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Master Hassan I. Jagne: Armitage School veteran teacher and educationist

Dec 11, 2012, 10:57 AM | Article By: FaFa E. M’Bai

Many in this country, probably most and conceivably all, were more closely associated than I with Master H.I. Jagne’s public life and work and therefore better qualified than I to assess it.  But from 1955 when I met him at Armitage School, Georgetown as our Form 1 and Form 2 English and Geography teacher onwards and until his death on Saturday 3rd November 2012, at the age of 79, I knew him also as a friend, a brother and above all, a mentor who always gave wise counsel.  And it is in these respects that I pay this tribute to his memory, and I do so willingly but sadly too.

Master H.I. Jagne was one of a gallant band of very dedicated and highly motivated Teachers led by the Principal of the School and most distinguished educationist, Master M. D. Salla. There were G. L. Goddard, A. A. Njai, M. L. Drammeh, E.O Njie, M. El-Hafiz Fye, S. S. Jobe, G.W.L. Thomas, N.S.Z. Njie, M.O.J. Sise, Kekoto Manneh, Pa I.S. Khan, S.B. Jobe and Serigne Macoumba Jaye.  That was fifty-seven (57) years ago.  Most of them have, over the years, sadly departed this earthly life for the solemn shades in the silent continents of eternity.  But their footprints are on the sands of time. This tribute is to them all. It is also a strong expression of our great wish to Master M. D. Salla, M. El-Hafiz Fye and G.W.L. Thomas for the longest life in good health and God’s grace at all times.

They, it was who, gave us a fascinating insight into the joy of scholarship.  This is not the ability to quote the Wollof philosopher, Kochi Barma or the hero of Manding, Sundiata Keita, or the Jihadists Saihou Omar Taal of Futa Torro or Maba Jahou Bah of Saloum.  It is not the ability to know the periphrastic conjunction, or solve the Pythagorean theorem, or understand the principles of heat, light, and sound, or verify the mystery of quadratic equations.  These are all most important.  But they do not indicate true academic scholarship.  They do not make for a dynamic social order.  Creativity, emulation, and initiative, are the earmarks of scholarship. 

This tribute is also one of gratitude to all our said teachers particularly those who have lived long enough to witness the blossoming of the beautiful flowers they had tendered. We are very grateful to them all for helping to mould our outlook at the formative stages of our intellectual and physical development.  They, it was who, taught us the wonders of the earth as an object in space, and as an object for investigation.  They, it was who, made our bodies beautiful as temples to house the intellectual currents to be generated after our school days.

The emphasis at Armitage School was, and has always been, the development of the human mind and the improvement of moral and spiritual discipline without which, intellectual discipline – the main concern of modern education – would be meaningless.  The objective in our dear School was, and has always been, to produce responsible and conscientious citizens who will be well aware of their rights and conscious of their duties – whiles remaining attached to the community, loyal to its values and integrated in its social system.

For five or more years, we lived and learned at Armitage: the first and only boarding school in The Gambia since 1927; an institution where boys (and now girls) from every corner of the country created as it were, a miniature “united nations”; where we made friends and learned to appreciate and tolerate the strengths and weaknesses of one another; where we had to live with, and obey, school rules and regulations which some of us, no doubt, thought too strict and too many; where every one of us was cared for, and watched, directed and guided towards the best ideals for the attainment of a full and healthy life. 

When we therefore proudly passed out of the School, the question we were asked was: “Has Armitage failed you?” The determination we made and the promise we gave was to make Armitage one day to be proud of us also.  There are innumerable practical examples before us, for inspite of the limitations of the academic training that the School had offered at the time, its alumni have distinguished themselves in all walks of life, especially in education, medicine, law, and politics. 

The people who immediately come to mind include Professor Lamin Sanneh, a distinguished Gambian, an eminent scholar, and D. Willis James Professor of History and World Religions at Yale University – the first non-American to hold such a high and rare academic position – and also Chairman of the Yale Council on African Studies and Fellow of Trumbull College; Dr. Abdulai Sise, Dr. Sheriff Conteh, Dr. Boto Duanda, Dr. Ahmed Jassey and the distinguished surgeon, Dr. Sheriff A.L. Ceesay who, at the age of 21, not only qualified as one of the best medical students at the famous Guy’s Hospital, University of London, but also obtained the distinction of being a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) of both England and Scotland in the same year. There are also Dr Lamin Sise PhD, (UN), Dr.Yahya Bokang PhD, Dr.Boro Suso PhD, Sidi Jammeh (UNDP), and many more.

