PERSONALITY PROFILE. CoEWJ Interview with Mr. David Ofori Acheampong, Former GNAT General Secretary. Old Student, Presbyterian College of Education – Akropong.

CoE-WJ: Good morning, welcome to the Colleges of Education Weekly Journal. Briefly tell us about your life growing as young David.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Good morning and thank you for the opportunity. I was born in Berekum in the then Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. My mother was a trader and the leader of the women who sold plantain at the Berekum market at the time. Unfortunately, she passed on two years ago. My father on the hand was a teacher who retired so many years ago as a Director of Education in one of the districts in the then Brong Ahafo Region. But basically, I stayed with my elder sister and the husband. They took me up when I was around two years old. She was married to the late D. A. Bediako, a former General Secretary of GNAT. They actually brought me up and nurtured me to become the person I am today.

CoE-WJ: What were your aspirations growing up as a child?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Growing up with Mr. and Mrs. Bediako encouraged me to be a teacher. That was who they were and looking at the kind of life they lived and the way they brought us up was a huge motivation to me. We never lacked anything, we were made to go to school, we were provided with all that we needed, so I was like, wow!  When I grow up I want to become a teacher.

CoE-WJ: Kindly tell us about your family.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I have a wife and two grown kids.

CoE-WJ: Kindly tell us about your educational background.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I started my basic education at the Catholic Primary School in Sunyani until we moved to Accra. I continued at the Accra New Town Primary School, later to Kotobabi No. 9 and 10 Middle School. I left there and went to secondary school later on.  My school was closer to the West African Secondary School and those days the school was in Accra New Town.  Whenever we closed from school, we saw them playing hockey and other games and it motivated me so I chose it as my first choice and that’s where I went to from 1973 to 1978. I remember when I completed secondary school, Mr. Bediako wanted to know what my plans were. I told him I wanted to be a teacher, he asked if I was saying that because he was a teacher and I said no, it was because I wanted to be a teacher. I got enrolled at the Presbyterian Teacher Training College at Akropong in 1978 and completed in 1981. After that, I taught in so many schools in Accra until I went to do Public Relations Advertising at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in 1998. I later went back to the university of Ghana and read Political Science and Sociology and completed in 2004. In the year 2009, I went to the University of Cape Coast to do an MBA in Human Resource Management.

CoE-WJ: Tell us about your days in College.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: It was very interesting. That was the first time I had to go to school outside Accra. Back in the days, when school reopened, the old man would put me in a car and drive me all the way to Akropong.  He was excited that I went to Akropong because he was an old student of the College.  I remember when we got there the first time, he introduced me to almost all the tutors because they knew him at that time because he was working for the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT).  You can just imagine the kind of eyes that were on me at the time. So I would say it was an exciting time. It doesn’t surprise me that majority of my mates went ahead to become lecturers, bank managers, lawyers, etc.

CoE-WJ: What is your fondest memory at PCE (College)?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: During our time, we established football teams on campus and on Wednesdays there was a lot of competition and it was always fun. Apart from the fact that it used to be very cold at Akropong, it was really exciting.

CoE-WJ: Were you involved in any extracurricular activities back in College?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Of course I was; I was a footballer in College. From 1978 – 1981 I played for the College soccer team. Let me add that I was the top goal scorer at the time.

CoE-WJ: Which Hall were you affiliated to College?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I was in the Noble Hall (House one). I was the House Secretary at that time.

CoE-WJ: Where did you do your teaching practice and how was the experience?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I did it at Mampong. At our time, teaching practice was not residential so the College bus dropped us off in the morning and pick us up after school. The experience was a good one, trying to teach by applying all that you have been taught to use made it interesting.

CoE-WJ: Were you bullied in College?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Well, I would say not really. Because, when we got to College it was the period where the Houses had started playing football and they asked me if I could play and I said yes. Straight away I joined the House team. And because of the fact that I was playing for the House, no one really bothered me apart from the general work that we all did. I guess I was lucky.

CoE-WJ: Were you in any form of relationship back in College?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: No, I was not. It was basically studying, making friends and having fun.

CoE-WJ: Any favorite tutor back in College?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I can’t take one out because they were all my favorites.

