One-on-One with Hon. Dr. Augustine Tawiah
MP, Bia West
Founder, Bia Lamplighter College of Education
Former Executive Secretary, NTC
COEWJ: Kindly tell us about your life growing up as young Augustine.
DR. TAWIAH: I started my basic school in the Bia District in the current Western North Region. Back then, we had only few teachers, so teachers were usually teaching more than one class. The classes in my school were up to Upper Primary. That was how far the school went, class six. We had to go to the next town to attend Middle School. Those days, whatever was available as a school was what the government was providing, no private schools then. Looking back, it appears there were lapses in the administration of those schools. Teachers beat us mercilessly sometimes for nothing. We did a lot of farm work for teachers and all other forms of petty jobs. We used to go to school at 08:00 am and closed the morning session at 11:30am, then went back at 1.30 after lunch. In Middle school we went home to prepare our own food to eat and return at 1:00 pm and closed at 4.00 pm. I left for Accra to live with my elder brother for middle school. Also, my Middle School in Accra was converted to a shift system where we went in the morning for two weeks and the next two weeks were in the afternoon.
COEWJ: Tell us about your family, how was the relationship growing up with them.
DR. TAWIAH: I was the last born of my four siblings. My two brothers went to school whereas my sister did not go. My brothers ended up having white collar jobs. My parents supported and encouraged education but unfortunately, they did not have much to offer financially. Majority of what you needed to do to be successful in school depended on you the individual. You were not allowed any excuses when it was time to go to the farm. During holidays you had to work in the fields. The only incentive was that you were encouraged to go to school when the time came. All your parents will get for you is a school uniform, the rest depended solely on you.
COEWJ: What were your aspirations as a child?
DR. TAWIAH: I honestly do not think I had any aspirations. But I can boldly say that I enjoyed school, and that was a big incentive to plough along. There was no form of guidance towards what one could become in the future, although I knew that schooling was important. When I got to Accra, I realized that if I excelled in school, it would give me bigger opportunities. So I told myself that I was not going back to the village. Meaning I had to pass the Common Entrance and go to secondary school. Some of the things that motivated me most were my friends in school. I associated with the intelligent classmates and I challenged myself to higher aspirations like them. That helped me a lot. My friends back in St. Thomas Aquinas SHS (Ordinary Level) and later at Labone (SHS, Advanced Level) had a very good influence on me.
CoEWJ: Where was your next stop after secondary school?
DR. TAWIAH: I went to the Seminary to study the Bible and search for meaning. I went to seminary for two years after which I went to sixth form. From there I went to the University of Ghana, Legon to do my first degree. I became a teaching assistant until I had a scholarship to go for further studies in the USA. I studied Religion and Education. I obtained the Master of Arts in Religion in 1994, Master of Divinity in 1996, Masters in Education Leadership and Policy Studies (2004). Later on, I had a Doctorate in Ministry (2006) and Doctor of Education in 2009.
CoEWJ: What motivated you to go to the Seminary after Secondary school?
DR. TAWIAH: I was searching for meaning of life. I did not think the available philosophies of life were meaningful enough. So, I was interested in knowing more about what life is about, what should humans be dedicating our time and ourselves to, what does the scriptures say about our religion and life, death and the hereafter. Why should there be so many churches when we have one Bible and one God? These were some of the questions that baffled my mind at the young age of 20 years, causing me to decide to go to the seminary. It was a young faith seeking understanding. Seminary education for me was not necessarily to become a pastor as a profession. It was seeking and embracing the divine in a personal encounter for faith and love.
CoEWJ: Was the idea of going to the Seminary welcomed by your parents?
DR. TAWIAH: No, not at all. What happened was that, when I completed secondary school, Ordinary Level, I emancipated. I was independent. Ready to face the world! Therefore, I began making decisions for myself from that moment onwards. It was tense, because people expected that having done well at the Ordinary level, I would continue to sixth form and to the University to become as they put it ‘somebody’. All of a sudden, I decided to go to the Seminary, this was really unexpected. I did whatever I wanted to do but I always did it purposefully. Later on, my family came to understand me and supported my decision.
CoEWJ: What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?
DR. TAWIAH: The first would be the decision to build a school in my village to enable children have access to quality education and advance themselves. There were existing schools in my area, but I wanted to establish one that would meet the needs of the children. I started this in 2005 in the Bia District. The school is not a private school, it is “every body’s” public school. It was built and handed over to the government so that every child that attends that school will do so freely, just like any other public school. The school has come first since it started writing the BECE in 2012 in the Bia West District. Some refer to it as “Aban International”. We have won prizes at the 6th March parade several times. We have sent students to Achimota, Adisadel, Legon PRESEC, Prempeh, and others at that classification. We are oversubscribed in Bia West. Our goal of being known for “Knowledge’ Transformation, and Service” is a living reality. In March 2020, the school, Lamplighter Community Academy won the maiden edition of inter -District quiz competition in the Western North Region. The second will be the establishment of Bia Lamplighter College of Education. I also recollect with nostalgia my inauguration as the Executive Secretary of the National Teaching Council and as well the acting Chief Inspector at the National Inspectorate Board. Although I have worked hard in different sectors of education, I can say these two institutions are my greatest achievements.
