A great apostle for quality education in Ghana was none other than Mrs Efua T. Sutherland. And who’d do a better reflection of the great playwright than Mrs Florence Laast, founder of St Martin de Porres at Dansoman in Accra?
Mrs Laast noted that the playwright “had known me from my childhood. She was my teacher in the primary school and then again in the training college. Her life had so profoundly impacted on the direction of my life that she was my foster mother through these years."
Leadership though education
She continued: “Auntie Efua drew me to herself, in person and in spirit. She was not aware of it, but I am. I became part of her like a lover. I like the confidence she built in me, encouraging me to take the challenge every now and then. My admiration of her was so great she became my role model. She aroused my interest in the study of child psychology.”
Mrs Sutherland was one of the greatest thinkers of our time. She devoted herself to the study of the child, and with great energy and purpose directed the child to find fulfilment in life.
Responsible family life in the development of human character was important to her. She believed that letting the child know of his or her roots and appreciate his or her indigenous and traditional ways of life was of crucial importance in raising high achieving individuals. Auntie Efua maintained that “the home is our first classroom, and our parents the first teachers.”
In her reflection, Mrs Laast noted that Mrs Sutherland cared deeply about the future of Ghana and showed concern about certain societal conditions that must change to secure our future. It was her belief that the strength and vitality of Ghana rested upon the leadership qualities, and the will and the character of the people. Therefore, strong, positive, effective and intelligent leadership through quality of education in this country was needed to promote the quality of life of our people.
St Martin de Porres
Mrs Sutherland had many admirers in this country and may well be considered as the most outstanding playwright of Ghana. She had a wonderful gift of the narrative, which supported her approach to teaching.
In giving a testimony, Mrs Laast noted her experiences in connection with one of her legacies to Ghana: the “Children's Drama Development Programme”.
She said: “Under the instrumentality of Auntie Efua, St Martin de Porres School was used as a centre for a children's art and drama workshop for the residents of Dansoman by the students of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.
Children from all walks of life - that is both in school and out of school - participated in the programme twice a week from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The programme covered story-telling and other traditional performing arts, drama, and art.”
The children's interest was raised and their appetite for learning and doing things for themselves was whetted to the point that when it was time for closing, they groaned in disappointment.
She noted that “this craving for more was partially satisfied when a three-day camping and seminar were organised for them during the school holidays in August 1980, featuring playwrights and the children's drama workshop. While their cravings were satisfied, they also learnt to share and accept other children's views. For some of them that camping experience remains unique up to this day because they had had no such exposure before nor after. They enjoyed doing things for themselves and others and had fun together while they let themselves go.”
The children were encouraged to express themselves through art and dramatisation, and through that they built their vocabulary.
She said: “I realise now that this system helps the child to listen or watch attentively and is able to record faithfully what they had heard or seen. The emotional content of such drawings is enormous because of the satisfaction the child gets from being able to express themselves naturally and much more so when such expression wins the admiration of others.”
Mrs Laast was to become a member of the Ghana Commission on Children, one of Auntie Efua's creations of which she was the chairperson. This took Mrs Laast to a village where many school drop-outs were organised and persuaded to return to the classroom through activities very similar to the programme at St Martin de Porres. A school and library were built for them and were sufficiently equipped.
She said: “I was among a few others who visited them quarterly to help with the teaching and to encourage them. I was given the assignment of preparing a reader for beginners for children along the coast, using their local experiences. This was to serve them as their prime reader to help achieve the desired result. That was a high-point in working with the Ghana Commission on children.”