Opinion: Our Schools Need to Teach Oral English – Part 1 By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

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President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo/Photo: Presidency

At the 12th-Annual Graduation Ceremony of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), recently, President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo underscored the imperative need for all Ghanaian media operatives to bring a keen sense of professionalism and integrity to their work, if the good image and the reputation of the country within the global community are to be maintained and healthily improved. The architect of the Repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, an instrument of media repression and tyranny inherited from the British colonial era, which was used with inimitable flair and gusto by the Rawlings-led junta of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), through most of the 1980s, and later the National Democratic Congress (NDC), under the tenure President Jerry John Rawlings, like former President John Agyekum-Kufuor before him, may be aptly seen to have become a victim of his own liberal media success.

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The latter problem, as equally prevailed under the tenure of the Kufuor Administration, has been further complicated by the chronic and perennial functional lethargy and anemia of the New Patriotic Party’s Communications Directorate, so-called. However, unlike Mr. Franklin Cudjoe of the Accra-based IMANI-Africa think-tank, I tend to believe that the problem with the New Patriotic Party’s Communications Directorate, across all sectors of the party and the government, to be certain, is far more systemic and technical than it is a simple or mere question of personalities or gross professional incompetence on the part of any individual operative per se. I have had a split-second’s discussion with the man in charge of the same at the Presidency, to wit, Mr. Eugene Arhin, and only about a week ago followed it up with a text message to this effect. And the man has humbly and graciously indicated to me that he fully appreciates the fact that there is a critical problem in this sector that needs to be promptly resolved. Hopefully, it shall not be long before matters are set aright or symphonically streamlined.

Overall, the one significant problem that I found with the country’s media culture is that of professional complacency and an abject lack of respect for good communication skills. The problem may clearly have to do with our effectively broken-down public-school system. I am talking in terms of curricular content and innovation. But even here, I am inclined to suspect that some of these problems have been with us, to varying degrees, right from the beginning. For example, in the whole of my 1981 graduating class at St. Peter’s Secondary School, Okwawu-Nkwatia, easily one of the 10-best junior academies of the time, I was the only student who had registered and sat for the Oral English Examinations in a class of approximately 140 students, divided across three academic and professional specialties, namely, the Liberal Arts, Business and the Sciences. I was the only Oral English Student in my entire class because the Ghana Education Service (GES) had not mandated the study of Oral English, which was not even a credit-bearing course. In sum, Oral English did not count for a dime or a pesewa, as it were. Thirty-seven years later, the deleterious impact of not giving Spoken English its well-deserved attention is being felt all over the land.

In my case, what was at once even more confounding and daunting was the fact that I had to collect textbooks on the subject of Oral English from the main school library, and there were quite a few, to be certain, to teach myself Oral English. I had absolutely no help from any teacher at the school. I mention the main school library because PERSCO, as St. Peter’s was popularly known, had on other much smaller libraries on the same block, namely, the Sixth-Form Arts Library and the Sixth-Form Science Library. The latter two libraries were more like small reading rooms than your standard library. The Headmaster, German-born Father Josef Glatzel, took his job of educating us, Ghanaian students with the same religious fervor as his Jesuit (SVD) Order. He regarded sixth-formers, especially those with specialties in the sciences, as the cream of the next generation of Ghanaian leaders. Today, I can readily count at least three or four “Perscovites” or PERSCOBAS who are in very prominent positions in Ghanaian society. There is, for example, Dr. Nsiah Asare, who is Ghana’s Director-General of Medical Services; Prof. Ebenezer Owusu, who is the Vice-Chancellor of the country’s flagship academy, the University of Ghana; Justice Anthony Yeboah, who was recently promoted to the Appeals Court by President Akufo-Addo; and Prof. Kenneth Attafuah, who is Executive-Director of the National Identification Authority (NIA). Anyway, to prepare for my Oral English Examinations, I also made a studious habit of listening to the BBC’s World Service news broadcasts, to learn how to correctly pronounce English words.

On the day of the exam itself, I had to travel four miles to the Mpraeso Secondary School (MPASS), where the Oral English was mandatory, if I remember accurately. And as it was all to be expected, I did not do any particularly well in the exam. I think I received Grade 6 or 7 (Grade 7 looks more like it) – I am crying uncontrollably as I vividly recall this chain of events. My late mother used to say that “If you do not remember to cry, you may remember any particular event to heartily laugh over it.” There were, of course, several reasons for such a massive failure, not the least bit of which was the fact that I had taught myself Oral English at such a tender age with absolutely no help, whatsoever, from any adult teacher or educator. Then, there were also too many students in the room where we had to listen to some tape-recorded voices and answer some questions in an exam booklet. There might have been at least 100 test takers in this large convertible room. I suspect some of the test takers came from other schools in the Okwawu District, as Mpraeso Secondary School was the sole Oral English Examination Center in the whole of the Okwawu District. I was also not close enough to the tape-recorded British-English conversation that we were asked to listen to and answer the questions in the exam booklet. So, you can perfectly understand why this student from rural Akyem-Asiakwa did not do as well as he had imagined himself to be capable of.

I could not answer most of the questions in the exam booklet, more so when the kind of Spoken English on the tape-recorder was very different from the one used to instruct us in the classroom, as well as the kind of Spoken English that we were used to hearing from the daily radio news broadcasts from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com  Ghanaffairs

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