It’s been a week since the fate of two freshly admitted students of the Achimota School started hanging in the balance following their quest to acquire pre-tertiary education at the institution.
The duo – Tyrone Iras Marhguy and Oheneba Kwaku Nkrabea were placed at the school through the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) having satisfied the entry requirement by creditably passing their Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).
In spite of their exceptional academic performance, they cannot enrol into the estimable Achimota School due to their dreadlocked hair which they attribute to their Rastafari religion.
This is because authorities of Achimota School are demanding the two students trim their locked hair before their admission status can formally be guaranteed.
Parents of the affected students who are incensed by the development say they will have none of that.
They decided to court support and seek justice for their wards by posting their plight on social media and this is what has been keeping a lot of Ghanaians and the media talking within the last few weeks.
The students at the centre of the controversies have also been emphatically loud and clear saying they will rather lose their place in the school than succumb to pressure to have their hair cut.
Even before a particle of dust settles on this very issue, the triplet sisters of Tyrone Marhguy are facing a similar situation at St. John’s Grammar School also because of their dreadlocks days after officially reporting to the school.
GES steps in; makes a u-turn
A few days after the tension began mounting, the Ghana Education Service (GES) in what seemed to have been an end to the controversy, directed the management of the Achimota School to accept these students due to the public outcry.
But this sigh of relief was short-lived.
Exactly, 48 hours after the initial directive, the GES backtracked its decision – blocking the students’ chances of being admitted into the school.
When parents of the students visited the GES office for an official communiqué on the directive, it shockingly emerged the GES authorities have had a change of mind.
This left the parents in a fuming state as the turn of events became overly frustrating.
The fallout of a consultative meeting held between parents of the two boys and GES officials was that the management of Achimota School rejected the order to allow the students in the school with their dreadlocked hair.
Achimota PTA, Old students’ position
The least to be expected on the matter was the take of the Old Achimotans Association.
Past students of Achimota School through their President, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey earlier criticized the decision by GES to allow the students in describing it as one that undermined the authority of the school’s governing board.
Be as it may, the alumni interestingly said the move was a breach in the formal arrangement of the school’s effective and efficient governance and regulatory structure.
They thus called for its immediate reversal but it just did not even end right there.
The Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of Achimota School fully backed the decision of the school’s management not to admit the students with their hairstyle.
Chairman of the PTA, Dr. Andre Kwasi-Kumah, said the school’s rule insists all students keep their hair low, simple and natural.
He stated clearly, this cannot be compromised because allowing students to come into the school with their own choice of hair look will breed indiscipline.
Teacher unions hit hard
Two main teacher groups strongly waded into the raging debate.
First was the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) which bared teeth at the GES for initially granting permission for the students to be enrolled.
President of NAGRAT, Angel Carbonu earlier said it was utterly disappointing for the GES to give an exception to the dreadlocked students because it was tantamount to setting a very bad precedent.
He was of the view that chaos loomed in schools if students are not allowed to sacrifice “some aspect of their religious inclination.”
For Mr. Carbonu, the school environment will be unsafe for teaching and learning activities if all students are allowed to freely and fully practice all their beliefs and thus underscored the need for the two students to have their hairstyle changed.
In the heat of the moment, he suggested that Rastafarians, who want to keep their dreadlocks in second-cycle institutions should as a matter of necessity, go ahead and establish their own institutions of learning.
The NAGRAT president said, the union was appalled by the ongoing discourse and disclosed that it will file a joinder to any suit that may be filed against Achimota School over its refusal to admit the Rastafarian students.
Also, leadership of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) added its voice and said Achimota School has every right to deny the students admission into the school if they are unwilling to abide by the school’s norms.
Parents threaten to sue
At this crucial stage, the parents said they had no other option left than to head to the Supreme Court for legal redress.
Raswad Menkrabea, father of one of the boys was not enthused about the school’s insistence in turning away the students.
