Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Flawed Educators and Educated Fools

I hate chemistry. I would like to thank my first chemistry teacher, Mr. Anyigbah for instilling in me this incurable dislike for the subject.

We had just arrived in Secondary School with a lot of enthusiasm, too much confidence in our intelligence and the desire to stamp our authority on the class. Everyone was the most intelligent student from his previous school, or at least that's what they'd have us believe. There was one particular stubborn guy called Frank, everyone called him Fire (even the teachers). Right from the first day he established himself as a noise maker and trouble causer. While some students were learning 'non-sylla'*, Fire would be creating a scene and fall asleep the moment a teacher came in.

First Chemistry class and Mr Anyigbah was racing through the text books faster than our young minds could absorb. When we complained that he was going too fast, he laughed and just went on. Somewhere along the line he noticed Fire sleeping. He woke him up and asked him the most difficult question he could find for a first year. The half asleep Fire woke up, asked for the question to be repeated and uttered a bunch of what appeared to be gibberish and to our surprised, Mr. Anyigbah said, “Correct”. Wow! We those who were awake didn't even understand the question. This sleep and answer question session between Fire and Mr Anyigbah went on for a few week and it became obvious who was the most intelligent person in the class.

After that first class, Mr Anyigbah only asked Fire and no one else question. He would say something like, “If Fire understands, then the whole class understands”. If Fire didn't get the answer correct he would call Fire a stupid boy for intentionally getting the answer wrong and go on without explaining. Mr Anyigbah also took delight in caning us. He would set a test and say anyone one who scored below 70% would be caned. That usually meant 80% of the class. By the time we were through with first year, I absolutely loathed chemistry. 

I remember Mr. Anyigbah came to class one day and told us that the best students in the class will get a C in the SSCE then he started laughing hysterically. 

I later found out that in almost every public secondary school had their own version of Mr. Anyigbah, some 'qualified' teacher who took too much delight in frustrating students.

There are somethings no one is going to teach you in class. For example, if you are a computer Engineering student, no lecturer would teach you how to format a Hard-disk but everyone in the world expects you to know that. When you go for a job interview, the panel would ask you things you didn't learn in class but are expected to know. You somehow have to manage to find a balance with these thing. What I came to realize was, “the things that matter mostly don't count in the exams, and the things that count in the exam don't matter in life”.

In the university, I knew a third year computer Engineering student who couldn't partition her hard-disk and had to take it to a social science student to get it done. This said lady was one of the most intelligent student in her class. She wasn't peculiar in this predicament. She didn't seem bothered by this ignorance and didn't seem eager to learn how to.

While waiting for my turn for my job interview, I managed to get a sneak peek of the certificates of almost everyone who was there. My heart sunk. Not that I was a dumb guy but people had really impressive certificates and mine wasn't that great. When it was my turn to face the panel I placed my certificate on the table and the panel didn't bother looking at it. They just started firing questions. “What would you do in so so and so situation”. I got the job!! There was this particular guy who I was sure would get the job, he didn't. I was later told he performed so poorly that they didn't ask him the full range of questions before letting him go.

Our Education system, flawed educators and educated fools

*non-sylla - Topics that are not included in the syllabus but are studied by students to impress other students 


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Call Me Ambassador, not Honorable... (Africans Love their Titles)

After failing in his bid to become the Member of Parliament for Abuakwa North, Victor Smith was recently in the news. According to Mr Victor Smith, he didn't appreciate people referring to him as “Honorable Victor Smith”. He preferred to be addressed by his proper title “Ambassador”, never mind the fact that he's no longer the Ambassador to the Czech Republic or anywhere else for that matter. In his opinion, he was above the title “Honorable”. Up until then, I didn't even know there were title rankings.

Ghanaians love their titles. The only other group of people I know who love titles as much or perhaps more than us are our neighbors the Nigerians. Ghanaian love titles so much they make up titles where there are none and often get offended if they aren't addressed with those titles.

A Nigerian Title: Friend of the Governor

Self made titles seem to be the specialty of Pastors who form their own churches. Gone were the days when one had to spend long years in Bible School just to become a Pastor. The Pastor then had to serve for some 10 years to become a Reverend and the titles got better only with years. These days any post pubescent young man with a congregation of 5 can call himself a Reverend. Some become Reverends overnight. Then there are the Reverend Doctors, Right Reverends, Right Reverend Doctors, Bishop, Archbishops, Apostles, Prophets etc.

However, the acquisition of titles overnight is not the sole monopoly of 'Mushroom' Pastors. In Ghana, we have a Comedian called Bishop, a boxer called Professor and in the neighborhood I grew up in, a cobbler called Doctor.

The people most sensitive to titles are those who actually earned them especially academically. You can't blame them, it's not easy studying for so long. In the University, there was a certain lecturer in a certain faculty who had 3 PhDs and also happened to be a chief. His students called him Dr. Dr. Dr. Nana X (where X replaces his surname and Nana is the title for chiefs). If you ever happen to go to a Ghanaian program and the Chairperson is being introduced, all his titles have to be mentioned and if possible, where he got them from. If the MC forgets to mention one title, the chairperson will correct that mistake upon assuming his role. He would say something like, “The MC didn't mention it but I also have a PhD in Pharmacology from Birmingham University in the UK”.

