Mental Blues

“Cudjoe! Cudjoe! Wake up!” I heard the voice from far away. Then I felt my body rising and my feet planted to the ground. Half asleep I was marched to the bathroom. Still groggy I was placed on the toilet seat. I did my thing. Next up the bath. Now that got me wide awake. I blinked as my body was washed down. “Today I don’t have a sore anywhere.” Bath over I was shunted back to the bathroom and mama was waiting for me. Pomade slathered and school shorts worn. My breakfast singlet was on in case I soiled myself.

I hurried back to the hall and waited. Mama finished up and set the table for me. Oats! Bleh. I don’t like oats because if you don’t eat it fast it becomes runny and cold. Daddy was done dressing for work and swiftly he was out of sight. I looked out the window. The sun was just rising.

It never failed to confuse me; in my English textbook little boys and girls woke up when the sun rose and always when the cock crowed. Daddy always woke me up while it was still dark, rarely ever being gentle. I frowned. Mama yelled at me. “Hurry up and finish eating.” I dug in.

A few moments later I was hopping down the stairs out the front door. Joe and co were just around the corner. We quickly walked the way to school. Daniel broke it first. “Cudjoe did you learn the times table?” My expression changed. “Ms. Sowah said today we will do mental.” The others nodded in approval. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s be saying it.” As we turned down the street to the toy store the refrain could be heard. “Two-One-Two! Two-Two-Four! Two-Three-Six!” by the time we reached the store we were on the six times table. After six we stopped because seven was hard. If only we knew what lay in store for us.

We raced across the zebra crossing in front of the school. We greeted the watchman who let us in. His nickname was xylophone because rumours had it he couldn’t spell xylophone. We clambered up the stairs to class three. No one else in the class had come. I fingered the five hundred coin in my pocket. “Let’s go and buy chips eh.” Roland suggested. I shook my head. He always brought thousand to school. He could buy anything he wanted before school started, first break and second break.

Daniel and Joe were already looking through their bags. It was time for races. I fished around my bag. Daniel had found his races car by then. It was a beauty. Blue and silver and with all four tyres still intact. I emptied my bag. Nothing! I sat on my table. Mama must have taken it out. I could only sit and watch as they ran around the classroom with their cars. The girls started coming into the class. Awurakua and her friends. They were loud and could beat you if you got into trouble with them.

Bored I leaned closer as they sat a few chairs away from me. They were saying the times table. And it wasn’t the six times table, it was nine! Nine times table! Amazed I shouted at them. “Ms. Sowah hasn’t taught us that one. Why are you learning it?” Dorcas, a tall girl (tallest in the class actually) looked directly at me. “Be there and be saying Ms. Sowah hasn’t taught us. She will beat you if you can’t say it.” The girls chimed in. There was something unpleasant about the way they sounded.

I looked at my friends busy with their cars. I sat with the girls and listened. A few minutes later the bell rang for assembly. We gathered round the front of the school. Assembly was long. I looked over at the girls standing in front of us. They were smiling. I turned around to look at my friends and the rest of the boys. They were talking about a film one of them had seen earlier.

Assembly ended and we walked back to class. I got to my seat and sat down. I took out my exercise book with the times table at the back. I looked beyond the six times table. I might as well have been watching a Chinese film.

Ms. Sowah walked into the class. She was fair and tall and hardly ever smiled. I didn’t like her. I remember the first time she taught us English. She told us that the baby duck is called a cygnet. I had read a book titled The Ugly Duckling so I knew that a baby duck is called a duckling. She called me to the front of the class and beat me. There was another time during dictation when I had written down all the words while we were reading the passage. While going around during dictation I was not writing. She beat me again. It was like I was always upsetting her. I looked at her and frowned. The class rose and chorused. “Good Morning madam.” We went through the greeting. She took a piece of chalk and wrote the dreaded word on the blackboard. Mental.

A collective hush went across the back of the classroom when the chalk stopped moving. I turned over to look at Ebo in the next row. His ears were wiggling. His shorts were wet from wee weeing on himself and he looked frightened. “Today,” Ms. Sowah announced. “We are starting the times table from six times table.” She picked up her cane from the cupboard. A lump formed in my throat.

We stumbled through the six, seven, eight and nine times table. Ms. Sowah paced up and down the rows. “Row one!” she barked. “Seven times table.” I was in row three. I pulled my exercise book out again. She caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and quickly walked up to me. “Cudjoe!” she was smiling. I rose and looked her in the eye. “Say the nine times table.” There was an ugly look in her eyes. I looked up at the cane hovering over my head and gulped.

I began. “Nine- One…”



Image courtesy Getty Images


The Educated Illiterate: A Cycle of Mediocrity

Mapping the educational DNA of a sample of the future Ghanaian citizen is an arduous task.
When finally a double helix strand was extricated I beheld a curious phenomenon,
A largely malformed genome sequence wearing a mask,
Of otherwise healthy proteins.
In the educational genome was a horror
The likes of which would petrify any concerned Ghanaian social scientist
The genes responsible for language were mutated
Corrosive sentence construction and alien spelling were its outstanding features,
In that of spatial and algebraic analysis a series of cognitive genes were simply absent.
This same awfulness surged through the entire strand I was examining,
Dismayed I sat back and refused to continue.
For my greatly weakened heart could burst and cause me great trouble.
A lifestyle of mediocrity had seeped into the genetic coding of future generations
If Darwinian evolution theory is correct a large chunk of the population of Ghana would be wiped out.
If managing to steer the incorrectly assembled ship to shore is the biggest feat we the crew can boast of,
Then the fate of the cultural species of the Dark Continent hangs in the balance.
Dark times lie ahead for Ghana and indeed Africa if this genome is not reconstructed.

