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Could student uprisings signal Ghana’s much needed tipping point?

Recent events suggest that Ghana may need to review abusive disciplinary actions taken against students, the roles and responsibilities of teachers and to ensure the electricity supply in educational facilities is consistent



Recently, the Ghanaian government has sought to brand the country as the “Gateway to West Africa” in an effort to court more foreign investment and stimulate international trade. Officials commonly recite the tried and true refrain that Ghana has never been through a civil war and has one of the strongest democracies in the region. Ordinarily, these would all be compelling reasons to place ones’ trust (and money) in Ghana’s economy if only the country wasn’t so overrun by corruption. It’s so endemic it permeates almost every sphere of society.

Corruption is defined as having the willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain, and this is the hallmark of nearly every social interaction and financial transaction in Ghana. Generally speaking, most Ghanaians believe their fellow citizens are dishonest and the government even more so. Funds which are allocated for public use often end up stashed in private bank accounts. And because corruption is so rife, it breeds further societal decay that even something as vital as education is not left untouched.

Just recently the Secretary of Ghana National Association of Teachers revealed that teachers are the worst paid professionals in the public sector; with salaries capping at GHC780 (about $260) a month. This is hardly enough to live on. In contrast, each member of the Black Stars was awarded a $25 000 bonus and a Jeep Wrangler for finishing second at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). This is on top of their astronomical salaries.

In Ghana, football is the opium for the masses. In June 2014, the government asked the nation’s largest aluminium smelter to reduce consumption to make sure that the scheduled blackouts don’t interfere with the viewing of the Black Stars’ games. And just last month, the government spent an undisclosed sum to purchase 80 megawatts of electricity from Ivory Coast to ensure that every Ghanaian could watch the AFCON games uninterrupted.

Viral video of a teacher stomping on students at Ghana's Multi Educational Complex at Wassa Akropong. Photo: Mirror Online

Viral video of a teacher stomping on students at Ghana’s Multi Educational Complex at Wassa Akropong. Photo: Mirror Online

No such allotments have been made to bolster education, and as a result, teaching attracts a fair share of unqualified and unmotivated individuals whose only goal is to get a check every month. Teacher absenteeism is just one of the many issues that plague the country’s education sector. The profession also attracts its fair share of sadists who routinely mete out cruel punishments to the students under their tutelage, and do so virtually unchecked.

A video of a fourth grade teacher forcing two boys to lie on their bellies as she stomps them was recently was made public and quickly went viral. What had the boys done to warrant such brutal punishment? Not completing their homework. This teacher had a documented history of abusing her students, yet parents and authorities refused to act until the video went viral and media reportage started to swell.

Similarly, students at Tuna Senior Technical School in the north of Ghana ransacked the campus after a teacher had demanded a female student to strip naked in his presence. His justification was that her dress was “too short and inappropriate” and should therefore be removed.

This was the tipping point for the students – who one assumes had long suffered abuse at the hands of their teachers – and they unleashed a wave of destruction in retaliation, forcing the school to close temporarily. Two other student riots have since been reported in the northern region.

Despite Ghana’s signing of the United Nation’s Charter on the Rights of the Child, abolishing child slavery and corporal punishment among other things, abuse like this takes place in classrooms across the country far too often. Investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ shocking expose of abuse in orphanages and schools is a case in point. As horrifying as the footage was it’s sadly not the first of its kind nor will it be the last if the status quo remains unchanged.

There has been much talk lately about whether Ghanaians have reached a tipping point. The older generation (people with jobs and families) tends to call for patience. But a high school or university student has far less at stake, and it is this generation that sees Ghana for what it is, and for the potential that it’s tossing away. They see a bleak future for themselves if things don’t change and so they are now being very vocal about their demands for more accountable government leaders.

TIA Company of Ghana

Ghana’s University Students Association recently called on the government to exempt educational institutions from the nationwide load-shedding exercise. Photo: Electricity Company of Ghana.

The leadership of the University Students Association of Ghana recently called on government to exempt educational institutions from the nationwide load-shedding exercise (scheduled power outages), pointing to a rise in crime on university campuses when the electricity goes out and the difficulty of studying properly. Even children at the primary level have gathered a modicum of courage, as kindergartner students walked out of a windowless, poorly ventilated classroom in Wassa Amenfi in the eastern region of the country. They complained that the classroom was too hot.

It would be wise for the government, and indeed all those who seek political power, to pay close attention to the demands and needs of today’s youth. This generation is not beholden to the same Victorian ideals of robotic obsequiousness that former generations were, and they have already proven that they are bold enough to fight for their rights. Like Sharpeville and SNCC, many of the great social movements that changed the world started on playgrounds and university campuses. It would be wise indeed to remember that. History, as they, has a tendency to repeat itself.