Time to rethink Augusco’s science education agenda

As I watched a distance learning science program on television recently, I was reminded of my exploits as a science student at St. Augustine’s College in the mid to late seventies. Back then there was no counseling and no mentoring; at least no such service was extended to my generation.

A little background will perhaps help to put things in perspective; in the seventies, eighties and I believe part of the nineties, all Augusco form three students were required to sit a compulsory mathematics exam nicknamed, “special maths”. It was the outcome of this ‘dreaded’ exam that determined whether or not one could opt for science at the G.C.E. O-levels. These days, there is a drift toward the arts and business related subjects at the high school and tertiary level.

For reasons that I will shortly highlight, it was fashionable to be seen as a science student back in the day. Mind you, some of the positions held at the time are as frivolous as they come. Of course if you go beyond that layer of lame reasoning, there were more compelling and rational reasons for opting to pursue a science based education.

First of all the manner in which the ‘special maths’ exam was designed and presented suggested that once you made it to the science class you were a ‘good’ student. There were two science classes, science 1 and science 2, made up of about thirty-five (35) students in each class. I made it to science 1.

As a budding scientist preparing for the O-levels at Augusco in the seventies, parading around the campus with books such as ‘Abbot (Ordinary level physics by A.F. Abbot) and Lambert (Chemistry to ordinary level by John Lambert)’ generated a good feeling. The sweet lower science students on their part went around with Backhouse II (Pure mathematics by J.K. Backhouse), Nelkon & Parker (Advanced level Physics by Philip Parker & Michael Nelkon) and Bajah (Advanced Chemistry), among other popular books.

The books paraded by the sixth formers were bigger, looked more intimidating and not surprisingly elicited more awe and respect from the general student population. This was justifiable, for after all they had proved themselves prospective scientists, by clearing the very first academic hurdle – O-level science.

The arts and business students responded to this real or perceived intimidation generated by the big science books by producing equally big books on geography, history, economics and government, but in the jaundiced eyes of the students these were seen as less intimidating.

Apart from a few classmates such as Peter Zwennes and Stephen Ofori, who somehow either through intuition or counseling  of some sort decided not to opt for science even though they cleared the ‘special maths’ exam with relative ease, scores of us fell for the bait. We were swayed by the awe shown science students and therefore did all we could to get into a science class.

Let me confess that the thought of introducing oneself or being introduced to the ladies at Holy Child, Wesley Girls, Aggrey Memorial or National as a budding scientist sounded very enticing. If truth be told science was not meant for some of us, and here is where counseling and mentoring at an early stage would have helped. Some of my classmates who begun the science journey with me, but today are in the arts and business arena and doing great, are Kobby Asmah, the distinguished political editor of the Daily Graphic and Kodzo Chapman, a brilliant journalist and social development worker. Incidentally all three of us enrolled at the same time at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and completed some 24 years ago.

Science masters such as Mr. Jerry Koomson (physics), Brother Frederick (mathematics), Brother Williams, Bart Addison (Chemistry), Ugo Nacciarone (chemistry) and Mr. Tuyeh (Organic Chemistry) come to mind for the great job they did to nurture top science students such as Professor George Armah, Dr. Francis Offei, Alex and Leo Bray, Peter Kwabena Aidoo and Charles Appeadu among many others.

The purpose of this long introduction is to emphasize the need for proper counseling and mentoring as Augusco embarks on its renewed science education drive which is reflected in this year’s speech and prize giving day theme, “Information Technology and Science Education Vital Tools for Sustainable National Development in the 21st Century”. The date for the 81st speech day is March 18, 2011, and will be hosted by the Augusco class of 1986 (APSU ’86).

A very pertinent question posed by F. G. Yale of the University of Arizona in Tempe, USA, is “Why are high school students avoiding the physical sciences?” In answering this, Yale notes that, the current critical problem of challenging more capable students to continue their study of science by enrolling in high school chemistry and physics courses needs both recognition and immediate action.

Never before in the history of mankind has a society been dependent upon scientific knowledge as is ours. Not only are more highly specialized scientists required to keep pace with and to advance our present frontiers of science by a more scientifically enlightened general citizenry but is made even more increasingly significant by our current and to be expected scientific and technological advances.

Our high schools occupy a unique and often crucial period in the educational experiences of our young people, relative to both aspects of the whole problem. First it serves as a time for making career decisions and as a place for laying a firm foundation for the advancement toward these goals. Second it serves as a terminal point in the formal education of a large segment of our society.

