ability to pass among the top 40 on the merit list.
Another model of an elite school in my meaning of the word is the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, whose sole purpose is to produce ethical, entrepreneurial leaders for Africa. But in their case, the priority is not merely academic merit for entry: it is proven commitment to community service, practical demonstrations of innovation or leadership even before you enter the school, and preference is given to students who have demonstrated these qualities in spite or because of their impoverished backgrounds. Although it is an A Level school, African Studies, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Business skills are at the core of their programme together with an absolute commitment to return to Africa.
I consider ALA a sister school of our school motto because there is the same deliberate emphasis on Africa’s history, its vast resources, its strengths and traditions; they also aim not only to equip their students with the best educational credentials to face the future, and also to produce thinking, analytical, aware, confident leaders who are above all compassionate human beings, with a focus on not just their individual success and welfare but on contributing to the alleviation of Africa’s problems. My vision encompasses something beyond the success of these two schools and others like them, to a string of national and international schools across Africa creating a mass of well-educated, visionary, entrepreneurial, ethical and activist graduates who will propel Africa out of poverty, war and corruption. What can we not achieve if we marry principles and ethics with curricula which teach the kind of skills and attitudes I have outlined? That is why I hope that Ghana will take up its role as the torch bearer for Africa once again and make it a national policy for students to be taught that they have a mission beyond academic success and that their talents and skills could serve both Africa and the wider world, by incorporating the elements of the kind of international education I have been advocating, including community service in particular.
The service component of the SOS-HGIC programme is a key element in its success and as I quoted to you right at the beginning of this address, even as working adults in their 30's and 40's they never forget that the knowledge they attain is for a higher purpose other than their own academic achievement.
So we come full circle again to the school's motto “Knowledge in the Service of Africa". What practical form does this take which can be easily emulated by national schools? Throughout their 4 years there all students commit themselves to community service projects on a weekly basis involving fund-raising ( they organize bazaars, sponsored walks or create jewelry or pottery or baskets to sell to fund their projects,); building of schools or libraries, volunteering for clean-ups, visiting the aged or hospitals or special needs institutions, digging gutters or laying a water pipeline of funding KVIPs and countless other activities which keep them grounded in the realities of the world they live in. The beauty of this is that these projects are not given to them by teachers or the Principal---THEY identify the need, plan their response, raise the funds, and actively participate in its completion-- they have built 3 schools in Dedenya, Kakasunaka and Aklamador and I wish I had time to list all their projects. The point is that this commitment and involvement becomes part of them and continues after school and university. Let me briefly mention a few of the things our alumni have done after they began working: providing incubators for the Babies' Unit in Korle Bu ( I name no names but she's a doctor working there); funding of a nurses training school in Ethiopia; paying the bills of indigent mothers in the maternity ward in Korle Bu so they can be released from detention (aren't we ashamed that this should be going on?); paying fees for 20 students annually so they can continue from JHS 3 to SHS. I don't have time for more but see Mr Ofei, the Principal at your convenience-- he has multiple stories to tell.
My point is, can you imagine the effect if ALL secondary school children in this country were similarly engaged in projects larger than themselves, which tap into the idealism and activism that youth thrives on ---it is a fact that they seem to benefit from the sheer happiness of giving something back to society, making a real difference to people's lives in appreciation of their own good fortune: I think all youth need to be given the opportunity for that kind of self growth.
I am nearly done! Just one last item on my agenda. Assuming my dreams come true and Ghana's schools, and others across Africa, next year-- ok, let's be realistic, say 3 years from now begin producing these creative, entrepreneurial, thinking, confident, compassionate leaders for Africa in their hundreds of thousands? Where are we going to send them for tertiary education? Did you know that presently only 8% of Africa's children access any kind of tertiary education, private, public, university, polytechnics etc? That's all the spaces there are. In Ghana, despite our 33 universities and other tertiary institutions only 5% of those eligible can find spaces there. (I also learned that of those 5% fully 44% of them emigrated abroad as of 2010 so you see why embedding knowledge in the service of Africa in their souls is imperative.)
Well, the good news is that there are plans for a new tertiary project across Africa which is causing me great excitement and giving me even greater hope for this continent: the establishment, starting this year and for the next 15 years, of 25 African Leadership Universities (ALU), each enrolling 10,000 students at a time by the Founder of the African Leadership Academy I earlier spoke about. And you ask why I am excited? This young entrepreneur and educator, incidentally a Ghanaian called Fred Swaniker whom I'm sure you've heard of, with the track record of ALA behind him intends to revolutionize both the programmes taught and the mode of delivery in universities. Such is my faith in him that I have already agreed to serve on its Global Advisory Board though I have not yet confessed this to my husband! These universities will not only produce 250000 graduates for Africa annually but they will be graduates who are employable or capable of creating jobs for themselves and others. I cannot give you details here but I would urge to go to the sites of both ALA and ALU-- you will be inspired.
So if we succeed in reinventing secondary education in Ghana some of those students will fill the ALU universities, and even those who study outside the continent will hurry home and together form the vanguard of the revolution in African leadership which the next generation MUST provide in order to turn Africa around. That is my dream; that is my vision, and to paraphrase a certain black man sitting in a White House somewhere: I know we can!
26th February 2015