As an educator, my old school – Mfantsipim, has always been a stable reference point for me. I realise that the inspiration that nudged me on stemmed from my secondary school pedigree. Mfantsipim’s history did something to many old boys based on the exemplary influences of our forebears since the founding of the school in 1876.
Notably, there was Rev. W.T. Balmer who served as Headmaster from 1907 to 1910. In his day, he noticed that the Gold Coast needed “real teachers in sufficient numbers”. He realised that quality education was “faced with a situation in which there was little or no time to think, and the process became mechanical”.
He said, “True leaders are not those who ask first that assured positions of authority be found for them. They rather create opportunities for work, being guided by the significant needs of their day… Then to them will the gates of possibility open, giving entrance to a fair inheritance.”
Then there was Rev. R. A. Lockhart who served as Headmaster from 1925 to 1936. In his days, the number of successful boys in examinations was for years the largest in British colonial West Africa. He prophesied that “in a few years, the people of this country (Ghana) will be amazed at the number of its influential citizens who owe allegiance to this school”.
While he pursued the policy of in-house training, he made sure that he had two or three senior African teachers to give him the benefit of their experience of the peculiar circumstances of the country.
Then there was Francis L. Bartels (1910-2010) who was an assistant to Rev. Lockhart before becoming a full-fledged Headmaster himself.
For Bartels, inspired perseverance by any other names was hard work and commitment. From his writings, those core virtues have bequeathed to the larger Ghanaian context feats of impeccable work in history and education.
He was to ask, “What type of African man and woman is education expected to mould? What is old? What is new? Is the fusion of the old and new possible? And where do we go from here?”
He cautioned that if education’s true purpose was not identified through meaningful, collaborative, hands-on activities, then idleness and truancy would persist. In promoting a “creative engagement between the life of learning and the life of humans”, he suggested embracing elements from both our African roots and modernity.
He saw education as “a home-grown crop, as well as a transplant” and suggested extracting from our native roots “strands in the developmental process” that worked in the past and merging them with the new.
In our time (from 1961), the occasional relief from campus life was a Saturday walk on the Cape Coast broad street: It included window shopping at Lennards Shoes, Kingsway, some other shops and ended at the Methodist Book Depot. Sometimes, the Voluntary Work Camp Association (Volu) might take a trip to Biriwa Beach where we helped build toilets (Ablu) for the area.
At times, the school population - then about 600 boys - marched to the Methodist Church (in white pants and white shirts – with the red and black ties), listened to a sermon, sang songs (drums were not allowed) and then marched back. During the annual Speech Day, the Drama Club put out a play. On such occasions, the community was invited to be part of the school’s progress and among others, to witness prizes being doled, proudly, to deserving students.
The inter-colleges athletic meet (Interco) was probably the most exciting time of all. All the Cape Coast schools and everybody - friends and foes alike - were there. I am often reminded of an Adisco high jumper by the name of Hayfron Benjamin. We travelled from Kumasi to Cape Coast together sometimes. His flair and charisma were just too much, and he knew it. It was so exciting to watch him jump. We slowed our minds in motion to fully take in his antics. At the point where he was right on top of the bar, he seemed to rest there, on thin air, for a split second, and then drop unscathed in triumph. After the graceful clearance, he’d pick himself up, shake off the sand and walk on.
Cape Coast was a calm, proud, historic town. Its educational landscape, graceful. Many top schools were here, in elegant surroundings: Mfantsipim with her serene, magnificent arches; St Augustine’s sporting an unrivalled view from across the breezy Atlantic Ocean; Adisadel with the aura of its long, divine staircases; Wesley Girls and Holy Child shrouded in the woods far beyond itchy minds. Ghana National College and Aggrey Memorial were new, clean and sprightly.
The global village
The bigger world of the 1960s was advancing: the global village concept was subtle but coming, and quite near our school step. New possibilities grew. Our senior prefect (nicknamed “Tu quo que” who was to become H.E. Dr Richard Turkson, an Ambassador to Canada) had just returned from the United States, sponsored by a student exchange programme.
One Saturday night in the Assembly Hall, he shared with us the student leadership activities, the lively college life and the inspiring prospects there. We listened with an anxiety that was only the shadow of our high hopes.
The outside world moved: wider prospects sprouted. In the U.S., Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard had taken the guitar and keyboard to the centre stage in pop culture. When Fats Domino did Blueberry hill and Bobby Darin Somewhere beyond the sea, we were there with them in spirit. In Europe, The Beatles (Please, please me), Rolling Stones (You can’t always get what you want) and Cliff Richard (Summer holiday) were reminders of loftier options.
In the antitheses, the bloody U.S. civil rights movement was in heat: Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers refuted the Ku Klux Klan and racism, and demanded for Blacks’ equal protection under the law. President John Kennedy and his younger brother, Robert, were grappling uncertainly (before their assassinations) with these trying times, and wishing to unseat, in bold strokes, the three titans: FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover; Teamster’s boss Jimmy Hoffa; and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
In a nutshell, those were the flavours of the times and the Cape Coast we knew.