CoE-WJ: What was your favorite food from the dining hall?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: It was always beans and plantain, popularly known as “red red”. I remember in 1980, there was a lot of hardship around and our seniors were doing their teaching practice. We did not have enough sugar at the dining hall, so in the morning when they serve us breakfast, I realized that the seniors were eating it as if there was sugar in the food. The secret was that, they brought sweet berries from town and took some before coming to the dining hall. I was given four to take for two days. The next day I was ready to go and take my breakfast and realized it was gari and beans. You can just imagine your mouth tasting like sugar and eating palm oil. That day I was the laughing stock for everyone because I was bragging about finishing all the porridge earlier in the dormitory.

CoE-WJ: Did you have anything to do with TTAG during your days in College and how do you see the entire structure of the association?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: We did not have TTAG at the time because we did not go to College with allowances. But I got in touch with them during my days as a Regional Secretary and General Secretary. We got in talks during the introduction of the license exams and unfortunately, they did not return to us but rather dealt directly with NTC and the rest is history. Moving forward, I think there should be more discussion and consultation between TTAG and the teacher unions. They should approach them with issues and seek advice from them in order not to make mistakes.  Because at the end of the day, you come back to being a teacher and you will definitely belong to one of the associations, so why not get along from the beginning. There should be that linkage between TTAG and the teacher unions, it is very vital.

CoE-WJ: Kindly take us through your career life after completing the Training College.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Well, I think it has been exciting. This is because, I made up my mind to become a teacher, I was never sorry for that decision. I had it in my mind and heart that, that is what I wanted to do. I got into GNAT leadership accidentally. I did not join GNAT straight out of College anyway. There was supposed to be a GNAT school reps meeting but the one who was meant to represent us did not show up. I was asked by the Head to attend the meeting. I got there and it was like things were being taken for granted. I spoke my mind and at the end of the meeting there was supposed to be an election. They felt I spoke to issues very well so I should be made Secretary. So I was elected the Ayawaso Secretary of GNAT around 2002. I was teaching and doing that work simultaneously. That was the beginning of my serious involvement in the issues of GNAT.

CoE-WJ: Take us through your GNAT journey until you finally handed over recently.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I was a part-time Secretary until 2005 when there was an advertisement that GNAT wanted more district secretaries. I was encouraged by a lot of people that I could do more in a permanent position and therefore I should go ahead and apply. I applied, we went for interview and I was picked. I was put in-charge of Accra Metro, which was very big those days because it was made up six sub metros. In 2012, there was another opportunity for promotions in the association. And advert was placed for people to be considered as Regional Secretaries. By then, I was transferred to Tema. I was at Tema for only 8 months until I got appointed as the Central Regional Secretary and so I was sent to Cape Coast. Because of the good work done by previous leaders of the association, there was always a satellite on any new person who comes onboard. When I got to Cape Coast, I saw that there were hostels built and I said to myself what could I also do to leave a legacy behind. I, therefore, got my officers together and told them we had to renovate the Secretariat. We changed the entire Secretariat to a state of the art Secretariat. We dug boreholes to supplement the pipe, bought a power – plant, etc. Before I left, I felt satisfied because I came to meet it and I raised it to another level. In 2015, another opportunity came for the appointment of a General Secretary. The then Secretary was about retiring and they needed a substantive General Secretary. About six candidates applied and we were duly interviewed by GIMPA Consultancy, together with two officials from GNAT. God being so good, I got the nod and in November 2015, the National Council approved my appointment. But I actually took over in February 2016 because November, December and January was for orientation. You know, any position that an individual goes to occupy, irrespective of your experience, it should be considered as a position of ignorance. You do not go there with what you know. So it is very important that such an orientation be carried out. It gives you a lot of knowledge that you will need to build on the accomplishments of previous leaderships.

