60 Years On:(PT 1) Ghana’s Education History-The Colonial Stage

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The inital attempts to introduce formal education in Ghana were made by the many European merchants, especially the Danes, Dutch and English, who started it all with the education of their numerous mullato children, their offspring with native women, in the forts and castles, for employment as administrative assistants or soldiers.
Some historians claim that the Portuguese started one such school at Elmina Castle around 1529 while the Dutch who evicted them from the castle are believed to have opened their own school in 1644, which ran for 200 years. Records indicate that the British began a school in nearby Cape Coast Castle, while the Danish did the same at Christiansborg Castle, Accra.
These schools produced some brilliant native scholars such as Anthony William Amo of Axim, Christian Protten of Accra and Phillip Quacoe of Cape Coast. These men continued their education in Europe, financed by the merchant companies, and served as role models for others upon their return home.
Also inextricably linked with the establishment of formal education in Ghana were the Christian missionaries who realized early that, in order to create an independent native church, they needed to have a staff of well educated local assistants.
In the 18th century, the Directors of the Danish Guinea Company invited “The United Brethren” mission from Moravia, Germany, to the Gold Coast, to teach in the castle schools. Five of these missionaries arrived at Christiansborg in 1768. Unfortunately, the first two batches of eleven men all died within a short period.
However the enthusiasm did not die among the Danish settlers with one of the Governors, Johann von Richelieu, credited with personally teaching the children.

By 1874 when the British Government assumed colonial authority of the Gold Coast colony, significant progress had been made in the educational sector and it was still expanding with the majority of the Basel and Wesleyan Mission schools scattered widely over the interior. Most of the teaching was done in the vernacular languages.
By 1881 there were 139 schools. Of these, one in Cape Coast and two in Accra were under direct government management. The Basel Mission had 47 schools, the Wesleyans 84, the Bremen Mission 4 and the Roman Catholic Church, one. However, it was observed that the system of education adopted by the various missions differed widely, and so in 1882, the Government drew the first plans to guide the development of education. The missions co-operated whole-heartedly with the new policy. The plan called for the establishment of a General Board of Education, and for the formation of local boards to study and report on existing conditions. The Board was also to ascertain that the conditions upon which grants were awarded were fulfilled and to grant certificates to teachers. To improve on the former, an updated ordinance was passed in 1887 which remained in force until 1925.
An Inspector of Schools was appointed, initially responsible for Gambia, Sierra Leone and Lagos till 1890, when the office of a full Director of Education for the Gold Coast was created. At this stage, total enrollment was 5,076, including 1,037 girls. In 1902 Ashanti and the Northern Territories were both annexed to the colony and the country’s favourable economic situation due to increasing revenue from cocoa, helped finance the dramatic improvements in the educational sector. The people themselves were appreciative of the value of education, and they contributed money and labour for its expansion.
In 1918, the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir. Hugh Clifford, publicly deplored the ‘pitifully small sum’ of £38,000 spent on education and proposed as targets:

  • primary education for every African boy and girl,
  • a training college for teachers in every province
  • better salaries for teachers and
  • ultimately, a ‘Royal College’.

