I have searched archived documents and held discussions with some surviving retired teachers, Members of Parliament and seasoned academics who experienced the regime of Kwame Nkrumah, such as Prof Ivan Addae Mensah, former politician and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana. The following revelations, gleaned from my interactions with them, are worth articulating to shape our discourse on the conditions of service of the Ghanaian teacher today.
Prior to independence in 1951, up to the end of the First Republic, university teachers were valued as crucial in producing a critical mass of nation builders for Ghana. They were, therefore, among the highest-paid Public Servants in Ghana. The salaries of lecturers in Ghana were similar to those of their counterparts in the UK. For example, a Lecturer was paid £1,040 per annum while a Member of Parliament received £960 per annum.
Senior Lecturers were paid around £1,350 per annum, while Deputy Ministers received £1,200 per annum. However, members of the Professorial ranks were paid more than Ministers, with the former receiving between £1,600 and £2,100 while the latter was paid around £1,450.
Teachers and heads of secondary schools were paid so well that even government appointees took delight in serving as headteachers. For instance, Chapman Nyaho, a Secretary to Cabinet and Ghana’s Ambassador to the US, was willing to accept an appointment as Headmaster of Achimota School. Isaac Chinebuah, a Senior Lecturer at the Linguistics Department of the University of Ghana, also accepted to teach and become head at the Achimota School. Also, Mr EA Haizel, father of the immediate past Registrar of the University of Ghana, who was with the African Studies Department of the University of Ghana, accepted an appointment as head of the Achimota School.
The Nkrumah Government was frugal in using public resources and channelled money to areas, like Teaching, that really require the motivation necessary for building the manpower base of the country. Nkrumah ensured that only civil servants, medical doctors, and judges were allocated government bungalows to cut costs and ensure enough resources to remunerate teachers adequately.
All politicians and ministers bought their own cars, hired and paid for their own accommodation. When Nkrumah later built estates, appointees and politicians who could afford them purchased some for themselves without any loan guarantee by the government.
Apart from cutting costs and saving enough to be able to pay adequate compensation, Nkrumah’s decision not to allocate government bungalows to politicians, particularly Parliamentarians, was premised on his belief that “the homes of the MPs are in their constituencies. They are strangers in Accra and must have only temporal accommodation.” This belief was to compel MPs to go to their homes and visit their constituents frequently to ensure effective representation. Thus, for example, Abavana junction around Accra New Town was named after Mr M.R Abavana, an MP for Navrongo and Minister of Education under Nkrumah, who lived in his own house. Nkrumah himself lived in a rented apartment around Accra New Town until he moved to the Castle around 1959.
Immediately after the overthrow of Nkrumah, successive governments, both military and civilians, resorted to salary increments and improvements in the conditions of service of politicians without doing the same for teachers. In particular, the various military regimes recruited young civilians who had not worked before, fresh from school, to serve in their government. These young appointees were given state bungalows, vehicles and many other incentives and conditions of service because they were young and had nothing. Successive civilian governments have continued this practice to the neglect of the teacher.
It must be reiterated that both the colonial government and Nkrumah valued teachers and paid them more than the politician to guarantee quality production of manpower resources and nation-builders. How teachers fared at the time in terms of status in society is still remembered by those who lived at the time. Their output was also top-notch because they had all the incentives and recognition to enable them to enjoy a decent living.
Regrettably, since the overthrow of Nkrumah, subsequent regimes have had no clue about the value of a motivated teacher towards nation-building. President Akufo-Addo recently made an unfortunate remark that no one goes into teaching and expect to be a millionaire. This is a fundamental misstatement of historical facts. Teachers were well paid and could afford to buy their own luxury vehicles and build their mansions. If today, people who go into teaching cannot hope to become millionaires, na who cause am?
Isn’t it the politician? Politicians who value nation building beyond mere rhetoric, and those who are interested in leaving behind a good legacy after the expiration of their mandate to govern, must, after reading this piece, quickly go back to learn from how the colonial masters and Nkrumah placed value on teachers over politicians. They must also take a cue from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s view that you cannot pay politicians more than those who taught them.
PAV Ansah Street
Suro Nipa House