Some traditional leaders and Prof. Elsie Effah Kaufmann at the GIMPA lecture
Some traditional leaders and Prof. Elsie Effah Kaufmann at the GIMPA lecture

Reflecting on the importance of Ghanaian languages - Effective education for traditional leadership

It was an honour to have been invited by the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF) ― under the esteemed patronage of Asantehene, Nana Otumfuo Osei Tutu II ― to speak on the subject of “Effective Education for Traditional Leadership”. 

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Hosted at the GIMPA Great Hall, Accra, on September 21, 2023, the lecture was attended by many traditional leaders.

Before the lecture, I reflected deeply on my grandmother’s advice ― in the mid-1950s ― while preparing me for my very first day of school.

 We lived at Tutuka, in the Adansi area of Obuasi.

My new school was a walking distance at Kwabrafoso.

Mother tongue

My grandma gave me a piece of advice which has lived with me to this day.

She said in Fanti: “S3 3ko skull na 3ka Fantsi a, ka ma ne ho ntsiw, na obiara nhu d3 efi fie.”

(To wit: Whenever there’s the occasion in school to speak Fanti, speak it with such clarity and grace that everyone will know you come from a good home).

I’ve often noted in my writings that, cognitively speaking, a key aspect of the emotional environment to secure children’s confidence centres on the mother tongue or the language of the community.

In class one, we first learned to explore reading and writing through Twi, a language we spoke well in the area.

Wendy Tettehki Sacki

Wendy Tettehki Sacki

We began with the Akan primer, “Fie Ne Skuul”.

By upper primary, not only could we write in Twi, but we could also read the “Nkwantabisa” newspaper.

It's so clear today that Ghana must be poised to support literacy campaigns in the indigenous languages through what the Ghana Education Service (GES) calls the National Literacy Acceleration Program (NALAP).

To his profound credit, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah initiated the Bureau of Ghanaian Languages after Ghana’s independence in 1957.

Curators of cultural knowledge

I noted in the lecture that education for traditional leaders should provide a deep understanding of the history, customs and traditions of their specific communities.

This will enable them to serve as custodians of local languages and cultural practices while ensuring their preservation and transmission to future generations.

Additionally, traditional leaders often serve as intermediaries between their communities and the government.

Therefore, they should know governance structures, administrative procedures and legal frameworks.

This will enable them to effectively handle community-level disputes, conflicts and development issues while working with local authorities and other stakeholders.

On Facebook, a video of the meeting with traditional leaders caught the attention of one Wendy Tettehki Sacki, all the way in Istanbul, Turkey, where she teaches EFL (English as a Foreign Language).

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Born, raised and educated in Ghana, she’s a proud alumna of the University of Ghana, having graduated in 2015 with a double major in Philosophy & Classics and Sociology.

As an educator, she loves sharing her work, life lessons and creative journey.

Her goal is to inspire, educate and connect with Ghana from wherever she finds herself in professional life.

Quite interested in the subject of reviving Ghanaian languages in education through local literature, she forwarded her thoughts and experiences for this column as follows:

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Wendy Tettehki Sacki

This is impressive work.

We must bring these ideas to life.

A key point raised is that most Ghanaian languages are primarily spoken and rarely written or used in literature.

A promising idea to explore is having books by Ghanaian writers and playwrights translated into local languages for schools.

During my school years in Ghana, I learned Fanti as part of the national curriculum.

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Even though I attended an international school, I still took the Basic Education Certificate Exam (BECE), which included Ghanaian language subjects, in my case, Fanti.

In primary school, we didn't just learn to speak Fanti; we also wrote essays and delved into the fundamental phonics and literary aspects of the language.

My Ghanaian language teacher, the late Mr Mensah, was a stern but wise man in his late 60s.

He not only imparted his knowledge but also encouraged us to read and write in Fanti.

I have fond memories of him making us transcribe Ghanaian proverbs in Fanti as an extracurricular activity.

The challenge is that Ghanaian languages are only taught in elementary and middle schools.

Even today, many international schools in Ghana ― offering British, Canadian and American curriculums ― have stopped teaching Ghanaian languages.

Parents strive to provide their children with an education geared toward other developed nations in the hope of a better future abroad.

The issue is that the knowledge of Ghanaian languages acquired in primary school fades as we grow older.

After all, these languages aren't taught in secondary schools or universities, unless one chooses to pursue them as a degree, which is rare because young people often don't see a promising future in it.

I read Ama Ata Aidoo's works like Anowa, Dilemma of a Ghost, and The Girl Who Can as course materials in primary and middle school.

They are excellent literary works, but they are written and read in English, despite being stories rooted in Ghanaian culture and storytelling.

My suggestion is ― from both an academic and cultural perspective ― to consider translating these exceptional books by Ghanaian writers into local languages and promoting them for use in schools.

Since these stories are already deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture and context, it would make reading them more engaging and help further promote our culture.

The writer is a trainer of teachers, leadership coach, motivational speaker and quality education advocate.

E-mail: [email protected] 

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