Navasco – The great school
Date published: March 25, 2011
By Alabira Ibrahim, [email protected]
I am Folio 774, former student, prefect, and also teacher of Navrongo Secondary School. I should not pretend I can chronicle all the development and growth of the school, but being one of those “Gathered from Farmlands, Forests, and Towns”, from all corners of Ghana, to pass through its gates and classrooms, I certainly, have some fond memories to share on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Great Navasco.
I passed through Navasco early enough in its history – from 1966 to 1974 – to recall some exciting moments of its formative years. This means that I met the first batch of students from Folio No 1, who started the school in 1960 when they were writing their external A-Level exams set by the University of London. I spent a total of eight years in Navasco.
The one distinguishing trait of Navasco is its meticulous numbering of students who pass through the school, by assigning folio numbers to students alphabetically in year groups, the last folio number on record tells how many students have passed through the school since its inception in 1960. By a student’s folio number, the year group can immediately be determined, and one can also tell who was in the school earlier than the other.
It was a time of transition when we entered Navasco. Old Ramsey, the World War Two (WWII) veteran, who was then Acting Headmaster, had just handed back to Headmaster Robin Crawford, who after a short while also handed over to Collin George Macdonald. As freshers, we heard many good things said about Headmaster Crawford – he was one of the headmasters to have introduced high academic standards and British school culture into Navasco. The vast majority of teachers in Navasco then, were either British or American Peace Corps.
Students had every kind of assorted uniform for different occasions – three different jerseys for house use, a school vest, uniform for classes, a blazer, sandals, bow ties, and waterproof-coated exercise books, which were all imported from Britain wand available in the school’s storerooms for the asking – a student had to simply fill out an order-form, get the Bursar’s office to endorse it, and then the storekeeper would supply the items. In Navasco, in those days, three different languages were taught i.e. German, French, and English.
When we entered Navasco, the name of the school was being debated – was it to be called Navrongo Secondary School, or simply Navrongo School (which was the name that was embossed on school paraphernalia). But no matter what name has come and gone, all NAVASCANS know themselves as NABIA.
There were only four houses that students belonged to, and because the school was one of those President Kwame Nkrumah dream schools, the houses were appropriately named with connotations of liberation and freedom – Marcus Garvey, Independence, Republic, and Aggrey houses.
Even when four new houses were created – Martin Luther King Jr, Robert Kennedy, Volta, and Abatey were added – the names were still associated with liberty and pan-Africanism. One of the greatest African writers, Ayi Kwei Armah, was teaching in Navasco in 1966, but he left too soon, because it was said that some neo-colonialist forces were searching for him.
Some people say that Navasco trained the radicals in many governments in Ghana; this is how the revolutionary spirit started among students in Navasco. National and international students associations and movements were bountiful in Navasco – Current Affairs Club, the All African Students Union (AASU), [Ghana], United Nations Students Association (G/UNSA) etc.
Mock-UN and Organisation of African Unity (OAU) sessions were held to discuss serious international issues; the Congo, Vietnam, and the notorious regimes of Apartheid South Africa, Rhodesia, etc.
To my mind, and with all due respect to others, the greatest Headmaster that Navasco has known is the Scotsman, Collin George MacDonald. MacDonald is the most popular former headmaster among Nabia of my generation and those below, and even above. To paraphrase one African writer, if you are a Navascan, and you do not know, or heard about MacDonald, then you are not a total Nabia.
As headmaster of Navasco, C. G. MacDonald was not only an administrator, but a classroom teacher of mathematics and physics. He was not only the headmaster, he was our engine attendant and school driver too. At the time, there was no electricity from the national grid for the whole of northern Ghana.
The school’s electricity supply was from an old generator which broke down frequently. And who else could fix it, but Macdonald? Students would wait while this practical man worked tirelessly to dismantle, repair, and then fix the generator himself. Anytime the generator went off we, would await the sound of Macdonald’s motorbike racing from his office to the generator house, and within minutes, the power would be back on!
