Education: a view from Ghana – Secondary schools and old boy/girl networks

Last Thursday I went to the launch of Nana Ekua Brew Hammond’s first novel, Powder necklace, at the Silverbird bookshop at the Accra Mall.  It was very much a family event – with the MC being the author’s father and the one introducing the author, her mother, plus I suspect there were quite a few other extended family members present.

What I found interesting was the ostensible reason for the author’s presence in Ghana.   She attended Mfantsiman Girls Secondary School, and was around to join other colleagues in celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary.  There were several “old girls” present – those that introduced themselves were however all resident outside Ghana, as opposed to those living here, which did raise some questions in my  mind.

Indeed those of us who bid for the ten auctioned books were told that part of the money raised would benefit Mfantsiman, which was OK with me.  Otherwise I would have had to wait to buy a copy whenever they appeared.  I still may do so, because I wonder whether some members of my own family would find that there are echoes of their own experience at secondary schools in Cape Coast during the last part of the 20th century.

So there were different strands in my head while attending this launch:  the book itself, the mechanisms of the launch, the presence of the “old girls”, the extent to which experiences of kids who are not totally Ghanaian in these environments are similar (or not)…

For this post, the key role of these associations in the development of many schools remains:  providing libraries, computers, labs, transport, websites and even housing – among many others.  Another significant contribution on the part of the non-public sector to the education here in Ghana.

Education: a view from Ghana – Do libraries really play a role?

Virtually all my working life has been in libraries – or closely associated with them:  academic, special, public, cultural, and now academic – if you want to “typecast” them!  And all in West Africa – Nigeria, then Ghana.

I admit that I have not worked in school libraries, though quite a lot of the work I did while at the Ghana Library Board involved liaising with basic schools and key local players in the education sector, and this was during some of the worst economic times in Ghana’s history.  What was the impact of what my colleagues and I did?  To be frank, I don’t know.  We really didn’t measure what we did, except to record traditional library statistics of books borrowed, and membership.

Has the situation changed since I left?  I would hope so, but I frankly admit I don’t know.

It seems to me that “libraries” are considered a “good” thing here in Ghana, at least from the point of view of politicians and the media.  That is, of course, when they decide to think about them and/or talk about them – which is not very often, in my opinion.  Certainly it seems that the word “libraries” is coming up a bit more frequently in the state owned press – at least as far as my personal impression is concerned.  But has this translated into anything more than lip service?

The Ghana Library Board has been in existence for more than sixty years, and it is certainly the major set of libraries serving the needs of the general public in Ghana.  But how many people even know of its existence, let alone use it?  I suspect that the vast majority of users are either children in basic education, or older secondary level students studying during holidays or for remedial classes.  Of course I could be wrong.  So yes, it does support education at some stages at least for some people.

But are those who don’t patronize libraries any less educated?

As for the community libraries, I would imagine it depends on the outreach that is done by those who running these facilities, plus the commitment that the originators have to their continued usage.  With the exception of a few that I have heard of – the Kathy Knowles Libraries in Nima and elsewhere in Accra and Friends of African Village Libraries in the Upper East of Ghana come to mind.  In these libraries there are literacy classes, reading camps, drama and music groups, among a range of activities going on.  There are stories of success, but who has heard of them?

Does anyone shout:  “I owe part of my success at school/college/university due to my reading and using the library”?

These are all positive, are they not?  But again I ask myself, and others, what is the impact of all this activity?  And is it measured?  And who cares anyway?