Hard work, inspiring teachers and leaked papers: creating a society without meritocracy

Saturday, September 24, 2022.

Professor Cecil Klufio inspired me. He taught me as a medical student. We feared him because he was ‘no nonsense.’ As a Resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology, he taught me again. He had some of the best teaching materials I ever saw including some questions and answers in PowerPoint presentations that he used for general teaching and to prepare students for examinations. I joined Prof. Klufio’s special lectures for the group that wrote the examination to become specialists 6 months ahead of me, and then continued with him till I wrote my own examination to pass out as a specialist (a Member of the Ghana College of Surgeons) in September 2008.

Prof. Klufio’s ‘special lectures’ started at 6am. To beat the Accra traffic, he would get to his office at about 5am to work on more teaching materials, usually to update his old ones. He was very current! While some other Residents didn’t like joining Prof. Klufio’s lectures because he didn’t take it kindly if one came in unprepared, I enjoyed his lectures. He was an ‘encyclopedia’ in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. With time, he began to like me. I prepared well for his lectures. I realised I could learn even more by having some ‘one on one’ with him, so I got to his office always before 6am to have discussions with him. He didn’t complain.

A few weeks before my Membership examination, Prof Klufio told me something that touched my heart. He told me he was travelling outside the country but he knew I had passed the examination already. The only thing I had to do was “to give simple answers first when I was asked a question (not start with complex answers/’footnotes’), because I had too much information.”

That interaction with Prof. Klufio that day was humbling! In 15 years (since I entered the Medical School in 1993), no teacher had told me before an examination that he/she was convinced I would pass the examination. I had come to terms with the situation that in Medical School and postgraduate medical examinations, one ‘dangerous’ statement you made in the examination room was enough to fail you no matter the amount of information or experience you had.

Prof. Klufio’s advice reminded me about what my father told me before my A Level examination in Presbyterian Boys Secondary School (Presec), Legon in 1992. My father told me he knew how hard I had worked, and I had to remember that if in the examination room, I found the questions hard, it meant it was hard for everybody in Ghana. Our Mathematics Paper 2 was very hard. Someone gave up and left the room before 15 minutes. I remembered what my father told me and did my best. I got an A in Mathematics (and became the first to get 5 straight As at the A Level. That is another story).

Yesterday, we had disturbing news about the leakage of the School of Law entrance paper. It is sad. We have seen leakage of examination papers at all levels in Ghana. What are the implications? People no longer believe in working hard or in meritocracy because when you have money or influence, you can get examination papers and get advantage over someone who has worked hard for years. We are producing graduates who don’t deserve to pass, our certificates are not being recognised (or at best are questioned) internationally because of this. The earlier we did something about this, the better. This is dangerous for our country.

In the coming weeks, my son will be writing the BECE examination. He has worked hard for many years. I have inspired him like Prof. Klufio did to me, and told him what my father told me, but deep down my heart, I am not comfortable. I don’t know if some people will see the questions before the examination. I can only hope for the best.

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