Last week was an interesting, tiring and yet very fulfilling one for me. Monday marked exactly 18,250 days since I arrived on the surface of this earth and let out a piercing cry to announce my grand entry.
I will leave you to work that out in years on the assumption that your basic mathematical skills are intact. Despite this being a landmark event which should have called for champagne and a grand party at the Black Star Square, it was not to be as I had lost a very close friend of mine, Antonio Quarshie-Awusa, only two weeks earlier, and whose funeral was yet to be held. I simply lost appetite for a grand affair.
And so it turned out to be a quiet affair, starting with an early morning mass at the Christ the King Church, followed by an intimate breakfast with family and a few close friends. The rest of the day was spent reflecting quietly on life so far, and basking in the warm wishes from friends, family and even a few enemies.
The next day, however, I was thrust into the deep end of the pool of office life when I got to work and my bosses asked me to take a stroll to the Black Star Square and literally camp there for the rest of the week. You see, the Ghana Education Service(GES) has set up a centre there to deal with parents’ concerns and challenges over placement and admission to senior high schools (SHSs) in the country, and I was asked to go and help with the coordinating process.
Walking across the square towards the arch, where the offices had been set up upstairs, I saw a sea of humanity spread out in the stands that almost threatened to spill out into the sea behind them. Others milled about in the square, where all manner of entrepreneurial vendors had set up stalls to assuage people’s thirst or hunger. I don’t know whether any pick-pockets had also infiltrated the crowd. Well, I did not hear anyone wailing that their handbag, purse, wallet or mobile phone had vanished into thin air, so maybe the thieves spared the square.
Almost everyone insisted they had a unique situation that demanded urgent attention and an immediate solution. Everyone wanted to thrust their sheet of paper in any official’s face to make their point. Worry and bewilderment seemed etched on their faces, and they had travelled from far and near.
But a common thread held their worries and concerns and complaints together, which was that they passionately wanted their children to get secondary education, for which reason they had left their jobs and trekked there. What I found remarkable was the fact that many of the children whose parents trooped the square were not from the top private junior high schools with top scores. Those were already heading for the top SHSs and seemed to have no issues so they had no business being there. Many of the parents at the square were ordinary folks whose children had not been successful in any of their five choices. And yet, they were determined that their children must go to school.
Of course, with free SHS in place, the number of students seeking to take advantage of it, particularly those of disadvantaged backgrounds, had gone up substantially, which had necessitated the double-track system. And so queries about the issue of tracks came up for clarification at the centre.
If there was one thing that I found a bit worrying, it was that in the choice of schools, some parents had outsourced the process to other adults. That in itself was not too much of a surprise because many of such parents had not received formal education and, therefore, had reasonably relied on others to make better choices. In the process, schools had been chosen on a day-student basis that were miles away from the child’s abode. Naturally, when the children eventually got placed there, they had concerns and came to seek transfers, which we were happy to do, placing the child at a school close by the family but as a day student. I think that going forward, there must be intensification in public education regarding school choices and how important the process is.
Occasionally, as with typical Ghanaian queues, loud and heated arguments broke out over whether someone had jumped the queue or not. Fortunately, the security personnel were at hand to nip any misbehaviour in the bud. The team worked as hard and as fast as it could. It was a gruelling affair and the crowd never seemed to dwindle.
Loss of confidence in officialdom
I made an important observation. In many cases, we had to take the telephone numbers of the parents so that once their requests had been processed, we would contact them. Many were sceptical about whether or not we would, and would show up promptly the next day to make their requests again. Perhaps they felt that they had to be there ‘fiili fiili’ for their requests to be processed; otherwise they would be fed into the shredder. I do not blame them.
I find that generally, the ordinary Ghanaian citizen in particular has lost confidence in officialdom and their promises and assurances, and this is surely based on many instances where they have been let down and a promised phone call or a letter never came through. I am sure many were genuinely surprised when they received phone calls from the team that their requests had been processed and approved. There clearly is a lot of work to be done to win back public confidence.
By late Friday afternoon, my legs began to feel wobbly, and my muscles ached and throbbed. I had only taken Friday morning off to attend Antonio’s funeral which was an emotionally draining affair. My voice was getting as coarse as sandpaper from repeating myself over and over in speaking to concerned parents. I had bragged on social media on my birthday that 50 was the new 21. By Friday, my 50 was the new 90.
But the silver lining was that the queues had reduced considerably. I trudged home a happy man. It had been a tough week, but helping to calm parents’ nerves and putting a smile on their faces had been so fulfilling and far better than a champagne and canapés party.
And for that reason, I think I can say I had a truly golden birthday week.