When asked the reason for students avoidance of high school physical sciences the immediate and nearly unanimous reply was students either could not handle mathematics or they are afraid of it. A deficiency in mathematics would, on first consideration, appear to be quite a real and serious handicap for students beginning a study of chemistry and physics. A more careful evaluation of this deficiency, however, might reveal it to be much less serious, particularly in chemistry. This is not to justify or dismiss a deficiency in mathematics, but rather to minimize it somewhat as a justification for excluding a student from a first course in high school chemistry or physics

This observation and conclusion drawn by Yates in my considered view applies in Ghana and needs to be addressed immediately. With hind sight what really needs to be done is to introduce strategic counseling and mentoring, and beyond that adopt an educational approach underscored by practical science application. The students should be given the opportunity to undertake a lot of practical training.

Over the last two years I have had the privilege of talking to a number of distinguished science based professionals who once graced the campus of great Augusco. Notable among them are Professor Herbert Winful, Maurice Brunner, Charles Appeadu, Dr. Alex Kwakye, Albert Paintsil and Austin Okere among others, and can confirm they have all agreed in principle to give professional support to Augusco by way of counseling and mentoring if and when called upon.

Others contacted are Ato Kwamena Aidoo a distinguished petroleum engineer, Tony Osei a medical doctor now into real estate and Austin Okere, a computer wizard based in Nigeria.

Herbert Winful is today an award winning professor at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, in Ann Abbor, USA, where his main areas of interest are in: Nonlinear optics, semiconductor laser physics, nonlinear dynamics for coupled lasers, nonlinear fiber optics, and integrated optics.

Dr. Maurice Brunner is currently at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering, where he is a Professor of Structural Analysis. He’s with the research unit “Timber and Composite Construction” which develops and optimises timber and composite constructions and all those constructions where wood is used in combination with other building materials.

Charles E. Appeadu, Ph.D., CFA, FRM, works for CFA Institute in Charlottesville as Director, Sample Exam Development. Prior to joining CFA Institute, Dr. Appeadu worked as Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Georgia State University, Atlanta, where he taught undergraduate and graduate level Investments courses and founded a student managed investment fund. He had also held the position of Portfolio Manager at Parametric Portfolio Associates in Seattle. He volunteered for CFA Institute as a grader for seven years and also served as a Standard Setter.

St Augustine’s College was founded in 1930 initially to train teachers. It is now a senior secondary school. There are about 1500 boys, aged between 12 and 19 years. It has 60 full-time and 6 part-time teachers along with about 80 non-teaching staff. Mr. Joseph Connel the headmaster and his two assistants have direct oversight of the school’s administration.

Augusco has 10 Houses providing room and board, typically named after Catholic Saints with the exception of Kelly & Glynn’s Houses named after two of the Colleges founding and Prominent Catholic Monks. These are St. Peter’s House, Glynn House, St. Stephens House, Hon. St. Patrick’s House, St. Theresa’s House, St. George’s House, St. Luke’s House, Kelly House, St. John’s House and St. Joseph’s.

The College Flag is hoisted with a combination of two colours – green on top and white below. Green depicts the catholic identity of the College and white its readiness to coexist with all other institutions of learning that share a common vision and mission.

The motto of the College is rendered in Latin as “Omnia Vincit Labor,” which translated in English is: “Perseverance conquers all.” The College Coat of Arms consists of a shield emblazoned with a white cross on a green field. Superimposed on the white cross is a lighted torch, flanked by a laurel of yellow olive branches.

By Peter S.M. Agbeko

  1. Eric Okotah says

    Your article is a master piece and if we can all give it a thought and work towards implementing it ,this will greatly help. Counselling and guiding students in career choices will grealy help them advance in life for the benefit of society.
    That is a master piece
    WEE, US

  2. Guy Mmoasem says

    Quite an interesting piece and lacks specifics in terms of goal for Science education ;it does not need all verbose stuff of “Who is Who” among St.Augustine’s almnui and reference to Cape Coast area schools. Why did Mr.Agbeko left out Adisadel,Mfantsipim and Ola Girls/Teaching College? Mr. Agbeko failed to state what these accomplished alumni can contribute by partnership projects and donation of intellectual property to elevate Ghana. I am sure some of the listed have priorities in academia and do not even have time for this project author intimates here. The Principal at St.Augustine’s
    College has not even acknowledged the support for this initiative.
    Mr.Ageko may mean well but the over-riding demands in Ghana
    particularly with Science education is science education teaching resource materials and money to retain qualified teaching staff.
    Meanwhile, good luck.

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