Some of the architects of the independence of The Gambia and Cabinet Ministers in the First Republic: Sheriff S. Sisay, first and twice Minister of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank; Sheriff M. Dibba, first Vice-President, Minister of Finance, Ambassador,Speaker of the National Assembly Second Republic ; Seyfo Omar Mbakeh, Minister of Works and Communications, Lamin Bora Mboge, Minister of Works and Communications, Minister of Finance;  Bakary Kuti Sanyang, Minister for Local Government and Lands, Jereh L.B. Daffeh, Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Kalilu Singhateh,Minister of Health and Social Welfare,Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture Amulai Janneh,Minister for Local Government and Lands,  Landing Jallow Sonko, Minister for Local Governmnet and Lands, Kebba K. Jawara,Minister for Local Government and Lands, Dr. Lamin Saho, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, to name only a few were past pupils of the School. In the 1950s, we proudly used to say that the future of this country shall be decided on the playing fields of Armitage, as Etonians said of Eton in England.  In the First Republic no less than six to eight Cabinet Ministers at any one time came from Armitage School. 

In the Second Republic the record is still one of great pride and satisfaction: Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Lamin Jobarteh, Minister of Forestry and the Environment, Fatou Ndeye Gaye, Mrs. Fatoumatta Tambajang, former Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Lamin Waa Juwara, former Minister for Local Government and Lands, Alieu Badara Jeng and Ndey Njie, former Members of the National Assembly, amongst many more come to mind.  I am proud to say that I myself strode both the First and the Second Republic as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, first in 1982 and again in 1994. As Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the First Republic, I sat in Cabinet next to A.A Njai as Minister of Education, Youth Sports and Culture and together with him agreed and decided that Fatou Bom Bensouda, Jainaba Johm, and Isatou Combeh Njie be awarded full government scholarships to read Law in Nigeria and I had the pleasure of communicating this to High Commissioner Sam Sarr in Lagos.   Master Salla taught President Jawara. “Master Salla Keep Me In School” is a chapter in his memoirs, “Kairaba”. Master Jagne taught President Jammeh. There must be great joy and pride in teaching.

Every age needs its heroes.  They may be prophets or priests, kings or warriors, discoverers or poets, but some extraordinary people for the ordinary men and women to look up to and in their own fashion to admire and to emulate there must be. When we look back at Armitage School and more particularly the lives and times as well as the contributions of its past pupils to the development of this country, we cannot fail to see the great educational and moral genius of Master M.D. Salla, without whom others would not have had their capacities brought on to greatness.  Master, we thank you for showing us the way and the higher purpose of education.

We may ask: what is education and its higher purpose? I will contend with Lord Chesterfield, the master who knows, when he said: “Education is the only thing that can show us our sure way to heaven, that can serve us as a friend in the desert, a companion in loneliness, a society in solitude, an armour against our enemies and an ornament amongst our friends”.

And on its higher purpose, I turn to the masters of thought and philosophy: Socrates (469 – 399 BC) said that “the aim of education is to dispel error and to discover truth.”  Plato (427 – 347) believed that “education consists of giving to the body and the soul all the perfection of which they are susceptible.”  Michael de Montaigne (1533 – 1592 AD) insisted that “education is the art of forming man.”  John Locke (1632 – 1704) was convinced that “the attainment of a sound mind in a sound body is the end of education”.  Henry VanDyke (1852 – 1933) was certain that the purpose of education was to create men “who can see clearly, image vividly, think steadily and will nobly”.  Although these great masters spoke in different words on the aims of education, they are basically in unison with one another.   To be sure, Socrates emphasizes truth.  Locke and VanDyke stress mental power and discipline, while Montaigne views the whole of man, and yet all of them see eye to eye that the primary purpose of education is the cultivation of mind and character, and the improvement of man.

At Armitage, Master M.D. Salla summed it up all when he said “Education is not simply a process to be used to achieve only educational ends, but fundamentally, a supreme personal gift to a unique human being to help him to become what he has in him to become”.  In our School, the quest for education was knowledge, humility, wisdom and courage, and that knowledge is not given but earned, character not granted but cultivated, and most significant of all – education is for contribution and service to one’s community, one’s country, and to the entire world.

Who is a Teacher?   What is the life of a Teacher?  An Indian philosopher says that “a teacher is someone who never stops learning”.  The teaching profession is as old as mankind.  The best known religious founders in the history of civilization throughout the ages are also known as teachers.  Socrates was the teacher of Plato and Plato of Aristotle and Aristotle of Alexander the great. 

Confucius was the greatest philosopher in China and founder of Confucianism, one of the three major religions in ancient China.  However, he was best known as a great moral teacher of man and as such is still universally acknowledged today, although his teachings are not universally understood.  At one time during his life, he had no less than three thousand students, including prominent statesmen and scholars of his time.

Jesus Christ was the founder of Christianity:  His birth laid down an unparalleled landmark in the history and calendar of the human race.  Jesus was also a teacher:  He had twelve disciples and He taught them to love one another as He loved them.  The great teachings of Jesus can be found in The Sermon on the Mount.  He was a sincere, modest, and inspiring teacher, for He taught by His living examples of love and humility.

