In 1987, the Rawlings regime implemented fundamental reforms in our education system.
Effectively, secondary education was reduced from seven to six years and then halved, with the first three years being rechristened initially as Junior Secondary School(JSS) and the subsequent three years as Senior Secondary School(SSS).
Eventually they were renamed Junior High School (JHS) and Senior High School(SHS) respectively.
The JHS was hived off and became the upper end of the primary system while the remaining rump, the SHS, became our secondary school system as we know them from old.
Seven years vs Three years
When my young nephew remarked to me the other day that seven years in boarding school was simply too long and unimaginably tortuous after I had explained the old system to him, I simply suppressed a wry smile.
I reminded him that in our day, the minimum of five years one spent in boarding school was excellent for character-moulding by the school authorities, as well as the building of more enduring friendships, especially with smaller student populations.
I explained further that this meant multiple appearances at the stadium for various sporting tournaments. But I think what cracked him a bit and elicited a wistful sigh, and then a chuckle from him was the reminder that it meant opportunities over a longer period to visit girls’ schools in the name of innocent friendships.
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Gripe over school names
I have one gripe that some may consider petty, but I think it is important that I rant a bit.
You see, back then, secondary schools referred to themselves by one of five tags or so; ‘College’, ‘School’, ‘High School’, ‘Secondary School’ or ‘Academy’, even though they were collectively referred to as secondary schools and ran the same curriculum. Each school had its own quirky traditions and reasons for calling itself what it did, and derived their unique acronyms from the school’s name, perhaps with the notable exception of ‘Kwabotwe’ (Mfanstipim School) which simply evolved from the name given to the hill on which the school is sited.
Achimota School simply called itself ‘Motown’.
The insistence by the education authorities to refer to all its second cycle schools as ‘Senior Secondary School’, and later ‘Senior High Schools’, not just for collective description purposes but actually to ramrod these tags through the schools’ individual names is in my view a complete disregard for hallowed traditions of schools that evolved over decades.
This invasion has been particularly strong in the case of the institutions that called themselves ‘School’, ‘High School’, or ‘Secondary School’ from inception.
The ‘Colleges’ and ‘Academies’ seemed to have escaped the onslaught.
I am yet to see ‘Accra Academy Senior High School’ or ‘Adisadel College Senior High School’ on Ghana Education Service’s official documents or correspondence.
Of course, there is no denial that to reflect the splitting of the old structure into two, the expressions ‘Junior High School’ and ‘Senior High School’ are important, but I daresay they should only be used for general descriptive and distinction purposes, without those tags being smuggled into the school’s name by officialdom and thereby making their acronyms an oddity.
For instance, should Oda Secondary School’s acronym, ‘ODASCO’, be recast as ‘ODASHS’ to reflect ‘Oda Senior High School’ as the authorities insist on calling the school?
Mild irritation and traditions
I thought I was the only one mildly irritated by this unseemly trend, until I spoke to a number of middle-aged friends, who were also irritated that their school names as they knew them back in the day had been mangled into something they did not recognise and certainly did not connect with.
Perhaps one might call us old-fashioned, boring, pre-retirement cranks who are looking for a fight, but we think brands and traditions do matter.
Of course, if a school elects to use ‘Senior High School’ as part of its name, that should be its prerogative, and the authorities should simply reflect that rather be the initiators of the tag.
Petty as my rant may seem to some, I am sure the Ghana Education Service, headed by its fantastic Director-General, Prof. Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, will do the needful, and that WAEC’s certificates and officialdom in general will subsequently reflect the right names of our schools.
Just so we are clear, I attended Opoku Ware School, Kumasi. And yes, it is a senior high school.