Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Helping create more MIghTy Africans out of Ghanaian high school students

On Friday, March 15, I realized that a gentleman I had interviewed for MIT had been admitted. I couldn't hide my excitement and I told a couple of friends there and then. The news was confirmed to me that weekend. This gentleman was a student of St. Francis Xavier, a small Catholic school tucked into Wa in the Upper West region of Ghana. Last year, 2 out of 3 teenagers I had interviewed for MIT also were admitted. One chose to go to Columbia which is another story altogether. Here's praying that the one from this year ends up going to MIT. He's as Mens et Manus as they come. MIT has to step up its financial aid offer to make that happen. 77 Massachusetts Avenue, we dey watch you.

This gentleman is such an awesome young man. He was part of the giant-killing squad that sent St. Francis Xavier Seminary to the finals of Ghana's National Science & Maths quiz after a 2-year break in the competition for senior high schools. They had beaten many 'top' schools, including my own Presec, and only lost to Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) which in turn won the competition for the first time in its history. Presec, itself, was gunning to win the competition for keeps (again) for the second time after having won it 5 times already in 1996, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2009. This gentleman ended that dream. I heard about the news when it happened. Would you hate on this gentleman after meeting him if you were me? You would give him serious respect. He put his school firmly on the Ghanaian map like Asamoah Gyan did for Ghana at the Mzansi Mundial. Okay, am kidding about Baby Jet.

It's rather cool to see my name on the list of notable alumni on Presec's Wikipedia page. I entered Presec having just been part of a twosome that got my KNUST JSS to the semi-finals of the National Kiddie Quiz. One of my goals at Presec was to become part of the prime Brilliant Science & Maths quiz team of 3. I started off being one of the best students (academically) in Form 1, and took home the prize for Chemistry once amongst a stream of 5 classes and 200 students. By Form 3, I was near the top but no longer one of the best students. It's because I had found a love for writing, debating, learning things other than my classroom subjects, making more friends who were girls, seeing Accra more, etc. I joined the running for the Brilliant team but missed the cut after I didn't do as well in some 'tests'. I remember thinking, why conduct written tests to choose candidates who will be participating in a quiz competition? I made the Kiddie Quiz team in JSS because I led my class to the final of the inter-class quiz against all odds. Anyway, am talking about myself too much, read this blog post about my high school years.

The reason I wrote the previous paragraph is because I wanted to talk about versatility. Ultimately, I made it into Presec while some of my friends didn't make it because I had a 'full package'. I had a 'story' and a package of doing many different things. My academics were still strong, but I had participated in many debates and quizzes for Presec and never lost a single one. I had various leadership positions and responsibilities and acquitted myself well. That's the kind of student who ultimately makes it to MIT and succeeds. But even more importantly, those are kinds of students Ghana and Africa needs. High school students who have drive, passions and find a way to combine them with their academic pursuits. These are the soft skills that are imbued in teenagers way before they have to take on their first job.

The 3 students I interviewed for MIT who got in, and a couple more who didn't, have these traits. They have 'stories'. Oh, what schools did they go to? Presec, SOS-HGIC and St. Francis Xavier. Presec and SOS have had many students go to top universities in the states, St. Francis Xavier, not so much, But all 3 can write as well as I can now, they have experiences outside the classroom which they can narrate and value its importance, and can hold intellectual conversations. For some reason, I think the average Ghanaian high school student is more versatile than the one from the turn of the 21st century. That's great news. In fact, even for those who didn't get in to MIT, I know they are really awesome individuals who got the wrong end of a stick. I have every belief they would be as successful. Their stories alone can motivate their peers and older folks to do more. I was so tough trying to console the other one who didn't get in this year. We deduced why he might not have got in and we are believing that another great school would see the qualities he has and take him on.

I was going to write more about the St. Francis Xavier school, but I think you've read enough in this post. So I'd write a special one about this school and others like it - St. Charles in Tamale and Notre Dame in Navrongo. They don't have as many alumni like the Presec, Gey Heys, Opoku Wares and HolyCos. The older ones like us have to take more interest in the younger ones. I remember how we said at Presec, we wouldn't do anything to help the school. I've grown wiser. We should organize more initiatives to orient our young students in the right direction. I've heard you complain about the curriculum in our schools and how they are taught, do you really think you can't do anything about this? Have a couple of conversations with your nephews and nieces and your area boys and girls and see what we will reap.

What's my secret for getting people into MIT? Well aside, what I've told you above, there's not much more to it. The most important thing is - the student has to show his versatility and ambition. MIT doesn't need another smart kid, it needs a hardworking kid who would make MIT a better experience for everyone there. Another smart kid would end up in a cubicle crunching numbers for a bank or on a lab table researching . The hardworking kid would be the one MIT would flaunt as an alumni for establishing the next big thing. I remember waxing lyrical about all the great things I wanted to do for Ghana in the application to MIT. I didn't mention the same things I am doing today but the drive remain the same with a different car model and different passengers. Frankly. Africa needs that too. We need change makers, doers and entrepreneurs. And we need to create them at younger ages. So this year, am on a mission to reach even more young people and make them like me. Because those are the kind of people I want to lead.
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