This whole title craze is not restricted to people but also to institutions. It's hard to find a Junior High School these days that is not an International School or International School Complex and every nursery school is a Montessori. Every Church is International, every shop a Super Market, every chop bar serves continental dishes and the list goes on. Everyone is claiming one title or the other.

Titles are part a part of the Ghanaian upbringing. Calling people who are older than you or in higher positions by their names is taboo. You have to call them Uncle or Auntie if they are significantly older than you. You put a “Brother, Bro or Sister” before their names if they are a few years older. In the secondary schools, you could be seriously punished for not adding “Senior” to a senior's name. I remember calling my Dad by his nickname one day. Unknown to me a concerned citizen heard this and even though my Dad didn't mind, this concerned citizen took offense and later gave me a long lecture on being respectful to adults. The lecture included random Bible verses and Ephesians 6:1-3 was quoted more than a few times. 

The irony/hypocrisy of this Blog post isn't lost to me. My name is Dela but most people refer to me as Efo Dela. “Efo” being a title of the Ewes for an older or influential male.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Time Is Relative

I'm not sure who decided to put Ghana on the 00:00 time zone but that was a stroke of genius. This is a country where time means nothing, time is literally 00:00. The average Ghanaian's concept of time is hard to explain. For any given event, people are either likely to be outrageously early or frustratingly late. Very few if any at all will be on time. There's no known formula to calculate how early or how late people will be.

During my research for this article, I came across a previously undiscovered document that stated that Albert Einstein first came up with his famous relativity theory after being frustrated by a Ghanaian who was always randomly late from what could be a few minutes to a few hours. One day out of frustration, Einstein just screamed, “DO YOU THINK TIME IS RELATIVE?”, and the Ghanaian, nonchalantly, replied, “Yes”.

When there are queues or food (or any kind of freebies) involved, most people will hours early. For example, the Presidential Elections was supposed to start at 07:30 on December 7, 2012. At some polling stations, long winding queues had already formed as at 23:00 December 6, 2012. People had brought mattresses from their home and were sleeping in queues. Meanwhile, at that time, the election officials were in their homes sleeping soundly. People were over 12 hours early for the polls! At 07:30 when the election officials were supposed to be at the station, most of them were no where to be found. Voters were 12 hours early, officials were 2 hours late at some stations. People would be late for weddings but slip out of the church early to the reception hall just so the can get a good place to sit when the refreshment is being shared.

Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) have given the popular saying, “Time is Money” a whole new meaning. Long queues, poor network and slow tellers have combined to create a unique “Time Sink”. Customers waste long periods of time just to withdraw their own money. Sometimes, after waiting long hours, they are left disappointed and have to come back later to endure the same frustration.

I remember being broke in the University (KNUST) and getting a cal from my Dad that he had sent me some money through GCB. I went to meet a long “snaking” queue in the small banking hall. After waiting for about two hours the queue had barely moved. A teller told us later that the network was having problem and would be fixed soon. Another two hours would pass and out of frustration many people left the bank. I was too broke to go back so I kept waiting till it was left with about 30 people in the bank and the network mysteriously started working. After 4 hours of waiting I finally got my money. With GCB, “It Pays To Wait”, literally.

Being late is a socially accepted norm, in fact being on time seems strange to most people. Christians especially are notorious for being late. Sometime ago, doctor was invited to my church to give a talk. The talk was supposed to be at 19:00. He was there 10 minutes to time and no one was there. He waited till 19:30 then left. 20:00 and people started trickling into the church and people were actually surprised to hear the doctor had actually come on time and couldn't wait for them. Instead of the elders chastising the congregation, they were angry at the doctor (who was supposed doing a talk for free) for leaving.

I was watching a documentary about lateness in Ghana on TV3 a while back and a gentleman was asked why he was often late to work. The man said every morning, there was a lot of traffic on the route that led to his work place so he usually waited till the traffic had reduced before he left the house (he worked at the Ministries). I remember laughing for quite a while. When I was doing my National Service (in the public sector) I found that this was a common practice. Someone didn't come to work early because the porridge seller in his area came at 08:00 so he had to wait and buy some before work. Someone had to listen to sports news at 07:30 before coming to work. Everyone seemed to have a 'valid' reason for coming to work late but the moment it was 17:00 they were out. No one had a reason to stay any longer than they had to.

Scheduling an appointment can sometimes seem like bargaining in the market. What time can we meet, and people will say, “3, 3:30, 4”. If you ask what specific time the person won't have a clue about what you mean by “specific”. After giving you this strange time range, the person would most likely show up for the appointment at 4:30.

Time and tide might wait for no man but most Ghanaians don't care. In fact, most people just don't have time for time. If time can't wait for the Ghanaian, the Ghanaian doesn't care. After all, “Time is Relative”.