CoEWJ: Tell us about the Bia Lamplighter College of Education, what motivated you to set-up a College?
DR. TAWIAH: It began while I was the Executive Secretary of the National Teaching Council (NTC) and also the Ag. Chief Inspector of Schools. The decision was made that 10 new Colleges of Education will be built. However, resources were limited, hence the Ministry of Education decided to identify existing private Colleges of Education that could be converted to Public Colleges of Education. I had already built a center for Teacher Professional Development at Lamplighter following the founding of the basic school. There were facilities such as ICT center, library, assembly hall, resource center, boarding facilities for male and females, and etc. When the Ministry of Education came to inspect the facilities, they were impressed because the structures met the minimum requirement to be used as a College of Education. Therefore, Lamplighter College of Education was not built necessarily as a private College because in the rural areas, no one was ready to attend a private College after which they may not be posted by GES. It was purposefully developed to match with government’s policy directive. It was formally opened in the year 2016.
CoEWJ: How has the journey been so far, after four years of operating Bia Lamplighter College of Education?
DR. TAWIAH: Well, it has been a difficult journey because anytime you are partnering with the state, you are unable to work at your own pace. For instance, the College still does not have a governing council because government has not been able to constitute a council for us and five other colleges are in the situation. I am currently building a 20 classroom block for the College which will be ready in the next three months, hopefully. If it had been in partnership with the government, that may happen at a very slow pace. Working on getting financial clearance to get faculty and other staff was a herculean task. I am working hard to establish relationship with international universities, we have made some progress and we hope to get more of them on board. This will include organizations for exchange programmes to enable our teaching and administrative staff along with students to sharpen their skills and learn more innovative ways of teaching from other contexts. We will partner with institutions of similar vision and ensure teaching, research, and service are well coordinated at Lamplighter.
CoEWJ: Tells us about how you became the Member of Parliament for Bia West and how has the experience been.
DR. TAWIAH: I have never been an active political person. The era in which I grew up was when loud calls for the marginalized to be uplifted through the revolution was a rallying cry. I was on my way to school when former President Rawlings landed a helicopter in front of the Broadcasting House on June 4, 1979. I was privileged to have witnessed that moment. The ideologies that he laid down actually opened the system, to make it a system for all and not just for a selected privileged few. It brought out the level playing field for all with the will and desire to contribute for the betterment of the country. These ideals encouraged me to engage in voluntarism. These ideals have moved me to help people in diverse ways and on countless occasions supported various health, educational, and social services. There was even the call of then MP, that he may be leaving office after 16 years and that I should ready myself to take his place. I was an Agency Head at the Ministry of Education and also at National Teaching Council. Whichever position I wanted I could have, I was indeed comfortable and professionally stable. I decided to survey the constituency very well to see whether political office will give me the authority to advocate more for Bia West. So it came as a natural progression and as a process to follow through some of the initiatives for schools, water, road construction, and health facilities. Therefore, my approach to things has not been like that of your trditional politician. This is a servant leader model of providing, serving, and advocating for progress for the farmers and their children in Bia West.
CoEWJ: What are your views on the new curriculum and the new reforms taking place in the Colleges of Education?
DR. TAWIAH: Well, education is a process of perfecting the population at any given time. And in every society, the population is dynamic. So many years ago one could beat his chest and say ‘who are you, do you have a cocoa’? Today if you have cocoa, you do not have much to show in terms of wealth. The dynamic nature of society means that education must continuously undergo transformation. We inherited a colonial curriculum in which it was to prepare people to become staff of the civil service. Those were the three Rs (Reading, Arithmetic, Writing), So whenever someone finished school, the next thing is to get a job with the government. Today, that is not entirely the case. Therefore, our education system must train people to become critical and reflective thinkers so that they can have stronger values, creativity, and possesses stronger quest for innovation, quality, and reliability. In the past, parents were the primary sources of socialization while the institutions such as schools became the secondary sources of socialization. Today, many parents spend less time with their children, they leave home at dawn and return late in the night. Therefore, I support strong institutional values driven in the education sector. Most of the reforms that are taking place are in accordance with the internationalization of teachers and schools. Students should not just be passive recipients of knowledge. Rather, they must be active and reflective learners. The staff of the Colleges must be upgraded so that we can have professional development sessions to improve their content knowledge and professional practice. They just do not have to absorb knowledge theoretically but also practically to enable them to teach effectively. I want to tell every teacher in Ghana that, the very first day you set foot in a new classroom, you must know what to do, know how it is done and do it effectively for teaching and learning to occur. If this does not happen, a lot of students become lost and they suffer. My goal is that I can contribute to education so that a child living in Bia can do as well as a child who attended Achimota school. It is a difficult process but it can be done. Some steps in achieving this will have to be how teachers are trained, how they teach, community involvement and of course, effective monitoring and supervision. The level of community involvement is very low, hence, everyone is waiting on the government. All things being equal, someone who has attended school and is educated should behave in a more appropriate manner than someone who has not had any form of education. But, unfortunately in Ghana, we are bleeding not because of the uneducated but rather from the bad practices of the educated folks. The educated people rather use their pens to create under invoicing and over invoicing. So the values espoused in our education system must be enhanced so that commitment to one’s duties, loyalty to country, patriotism and other good habits become the norms of the day for a greater and stronger Ghana.