He would personally work on the teaching time-table, and make it so flexible that students could take any combination of subjects. He developed a special curriculum for a practical agriculture course for sixth-form level that was unique to Navasco.
Macdonald is a Do-It-Yourself person. Together with another young teacher/engineer, Paul Caswell, they served as the school’s civil engineers too. Macdonald, at one time, returned from Accra with a knocked down pavilion after a trade fair exhibition, and then personally worked with gangs of students to build the school assembly hall out of it. Under the two engineers and the technical education teacher, Mr. …, the school’s maintenance section constructed many staff houses and built immovable classroom furniture for all classrooms. Surely, many Nabia would remember too, the bumper harvests of rice and groundnuts from the school farm at Biu that made the school self-sufficient in food.
I remember Macdonald asking us practical physics questions whilst rowing and sailing on his boat on the Vea Irrigation Dam – why are we kilometres from the bank, but can still hear clearly, people conversing far away almost in whispers? Whilst with him, you always had practical science questions to answer, and to learn something new.
Macdonald was assisted by Robert Tater (may he rest-in-peace), who was himself a great teacher of history and literature. Bob Tater, as he was called, dealt with examinations and other administrative issues regarding academics; he also dealt with disciplinary matters. When Bob Tater was in an exam hall his voice would roar, and scary eyes could see 360 students who were up to mischief. He could be looking forward in an exam behind him.
Bob Tater always addressed students 180 wore a stern face, but a classmate reminded me, not long ago, that we once succeeded in making him laugh. He was in the dining hall to check on people using their fingers instead of cutlery to eat, when from nowhere, we produced a cutting from a magazine that was captioned – BEFORE CUTLERY MEN WERE EATING. Bob Tater turned his head and burst out laughing, and then left the hall still laughing all the way to his office.
I cannot end without talking about school entertainment. The most interesting nights were when we had record-dances; the prefect spins grammar phone records on loud speakers for us to dance. If I were given the Entertainment Prefect-ship for the anniversary, I would get my juke-box ready, and spin all the old-school tunes of yesteryear, oh yes I can, – from James Brown (I feel Alright) to the Beatles (Ob-la-di Ob-la-da).
There is a story about the song Ob-la-di Ob-la-da; it was such a hit and so entertaining that MacDonald is said to have bought several copies of the recording in one go for the school, because it was played every so often, and one copy would soon wear out.
There is one person, to my mind, who we should all remember during this anniversary – Senior Hawa Banga, as we knew her in school. If she were alive, she would have automatically championed the organisation of this anniversary. Hawa is known to many Ghanaians in her political life as Hon.
Hawa Yakubu. She was a Nabia and became the Domestic Bursar in all the interesting times that I have narrated, and was a mother to all of us NABIA.
It would be too difficult to mention all the illustrious people who have passed through the gates of Navasco, but what is not difficult is to plead with ours who are currently serving in government, not to forget about their great school. Hons: Cletus Avoka, Collins Dauda, Martin Amidu, Haruna Iddrisu, Issaku Salia, Yiele Chireh, Alhassan Azong, Abuga Pele, etc. etc.; and the hoard of illustrious officers in the military (Air Vice Marshall Sampson-Oje; Brigadier General Hope Agbenuzah, Air Commodore Dennis Dery, Brigadier General Klobodu, Colonel Issah Wuni, Colonel Emma Kotia, Colonel George Biah, Colonel Abu Alhassan, Colonel Belnono, etc.) and other services,.
Where are you? We expect to hear a lot from you that will propel the development of your school forward. Nothing less will satisfy us.
As I stated from the beginning, I do not claim to know much of the history of Navasco, and so I am sure I have disappointed many NABIA, by leaving out many interesting things, and of course, periods outside my realm. Writing about Navasco can never be exhaustive. I have only taken a small slice of it. Happy anniversary to all Nabia!
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