He was of the view the school’s decision is a contravention of the constitution.
“We are making alternatives for another school if it is going to be a long-drawn-out issue while we fight it in court. Once the school goes against the constitution I will never accept it. “I told them that, I will go to court because there is no law in this land if the school’s rules are above the constitution so let us see what the court has to say [on this]” he said.
However, Citi News is independently yet to learn of any official writ filed at the court on the matter.
The only available information is that lawyer for the two affected students, Wayoe Ghanamannti has written to Achimota school asking the educational institution to state reasons for denying his clients admission into the school.
As the development continues to unfold, opinions are split on whether Achimota School’s decision is justified or not.
While many play the fundamental human rights and conformity to rules and regulations card, there are those who have gone a thought further to even say the school’s uncompromising posturing questions the ideals and principles of the school’s founders relating to inclusiveness and equality for all.
For instance, a group called the Coalition for Ghana’s Independence Now says, the conduct of the school, besides being racist, plays into the interest of colonialists who wish to mentally enslave citizens.
Even the Rastafari Council has used the development to lament the discrimination its members face in the country.
In addition, two former heads of GES, Michael Nsowah and Charles Aheto-Tsegah are divided over the saga.
Mr. Michael Nsowah maintained that every Senior High School has its distinct culture, which should not be tampered with.
He makes the point that although the hairstyles of the students may not necessarily affect their studies, there is a need for uniformity in the various schools.
His counterpart, Charles Aheto-Tsegah however holds a different view.
Mr. Aheto-Tsegah argues that as far as the said students have their hairs well-groomed, the matter should not be up for discussion.
In Parliament, some Members of Parliament (MP) including the representative for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa have called on management of Achimota School to immediately admit the two students in their supreme welfare.
He maintained that accepting the students at their current ages “cannot be inimical in any educational system”.
Former Deputy Minister for Interior James Agalga, Mr. Sam Nartey George, MP for Ningo Prampram and Dr. Abdul Rashid Pelpuo, MP for Wa Central have all asked for the students to be admitted,
However, there are a number of other legislators who disagree.
One of such is First Deputy Speaker and MP for Bekwai, Joseph Osei Owusu who believes obeying school rules and regulations does not amount to denying education rights.
He cautioned against attempts to rope in Rastafarianism as a religion; and was of the position that issues relating to the admission of the students were an individual affair, for which the nation must not waste time.
CSOs call for reforms
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as Child Rights International have played their part wanting the students to be allowed entry into the school with consideration to their fundamental rights to education.
Aside from that, the educational think tank has called for a standardized set of regulations for second cycle institutions following the controversy.
Africa Education Watch also makes a similar argument.
The group believes the controversy is “a wakeup call for the GES to consider using a participatory approach to develop a standardized code of conduct for all its senior high schools with minimal exemptions if necessary.”
This it says will make it “much easier to coordinate the implementation of the various rules of conduct in their schools.”
On his part, an educationist, Annis Hafar, acknowledged the difficulty of catering to different backgrounds.
“It will be almost impossible to satisfy [people] under every circumstance. We can’t expect a school to be everything to everybody,” he said.
But Mr. Hafar admitted that he was conservative when it comes to the education of young people.
Ministry’s guidelines as way forward
In the meantime, Education Minister, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum has called for cool heads to prevail.
He assures of the Ministry’s commitment to finding an amicable solution to the ruckus given the arguments raised for and against the happenings.
The Minister has announced that GES will within the shortest possible time lay out specific guidelines for heads of schools are to handle such matters.
On the floor of Parliament, he said: “Mr Speaker, I can tell you, meetings have been held, others are ongoing, which the Ministry of Education is facilitating, to make sure that our students operate in an environment that they give off their best.”
Until these guides are developed and implemented, the issues linger and the debate also rages on.
Besides, it is immediately not known if authorities of Achimota School will budge for truce or what steps are to be taken next by the two students and their parents to have their grievances resolved.