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Story so far: Achimota School vs dreadlocked students

Story so far: Achimota School vs dreadlocked students

It’s been a week since the fate of two newly admitted Achimota School students began to hang in the balance following their quest to obtain pre-tertiary education at the institution.

Tyrone Iras Marhguy and Oheneba Kwaku Nkrabea were placed at the school via the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) after successfully passing their Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).

Despite their outstanding academic performance, they are unable to enroll in the prestigious Achimota School due to their dreadlocked hair, which they attribute to their Rastafari religion.

This is because Achimota School officials require the two students to cut their locked hair before their admission status can be formally guaranteed.

Parents of the affected students, who are outraged by the development, have stated that they will have none of it.

They decided to seek court support and justice for their wards by posting their plight on social media, which has kept many Ghanaians and the media talking in recent weeks.

The students at the center of the controversy have also stated unequivocally that they would rather lose their place in school than succumb to pressure to have their hair cut.

Even before a dust particle settles on this issue, Tyrone Marhguy’s triplet sisters are facing a similar situation at St. John’s Grammar School due to their dreadlocks days after officially reporting to the school.

GES steps in; makes a U-turn

Following the public outcry, the Ghana Education Service (GES) directed the management of the Achimota School to accept these students a few days later, seemingly putting an end to the controversy.

But this sigh of relief was fleeting.

Exactly 48 hours after the initial directive, the GES reversed its decision, effectively blocking the students’ admission to the school.

When the students’ parents went to the GES office for an official communiqué on the directive, it was revealed that the GES authorities had changed their minds.

The parents were enraged as the turn of events became increasingly frustrating.

Following a consultative meeting between the two boys’ parents and GES officials, the management of Achimota School rejected the order to allow the students to enter the school with their dreadlocked hair.

Achimota PTA, Old students’ position

The Old Achimotans Association’s position on the matter was to be expected.

Past students of Achimota School, led by Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, had previously criticized GES’ decision to allow the students, describing it as undermining the authority of the school’s governing board.

Regardless, the alumni pointed out that the move violated the school’s formal arrangement for effective and efficient governance and regulatory structure.

As a result, they demanded an immediate reversal, but it didn’t stop there.

The Achimota School Parents Teachers Association (PTA) fully supported the school’s management’s decision not to admit students with their hairstyle.

Dr. Andre Kwasi-Kumah, Chairman of the PTA, stated that the school requires all students to wear their hair low, simple, and natural.

He stated unequivocally that this cannot be compromised because allowing students to come to school with their own hairstyle will breed indiscipline.

Teacher unions hit hard

Two major teacher groups jumped into the raging debate.

The first was the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), which chastised the GES for allowing the students to enroll in the first place.

Angel Carbonu, President of NAGRAT, previously stated that it was extremely disappointing for the GES to make an exception for the dreadlocked students because it would set a very bad precedent.

He believed that if students were not allowed to sacrifice “some aspect of their religious inclination,” chaos would ensue in schools.

Mr. Carbonu believes that if all students are allowed to freely and fully practice all of their beliefs, the school environment will be unsafe for teaching and learning activities, emphasizing the need for the two students’ hairstyles to be changed.

In the heat of the moment, he suggested that Rastafarians who want to keep their dreadlocks in second-cycle institutions should, by necessity, establish their own educational institutions.

The NAGRAT president expressed outrage at the ongoing debate and stated that the union will file a joinder to any suit filed against Achimota School for refusing to admit Rastafarian students.

The leadership of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) also spoke out, saying Achimota School has every right to deny students admission if they refuse to follow the school’s rules.

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Parents threaten to sue

At this critical juncture, the parents stated that they had no choice but to seek legal redress from the Supreme Court.

Raswad Menkrabea, the father of one of the boys, was dissatisfied with the school’s refusal to admit the students.

He believed that the school’s decision violated the constitution.

“If it is going to be a long-drawn-out issue while we fight it in court, we are planning for another school.” “I told them that if the school’s rules go against the constitution, 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 has yet to learn of any official writ filed in court on the subject.

The only information available is that Wayoe Ghanamannti, the lawyer for the two affected students, has written to Achimota School, requesting that the educational institution explain why his clients were denied admission.

The quagmire

As the story unfolds, opinions differ on whether Achimota School’s decision was justified or not.

While many play the card of fundamental human rights and conformity to rules and regulations, some have gone so far as to say the school’s uncompromising posture calls into question the school’s founders’ ideals and principles of inclusiveness and equality for all.

According to the Coalition for Ghana’s Independence Now, the school’s behavior, in addition to being racist, serves the interests of colonialists who wish to mentally enslave citizens.

Even the Rastafari Council has used the development to express its displeasure with the discrimination that its members face in the country.

Furthermore, the saga has divided two former GES leaders, Michael Nsowah and Charles Aheto-Tsegah.

Mr. Michael Nsowah insisted that each Senior High School has its own culture that should not be altered.

He emphasizes that, while students’ hairstyles may not necessarily affect their studies, there is a need for uniformity in the various schools.

His counterpart, Charles Aheto-Tsegah, has a different point of view.

Mr. Aheto-Tsegah contends that the matter should not be debated as long as the students’ hair is well-groomed.

Some Members of Parliament (MPs), including the representative for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, have called on the administration of Achimota School to immediately admit the two students for their own good.

Accepting the students at their current ages, he maintained, “cannot be inimical in any educational system.”

Former Deputy Minister of the Interior, James Agalga, Mr. Sam Nartey George, MP for Ningo Prampram, and Dr. Abdul Rashid Pelpuo, MP for Wa Central, have all requested that the students be admitted.

However, a number of other legislators are opposed.

One such person is Joseph Osei Owusu, First Deputy Speaker and MP for Bekwai, who believes that following school rules and regulations does not imply a denial of education rights.

He warned against attempts to incorporate Rastafarianism as a religion and argued that issues concerning student admission were an individual matter on which the nation should not waste time.

CSOs call for reforms  

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as Child Rights International have lobbied for the students’ admission to the school while respecting their fundamental right to an education.

Aside from that, in response to the controversy, the educational think tank has called for a standardized set of regulations for second cycle institutions.

Africa Education Watch makes a similar case.

The controversy, according to the group, is “a wake-up call for the GES to consider using a participatory approach to develop a standardized code of conduct for all of its senior high schools, with minimal exemptions if necessary.”

It claims that this will make “coordinating the implementation of the various rules of conduct in their schools much easier.”

Annis Hafar, an educationist, acknowledged the difficulty of catering to people from various backgrounds.

“It will be nearly impossible to satisfy [people] in every situation.” “A school cannot be everything to everyone,” he says.

Mr. Hafar, on the other hand, admitted that he is a conservative when it comes to young people’s education.

Ministry’s guidelines as way forward

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum has urged calm to prevail.

Given the arguments for and against the events, he assures of the Ministry’s commitment to finding an amicable solution.

The Minister has stated that GES will issue specific guidelines on how principals should handle such matters as soon as possible.

“Mr Speaker, I can tell you, meetings have been held, others are ongoing, which the Ministry of Education is facilitating, to ensure that our students operate in an environment where they give off their best,” he said on the House floor.

Until these guidelines are developed and implemented, the issues will persist, as will the debate.

Furthermore, it is unclear whether Achimota School authorities will agree to a truce or what steps the two students and their parents will take next to have their grievances resolved.

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