In 1920, the Phelps-Stokes Fund of America sent a mission of investigation into African education. One of the members of this mission was the great Ghanaian scholar Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, who at that time was teaching in America. The mission’s report made the British Government realize how great the need for education in the Gold Coast was. In the same year, the Gold Coast Government appointed a local committee to deliberate on the major requirements of education. The committee recommended that three new institutions should be built: a secondary school, a new Government training college for male teachers to replace the existing buildings of the college which had been founded in 1909, and a training college for female teachers.
The issue was taken a step further by Sir Gordon Guggisberg, who had become the new Governor of the Gold Coast in 1919. He demonstrated a keen interest in the educational sector and was convinced that the Gold Coast needed above everything, education of a first-rate quality. Guggisberg set up the ‘1922 Committee’, chaired by the Director of Education, Mr. J.D. Oman, to debate further on education in the Gold Coast. He suggested that the three separate institutions recommended by the 1920 Committee could not be afforded by the Government, and should therefore be combined into one comprehensive institution. The Committee recommended that the site chosen at Achimota, in Accra, should provide general secondary education, teacher training, and technical education for male students.
When it finally opened in 1927, the Prince of Wales College, which later became Achimota College and School, offered general secondary education as well as post secondary technical education and teacher training for both sexes. Its first Principal was Rev. Alek Fraser, a British missionary and a great educationist. Dr. Aggrey was appointed Assistant Vice-Principal. Today the former College is a secondary school and is still a prestigious establishment. The University College of the Gold Coast, which had its roots in Achimota College, and was established as an independent body in 1948, later moved to a separate campus in Legon and is known today as the University of Ghana.
Trade or industrial schools were one of Guggisberg’s deepest interests, four of which he built by the end of 1922, including the Accra Technical School. The Governor valued the “union between parent and teacher” and worked at improving the low pay of teachers and extending the length of teacher training, as a result of which pupil teaching was abolished. One of his most remarkable achievements was to bring the neglected Northern Territories into focus, with the opening of a separate Department of Education for the North and the establishment of a Trade School in Yendi in 1922. This school was later transferred to Tamale. Education policy continued to emphasize technical and agricultural education. From the Prince of Wales College, scholarships were awarded to suitable candidates to pursue further studies in British universities.
The training of teachers was a Government priority and by 1933 there were a total of 449 teacher trainees. In 1937, the White Fathers’ Mission founded a two-year teacher training college at Navrongo. A significant development in the 1930s was the approval of some local languages, namely Twi, Fanti, Ewe and Ga, as examinable subjects for the Cambridge University School Certificate.
After 10 years of lower and upper primary education, the Education Department gave scholarships for brilliant but needy boys and girls at approved secondary schools. Domestic science including cookery, laundry, child welfare and needlework was taught to girls, while courses in commercial subjects such as shorthand, bookeeping and typewriting were introduced at Mfantsipim school in Cape Coast and soon gained ground in other schools.
Recognizing the impossibility of instituting free and compulsory education, the government absorbed the cost of tuition and subsidized the rest, but encouraged the payment of token school fees which enhanced the respect with which education was regarded. In the Northern Territories where the schools were almost entirely boarding institutions, payment of fees could be made in kind, for instance with livestock and foodstuffs.
The Second World War (1939-45) affected education as the European inspectors, principals and teachers were mobilized for military service. Consequently, the first African Deputy Director of Education, Mr. V.A. Tettey, was appointed. The total number of primary and secondary schools reached 3,000 in 1950 with an enrollment of 280,960 boys and girls. The number of people in school constituted 6.6% of the population of 4.2 million.
Other than Governor Gordon Guggisberg, there were several others who contributed to the development of education in the colonial era. Some of these ‘education pioneers’ were natives of the Gold Coast. Perhaps the best known of these was the above-mentioned Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey from Anomabo in the Central Region, who is considered to be one of the greatest scholars ever produced by this country. In 1898, Dr. Aggrey went on scholarship to America where he studied and taught for 20 years. He confounded the racists of the time with his string of academic degrees including a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. While teaching at Livingstone College, North Carolina, he was invited to join the afore-mentioned fact finding mission to Africa, to explore the possibilities of educational funding. During this visit he formed a strong friendship with Governor Guggisberg. On his return to the Gold Coast, Dr. Aggrey was appointed Assistant Vice-Principal of the Prince of Wales College. He campaigned vigourously for women’s education at a time when the idea was not popular, and held the belief that to educate a man was to educate an individual, while educating a woman had more far-reaching benefits to family and community. This led to an increase in the number of places offered to girls by the College.
Another native education pioneer was Josiah Spio-Garbrah, the grandfather former Minister for Education, Ekwow Spio-Garbrah. Josiah Spio-Garbrah was educated at the Wesleyan Mission School at Axim and at the Government Boys’ School, Cape Coast. In 1912 he was appointed Principal Teacher of the Government Boys’ School, Cape Coast. Besides his duties as Principal Teacher, Mr. Spio-Garbrah concerned himself mostly with collecting the backward pupils from the senior classes and assisting them with their studies, especially in mathematics, which was his forte. He was the only African to serve on the above-mentioned committee appointed in Accra in 1920 by Governor Guggisberg, to advise the Government on education. In 1922 he was promoted Headmaster and transferred to Accra where he again served on the Education Committee of 1922. While he was the Headmaster of the Accra Government Senior Boys’ School, he was promoted Inspector of Schools, the first native to hold this post. He eventually retired after 35 years of service with the Government.
Although the formal education system established by the British colonial government provided a solid foundation for education in Ghana, it was geared towards producing a small educated elite to run the colonial economy, while the rest of the population had little access to education. In 1952, The Nkrumah government affirmed the place of education as a major instrument of national development and introduced a policy of education for all.


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