CoE-WJ: With all these years in GNAT, what would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: In life, you should always have a vision for whatever you find yourself doing anywhere. So when I became the General Secretary, I asked myself, what do I need to do for the people that I am leading as an administrator. I got three things that I wanted to do. The first one was that, GNAT at the time had lost its voice to our sister union NAGRAT. So I said no, we are the lead teacher association and therefore our voices should be heard. We started making ourselves known again that, we are the largest single teaching union and if anyone should be consulted on issues regarding our members, they needed to come to us.  I was able to maintain a very healthy relationship with the NAGRAT President at the time, Mr. Addae Poku and Mr. King Ali Awudu of CCT – Ghana. We sat down and decided that, it does not matter which union you belong to. What is important is that, whatever we fight for is for the teacher. If it comes to the issue of salaries, it does not matter whether you are a GNAT member or NAGRAT member, you are a teacher and you will be affected. So we started working together and I think the rest is history. The second thing that I wanted to do was to change the facilities at the GNAT Headquarters. I was a kid when most of the facilities were built. I felt we could do better than that. I remember one day I was in the office and one teacher wanted to see me, unfortunately he was physically challenged and he left his wheelchair outside and climbed the staircase with his hands. When he popped into my office, I felt very bad and very uncomfortable. I said he could have asked me to come down and he said no, when they were putting up the building, they did not think about them (i.e. the physically challenged). When he left, I got the National Officers together and told them my experience with the teacher and that we needed to put a lift in the building. We put everything in motion from there and today we have a lift running from the ground floor to the fourth floor. We also decided to refurbish the hostel to meet modern and international standards by attaching washroom, air conditioning, television, etc. There was a hall named after my Dad, Mr. Bediako which had a capacity of about 400. I got the officers on board to refurbish and raised the capacity to 1100.

Finally, I did not want to see our teachers retire into poverty because I didn’t think teachers were poor. I grew up with teachers and they never exhibited any traits of being poor. So I said to myself, what can we do to ensure that teachers retire in comfort? Then I looked at the new Pension Act which calls for a 3-tier pension system. We have tier one and tier two which are both mandatory and there’s a tier three which is a voluntary scheme. When you look at tier two, you contribute 5.5% of your basic salary. But if you take the voluntary pension scheme, 16.5% of your basic salary. All is tax free. What it means is that, hypothetically, if you earn GH¢1000 in a month and you decide to set aside 16.5% for your pension, which is GH¢165, it is tax exempted. Meaning that money will be taking out of your basic salary before GRA applies tax to the remainder. If you do not do that, all the GH¢1000 will be taxed. I initiated this with the National Officers and all other District Secretaries and after a year, we realized the benefits and I sent it to the National Council. I personally did it for a year and a half before I retired and I can honestly tell you that I had over GH¢30,000. It is my desire to get to all teachers in the country and let them know that, retirement and pension are private matters and not collective. How you want to live after retirement is dependent on what you do whiles you are working. And that is the kind of the awareness that I want to carry out to teachers now that I am less busy and have much time to myself.

CoE-WJ: With all these accomplishments, do you have any regrets?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: No, I do not have any regrets. Not at all. If I say I have regrets, I would be lying. Leadership is making the difficult and best decisions for your people. People may not understand you today but tomorrow they would. Leadership is also not about pleasing people. If that was the case, then you should go and sell ice-cream.

CoE-WJ: How would you describe the relationship between you and your successor?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: We have a very cordial relationship. He worked with me when I was General Secretary and he did work diligently. When you leave behind a chaotic environment as a leader then you have failed. You should leave and have your peace of mind because you know you have able persons who will take over. When I was leaving, there were a lot of able people in the organization.

CoE-WJ: What do you have to say to speculations claiming you had a hand in his appointment?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: It is really funny. Because people who know me and know me very would know what my preference would have been. I’ll leave it at that.

CoE-WJ: GNAT will be 90 years next year. Where would you want to see the association in the next five years?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: GNAT should move farther than where we are, they should do more consultation and collaboration with the sister unions, with the employer. Without employers there are no employees hence no unions. In this part of our world, the government is the largest employer of workers. In the principles of negotiation, it is a win – win situation. You can never have a win – lose situation. Government is not prepared to lose neither are we. Therefore, in all negotiations, it is always a win – win situation hence you go with facts to support your argument, argue forcefully and demand something which is better for your people. I expect them to continue with this. Aside that, GNAT should take the issue of pensions seriously. Now we have a chunk of our members as very young people. Across the world today, teaching is the safest job therein. Because it is a job that is very difficult to replace with machines. Teaching is therefore going to be relevant for as long as we live. We should thus encourage our people to understand that they are in a very good profession. They need to build themselves for the future. You do this by guaranteeing your own future by making sure that you save enough. Because at the end of the day, we complain about our meagre salary but we have forgotten that the salary which we term today as small is not even going to come anymore. How are we going to survive? We should also stop this cliché of “we are poor” because poverty is a state of mind. It does not matter how much you earn but what matters is what you do with what you earn. Finally, we should tell our people to be professional. Because teaching can be a great source of blessing and great curse as well. We would be held accountable.