CoEWJ: What is your view on the implementation of Teacher Licensing and National Service for newly trained teachers?
DR. TAWIAH: The teacher licensing is an international system. However, having been at the Ministry of Education, and seen many practices around the world, you realize that we should not be looking at teacher licensing as just as an examination. The licensing was an assessment of the teacher. Assessment is not just about examination, we wanted teachers to assemble a professional portfolio, which would determine what are the professional practices, professional artifacts which the teacher has put together to make him or her an effective teacher. All of these put together, gives you a composite picture of a teacher. But when you limit teacher licensing to just examinations, it appears too narrow and shallow. The students took so many exams in college. On the issue of National Service, GES had as a practice, posted newly trained teachers straight to the classroom after successfully completing their program of study for a reason. It was an induction process to transition into the professional practices of the newly graduated teacher. If that was the case, what is the role of National Service here? During the first year in the classroom as a new teacher, it is known as induction period, you transition into the classroom as an independent teacher. Therefore, as a national service personnel, when posted to a school you feel like a teacher but you are not really a teacher. National service is for everybody but the way the system was designed, it would have been best to give newly trained teachers certificates during the one year and not necessarily designating them as National Service. When you look at it carefully, money was the problem. Because you pay salaries to teachers but meager allowances to service personnel which is far less than what they would have been paid as teachers. Teachers are national priorities and therefore there must be a plan to do these things differently to motivate and inspire our teachers. I will also like to see significant training for headteachers and purposeful selection of secondary school headmasters.
CoEWJ: What do you do away from the office?
DR. TAWIAH: That is a very interesting question. I read a lot and also watch documentaries. I listen to some traditional songs sometimes. My role as an MP means I meet a lot of people in my District. I counsel a lot, using my struggles and achievements to serve as process items for people. I give talks, and preach regularly in my church.
CoEWJ: Do you do any sports?
DR. TAWIAH: Yes, I tried. I play volleyball and do some walking at times. Last year I was on the field playing soccer when I had an injury so I am currently on break. But I have used the gym in Parliament and hope to return.
CoEWJ: What food do you enjoy most?
DR. TAWIAH: That would probably be yam and light soup and due to my Fante lineage, I also enjoy Fante kenkey with Fante Fante (fish and tomato based gravy). I also enjoy fruits such as melon, pineapple, and mangoes. I drink hot lemon tea every morning.
CoEWJ: Who did you look up to as a role model when you were growing up?
DR. TAWIAH: I had some teachers who were very instrumental in my life. My head teacher in primary school was one of them. At the University of Ghana also, there were some professors like Professors G. K. Nukunya, Elisabeth Amoah, Chris Abotsi, and others. I did not have just one person that I looked up to. Joseph in the Bible and Jesus Christ himself are my models.
CoEWJ: Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
DR. TAWIAH: I would like to bring together all my experiences in education, as a minister of the gospel, as a Member of Parliament, to really establish a center for social and human development in Bia West. It is going to prepare people who want to tow the line that I have, in community development, in teacher education and also in religious development. I do not want to be in politics in the next ten years. That notwithstanding, I would love to be behind the scenes advising people for the betterment of our communities and country. I am currently building the center and it will start with helping students to write proposals, prepare for interviews, prepare resumes and how to also use their skills to help other people. It will also be a centre for mediation and arbitration.
CoEWJ: Finally, on education, how would you rate our education sector with your experience so far?
DR. TAWIAH: We have a fine education system on paper. But we have a lot more to do in the terms of motivation of our teachers to aspire to higher heights, we need to invest in rural schools, and supply TLMs in quantity and quality. We need to have a system in place now to actually designate those who can become educational administrators. The biggest challenge so far is educational administration; we are not using the best criteria to select the best candidates to head our schools. We need to allocate more resources to ensure no child left behind in our basic schools. We have made some progress but we have many rivers to cross in providing effective and relevant education in Ghana. Lets strengthen the basic level and the rest will fall in place.
CoEWJ: Your final words for our cherished readers, trainee teachers and other stakeholders.
DR. TAWIAH: Teaching is a calling so people should start responding to that calling during their training period. The interventions I have advocated from the state, community and the school should inspire our dear trainee teachers to work hard so that when they come out, they will become successful. My advocacy for better conditions of service and resources for teachers will never end. A school is only good as the teachers. The future is bright and we cannot leave any child behind. Also, let us help our children to enjoy school. This starts with good teachers.
CoEWJ: Thank you very much for your time Honorable. We are much grateful.
DR. TAWIAH: Thank you for the opportunity as well.