© Sena Kodjokuma, 2014 “

At the time of writing this post I am distraught at what I have just witnessed this week. I was marking the scripts of visual arts students on an exercise I had given them. As a fresh graduate doing my service to Ghana in the educational field this was a big cause for alarm. Basic sentence construction and spelling mistakes were rife. From the generation which is a few years away from taking over the helm of affairs in my country I could only foresee gloom and dark times ahead.
A negative culture of mediocrity has permeated the Ghanaian educational system and I do not blame the children. They have learnt this at the basic level knowing absolutely nothing else. I am not proud to say the average educate Ghanaian of my generation does not enjoy creative reading. Corruptive influences of shorthand writing and the Pidgin English spoken by both literate and illiterate Ghanaians is a massive influence. On the side of the coin there are bright students whose passion for knowledge reflects in even the way they eat. These brilliant few however risk being overshadowed by the mass of miseducated hordes who know little else but myopia and misguided superstition handed down to them.
I have little more to add but brood over a vicious cycle where youth empowerment meets miseducation from childhood. The era of the educated illiterate is looming fast if the stakeholders of my beloved country Ghana fail to act in time.


When I entered the University of Education, Winneba albeit reluctantly I faced a dilemma I had not noticed: choosing a 3-D elective. I harked back on the great painters of old and then it struck me. They all did some form of sculpture. I followed that path however small I may be in the art world. I do not regret that decision.

First year sculpture was a mix of challenging and a lax attitude in general. My first sculpture lecturer was full of ideas and a hard taskmaster. Her assignments invariably meant you had little to do the rest of the week.  As students we grumbled yet set to work. I am however to blame for my low achievements then. My close friend then often assured me not to be so uptight about it. It was not rocket science that my grades were extremely poor. I was disappointed in myself. Full of ideas but a profound inability to work the material exactly as I saw it meant I was often flummoxed. I resolved to get them up in the next year. Some sculptures I made which I can be proud of are as follows; Blind Dog (the bust of a dog), a relief sculpture with a floral design, a tricycle assembled by me. My most memorable day in sculpture class was when I made Blind Dog. I had not done the assignment then so when I came to class I grabbed some clay and quickly modeled a dog. When I was asked to explain my work someone pointed out that the dog had no eyes. I countered by saying it was the character in a book I had read. (It was actually about a blind cat.) I was hence nicknamed Blind Dog. I tried my best to stick to my strengths in an area where I was unfamiliar with so I made animals as much as I could.

Second year was a massive growth curve. I found myself a new sculpture partner and I was in the class of one of the most influential adults in my life (I did not know yet.)  Portraiture was interesting. My partner despite his bad boy traits proved to be a hard and able worker. He occasionally gave me working tips. I guess you kinda learn shortcuts when your dad is a professional sculptor. We took a trip to Kumasi. It was exciting and purposeful. You can never quite get over the thrill of travelling with course mates. We visited quite the number of places. I doubt I ever go there again. Back I school we set to work on busts. It was very challenging but I put in my best effort. I was a bit surprised when I got a B in my grades. No offense but my first lecturer did not make sculpture very enjoyable neither were my grades positive. Second semester was no less exciting. We did some carving and there was another field trip in it for us. We went to Aburi. It was also more challenging than the first sem. I suffered a crisis of self and an artistic low. My relationship ended and troubles at home proved tasking. I withdrew into myself. My erstwhile partner-turned-just-friend told the lecturer and we had a chat. I broke down. Thereafter I would go to see him and just talk. He is a good friend. I have never talked to an adult about how I felt inside before and I am glad he was the first. My carving was alright though I finished way behind time. I felt a bit good about myself. I established myself as one of the best presenters in the class. My points were largely irrefutable and I tried to be as organized as possible even going without notes to look through because I had memorized everything.

Third year slowed down a bit. Again I had to find a new partner. My former partner’s dad was the lecturer. He pushed us hard. Metal casting is no joke. I nailed presentations though and we went on yet another class trip. We visited Touch of Bronze and a couple other places. My practical was not strong enough but my grade was still good. Working with wax is not as simple as it looked. It was mercurial in nature. Second semester had it slump with a friend slowly cutting me out of her life. I put my foot down and braved the semester though. Third year was also my final sculpture year. I feel I am not in enough control of it to keep working at it yet.

When I graduate from UEW I will miss this class. In more ways than one. I genuinely learnt something new and different in art. I managed to create with my hands from media other than paper. I made a new friend. I earned respect and I gave it.

Art and education is always a curious blend of dogma and rule breaking. I am glad to have survived it.

Memories of unforgettable moments

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