CoE-WJ: What is your view on the teacher licensing, trainee teachers’ allowances and the National Service for newly trained teachers?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: The teacher license is something that we asked for and it has come to stay. Somewhere along the lines, anyone was referred to as a teacher. We have fake doctors and fake policemen but just teachers, whether the person was even a professional or not, he/ she is just identified as a teacher. In terms of our prestige, it is good we get a licensed. Now we have been professionalized and this gives us the opportunity to argue for some of the things that we need as professionals. The only issue we had before I left office was that we were asking NTC to bring out the criteria for the examination which was done.  Also, we agreed that for those teachers already on the field, they should be given the provisional license and subsequently there would be discussion on how to do continuous professional development to score points so that one’s license can be renewed.

On allowances, I did not get it when I went to College but it does not mean someone else should not enjoy it. If the state is able and willing to pay, I do not have any problem with trainee teachers receiving allowances. Finally, on the issues of National Service, I think it has become necessary due to the numbers. While I was General Secretary, we argued against writing the licensure exams while on campus, because the people have not been prepared. But when they come out and work for a while, they get to understand the concept and the requirements. I guess that is the reason why we have this National Service coming in so that during that period you can write your licensure exams. Then you get be posted by GES.  What gladdens my heart is that the employment of teachers is protected. Because after your National Service, the only thing that can prevent you from posting is if you do not pass your license exams which is very unlikely. If you decide to leave the jurisdiction of Ghana to another country, the license obtained is an added advantage aside your professional certificates.

CoE-WJ: What is your favorite food?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Someone from the forest will definitely prefer fufu and light soup.

CoE-WJ: Who was your role model growing up?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Mr. T. A. Bediako. I looked up to him about everything. I was very excited he saw me become GNAT General Secretary, he was actually at my conference. God bless him.

CoE-WJ: Do you have any interest in national politics?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: No, I do not. My only interest is to cast my vote when it is time for election. But engaging in partisan politics, I am not interested.

CoE-WJ: How would you describe the state of education in Ghana? Are we doing things right, and what does the future hold for us?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: I was hopeful that 2020 was going to be a year of great things in the education sector but unfortunately we were struck by the corona virus pandemic and it seems all our resources have been diverted to ensure that people survive. Looking at what has happened, for the next three years, it is going to take a while for everyone to recover including all the sectors. What I would wish is that, when this corona era subsides, we should look critically at the educational sector. The virus has exposed us seriously as a nation. We are fighting two enemies now, corona virus and stupidity, unfortunately stupidity is making it difficult for us to win the battle over corona virus.

CoE-WJ: How is life for Mr. Acheampong after active service?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Very relaxed, the pressure is gone. It has been tough but the waves have settled. Now, I do some consultancy works so I get to go to work when I feel is right. In general, I do not have too much pressure and I am very satisfied. Interestingly, some radio stations don’t know that I have retired so they call me sometimes. Whenever they do, I tell them to call Thomas.

CoE-WJ: Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Well, still living in Accra. Traveling home to take care of some business there and watching the educational scene grow.

CoE-WJ: Your final words to our cherished readers and members of GNAT.

MR. ACHEAMPONG: Firstly, I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my life story. Such a great experience. To our teachers, I want to tell them that they are not in a bad profession at all. What is important is that we must do your work well and let society praise us. We must bear in mind that, in this life, perfection is only in Heaven and it is only God who is perfect. Therefore, whatever you do, do not expect everyone to appreciate and understand you. But that should not discourage us. Continue to do the right things that we have been doing.

Finally, let us prepare for our future now and not live by hand to mouth principle today.

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