The Ghanaian School Subject Hierarchy: A Handy Guide

Any time i reflect on my early Ghanaian school experience i shudder, make the sign of the cross and thank Jehovah Jireh i made it out without permanent psychological damage. ( I think? lol)
From trying to lash us to academic excellence, to having to navigate  certain years with a pervert for a class-teacher, or even having to endure rigid gender stereotypes, it can be rough. I remember a few occasions where an aggrieved teacher stood before the class and said ” Ah! You boys have sat down and allowed the girls to pass you in class??? Shame!” 😒
In JSS 3 (12th grade) we had to chose between visual arts and home economics to fulfill a core subject requirement.
Three girls (out of 27), including myself, opted to do visual arts. Only one of the twenty-odd boys dared to do chose home economics. The comments were not kind to either of us.
We were “lazy” or “bad girls” for having run away from home ec. to go hang out with the boys, and he…well you can imagine what they said about him. Sigh. 😔

More on that another day though, because what i really want to focus on is the extreme stratification of the High School experience.  This was based not only on socio-economic factors ( to get into the really good schools you needed money and/or connections and/or a gifted child), but also on a presumed hierarchy of “importance” of elective subjects. It’s not difficult to pinpoint the causative agents for that hierarchy ; you know them as Mum and Dad 😀

 Exhibit A

You see, Mum and Dad have an infamous list, one we all know by heart, of ‘approved’ careers for their children. If you stray off it, you might as well be in a gang of armed robbers, because that is how they will react to news that you don’t want to be some variation of a:
Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Architect, Accountant or Banker. (I’d say ‘Pastor’ is a new addition to the list, but only if it’s large congregation church. lol)

You must be set on this path to excellence early, and High School is the first opportunity to choose electives that will permit you to opt into the Big Six career track subjects at the tertiary level.
The “logic” goes that you can already tell who is going places in life and who isn’t based on the elective stream to which they belong.
Not only that, electives can identify the “intelligent” students straight away, because certain streams required a higher minimum entrance exam result than others. For sciences it was at least 10 1’s ( or “A” out of a possible 12), 8 upward for the arts streams (social sciences, agric science, math,languages), and 6 upwards for the visual arts/home-economics.
Simply put, a student doing pure science electives of biology+chemistry+physics could walk with their head held high, knowing they’d receive approving nods whenever they announced them-self. They were taken to be the creme de la creme- intelligent AND putting their gifts to suitable use.

“Ehen good!”, a random adult would say, “Very good! You can be a doctor. Oh fine, fine. Your parents must be happy”. 

Others were not so fortunate. After all, it was the Brillant Maths and Science Quiz, not the Brillant Literature and Geography Quiz. LOL.
I felt especially weary for the Visual Arts students. It was almost always assumed that they were doing those electives because they didn’t have the grades to get into any other stream, not because they genuinely wanted to pursue art. It was even worse when they corrected that assumption.

“Ah!? So you mean to tell me you had 12 ones and you are doing Visual Arts? Why? What a waste!

A friend of mine got reported to the administration when they found this out about him. They dedicated a whole term to unsuccessfully trying to convince him to change his elective to something else, even calling his parents to the school. Smh.  (It was a teacher who did the “reporting” btw. Which is only shocking until you realize they too are someone’s Mum and Dad. The programming is strong as heck!). He’s lucky they didn’t decide there was an evil spirit “eating” his destiny, and go harass some old lady in the village, as is the standard operating procedure with it comes to dark spirits. Sigh.

I could write a whole book on madness that is the West African Education System, but for now, here, in non-precise order (except number 1), is the quick and dirty guide to the hierarchy of Ghanaian School subjects:

Science Student = Intelligent, Worthy, Serious,Inspirational, Aspirational. A future doctor in the making.
Nyame, yεda w’ase!

Arts Student =  A disappointed science student. Possible exception granted to Add Maths, and maaaaaybe Economics students, because there’s still hope for those two to do Finance in future and work at a bank.

Accounting Student = Obviously intelligent. Squandering it by not doing science. But it’s ok, he will be an Accountant in future, so no problem.

Agric Student= Severely disappointed science student. When his mates are going to the science lab, he is marching to the farm. Oh Lord! Why hast thou forsaken him?!!

Visual Arts Student= A waste of resources that could be used to support science students! A massive, thunderous disappointment to all.

Home Economics Student = While your mates are learning, you are walking up and down in an apron. Is that one too a student?

😀 😀 😀  I KNOW you have your own horror stories relating to this. I want to hear ’em!
Till next time.

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