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Elizabeth Ohene writes... Some like to march

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer
The writer

Like everybody else, I have followed the regular berating of government by commentators as March 6 approached.

This year, one high-profile commentator said the lining of schoolchildren on parade grounds to march under the scorching sun was an abuse of children and should be stopped.

Other commentators went along similar lines and there was the clear suggestion that this “abuse of children practice” was obvious to everyone except for those who are in government or in positions of authority.

The other day I listened to an old BBC programme about Ghana’s independence. It was a programme under the general title of Moments That Changed Our World and it was made to mark Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary.

I do not remember that I had contributed to such a programme and was surprised to hear myself featured in the programme as I recounted my March 6, 1957 experience from the perspective of the 11-year old I was then.

Among other things in this programme, I am heard complaining about the amount of marching we had to do as schoolchildren.

This is what I said: “The one thing that sticks in my mind was the endless marching we had to do in the school. We had to march and march and march, because on the great day, all the schools were supposed to march at the big durbar and we had to rehearse the marching a lot. I recall standing in the sun for long periods and a lot of marching and marching. I am afraid that was what Independence Day for me was, the endless marching”.

This was me speaking in 1997 looking back on my experiences in 1957.

I hope I am not breaking the oath I took as a Minister of State by recounting the following story.

Back in 2001, soon after coming into office, I was excited when the newly sworn-in president of the Republic, John Agyekum Kufuor, made it known that he did not want schoolchildren to have to march at the Independence Day parade.

He didn’t want them standing in the sun for hours and he did not think it was a good idea to celebrate Independence Day with a parade of schoolchildren.

President Kufuor said we should have a military parade, soldiers march as part of their regular repertoire of activities and it would be more impressive. (I had visions of the grand 14 July military parade that the French lay on in Paris to mark their national day).

But above all, President Kufuor’s main point was that children should not have to stand in the sun for hours as part of the celebration of the country’s Independence Day.

So, we, the President’s staff, started to operationalise the President’s wishes and directions by sending messages to the Ghana Education Service and the schools that schoolchildren would no longer have to march at the March 6 parades around the country.

The reaction was shock, dismay, anger and bewilderment as waves of schoolchildren, teachers, school managers and parents came to plead for the reversal of the decision to exclude schoolchildren from the parade.

To put it mildly, I was shocked at the reaction, for I had no idea that marching at the parade was a popular thing with schoolchildren. President Kufuor reluctantly agreed for the schoolchildren to continue to march, but their numbers were greatly reduced and the emphasis was shifted to the military.

He did insist on one important proviso for agreeing to the schoolchildren marching at the parade; they were to be given food and drink during the rehearsals and this was done. During the distribution of the food to the children, I learnt something very important which will be the subject of a separate discourse.

I seek to make two points by recounting this story, there are differences of opinion about things. Some people might believe that schoolchildren should not be made to march at public events and they do not like the marching as the 11-year-old me obviously didn’t.

Some people, schoolchildren, teachers and parents do like a parade of schoolchildren and all the things that go with it, the rehearsals, learning to march in formation, the uniforms, being on display.

The second point is that being in government does not render you totally devoid of ideas and being a commentator does not mean you are the only one who might have thought of a particular idea.

My Budding Einstein

I am inviting all to join me celebrate the performance at the BECE exams of a young girl who has brought me so much joy. Her story starts some three years ago when a protégé of mine “discovered” her in the village.

She stood out because she wouldn’t join in the scramble for the food or the parcel of clothes laid out for the group of young children who had been invited to the house.

She was living with her grandmother in the village and was in JHS1, but all the indications were that no one was anxious about whether she went to school or not. Discussions followed and she was brought to Accra by my protégé.

The school in Accra said she had to repeat JHS1, mainly because they had no confidence in the village school she had come from. She repeated the JHS1 and went through JHS2 and JHS3 and took the BECE.

These are her results: she got 1 in English Language, Social Studies, Religious and Moral Education, Mathematics, Integrated Science, Information and Communications Tech, she got 2 in French and 4 in Ga and BDT/Pre-Tech.

I confess I am not sure I know what BDT/Pre-Tech is but I think I have a fair idea, but that does not feature in my considerations at the moment. I am just so happy about Afua the young girl, about Komla my protégé and about the village school which laid the foundation.

In my joy, my mind has gone to a couplet from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. It says:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen

And waste its sweetness on the desert air

I wonder what would have happened to her if she hadn’t been “discovered” and I dread to wonder how many others like her are regularly left without the opportunity to blossom, nor ever produce such a result.

She wants to go to either Aburi Girls or Achimota School. What lucky schools.