The Holy Prophet, Muhammad (SAWS) was the greatest teacher.  His mission was universal.  He was commanded by Allah to make His message known to all mankind and to call upon them to believe in it.  He was sent by Allah as a mercy to all mankind – to enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah – a giver of good tidings and a warner.  He established truth and justice and raised for mankind an inimitable civilization which builds up its structure in the material and spiritual worlds at the same time – a civilization which unites the two worlds and achieves harmony between body and soul, religion and politics, faith and science, the present life and the hereafter, the practical and the ideal.  He educated the Islamic nation until it attained the standard which earned it “the best nation ever raised for the good of mankind”: an education at the levels of the individual, the family, the community and the nation leading humans to achieve the highest degree of moral and spiritual nobility possible in this life, and the practical code which regulates human life in its noblest form and in all its spheres: political, economic, social, intellectual and moral - a life which is befitting human beings whom Allah has ennobled and raised above all species of His creation and entrusted with the task the heavens, the earth and the mountains have all dreaded to shoulder.

From this cursory survey of the past and present, it is obvious that the meaning of teacher is indeed immense and staggering.  The word “teacher” is identified with a towering philosopher, an inspired religious founder or a great leader, as well as with anyone who teaches in basic or secondary school, college or university.

Here, in this tribute attention and space will be devoted to all teachers and especially our past Armitage School teachers– and in particular Master H.I. Jagne. But it is equally desirable to have a perspective view of the meaning of teacher.  For just as river, lake and ocean are different in form and size but of the same substance, namely water, so the teachers of different status and renown, however far apart, are still of the same family.  There is affinity between the simplest arithmetic and the most complicated calculus.  Every teacher, whoever and wherever they may be, must keep this simple but profound truth in mind.

Teaching is not merely one profession among many but a calling to help developing, consciously and vigilantly, the highest and best qualities and potentialities in man to their fullest capacity.  In the teacher reposes the responsibility for awakening, developing and cherishing the good life. The life of a teacher may therefore be divided into three parts. First; his relations with students: second; his relations with his colleagues and seniors: and lastly; his relations with himself.

Our Armitage School teachers were truly good teachers.  They were good not only in words and deeds; they were also good at heart.  Their good relations with students were not mere matters of strategy to influence people, but true reflections of goodness of heart.  They regarded every student as a child of God, and hence as their own brothers, or sisters.  They were vitally concerned with, not merely interested in, the welfare of every student.  The present and future well-being of every single student was deeply ingrained in their hearts.  They were friendly but firm, approachable but dignified, reasonable but resolute.  They were enthusiastic but calm, eager to explain but ready to listen, and emphasized the importance of propriety in words, conduct, and appearance.  They were also very patient.  They respected their students and expected us to respect them in return.  They believed firmly that mutual understanding and friendship can be developed with students within the realm of propriety.  Hence there was no conflict between sincere friendliness and proper aloofness.  Our teachers were not only interested in doing right; they were also resolved to be right. 

In private conferences with students, they were polite but frank; when occasion called for it, they could be stern and severe.  Whenever timely, they always encouraged students to think, to study, to work hard, and to place great emphasis on devotion to duty and daily diligence. 

With diligent but slow students they were most patient and considerate; but with those who were able but lazy and particularly with those who were remorselessly irresponsible, they were resolutely strict and unwavering.  To adults who have been away from school for years but tried hard, they gave extra consideration.  In any event they made their judgments more by the rule of reason than by sheer arithmetical precision which could be unfair or even cruel.  They also gave timely warning or encouragement to students.

Next, was their relations with their colleagues and their seniors.  When a teacher did have time for social contacts with his colleagues, he was more inclined to listen than to talk, most willing to learn from his colleagues ideas or materials in areas he himself was deficient and very reluctant to engage in any dispute or argument when all participants are talking.

To his colleagues in higher rank or age, he showed particular deference and respect.  Only in most righteous, honourable, and justifiable situations would a teacher express views different from those superior to him, and even so in the most modest and respectful manner. 

Finally, their relations with themselves were the most meaningful and soul-searching of all, for here lay the foundation of their relationships with students, colleagues, or seniors and, indeed, with all human beings, whether or not they came into direct contact with them.  All the relations of our teachers, which we have just examined sprang from the truthfulness of their relations with themselves.

Master H.I. Jagne was true to himself as well as to others.  In other words, he was a good teacher; he was true to himself.   As a true teacher he exercised self-discipline and engaged in self-examination at all times.  He rose early and meditated in solitude.  He knew his occupation as a calling of the greatest significance and responsibility, and therefore lived each and every day as if it were the only day he had.  To him, every day was vital, every hour was precious, and each moment lost was irrecoverable! He had a daily personal schedule for himself, covering the time of his rising in the morning to the very minute of his retirement in the evening and never lost sight of the long-range goal for which he had dedicated his entire life.

He loved to work and found peace and joy in working which he could not find anywhere else.  He worked, and worked hard and worked throughout his life.  He was good in every subject he taught.  He was aware, too, that it was not enough for him to know his subject; he must know his subject thoroughly and delivered well-organized and well presented lectures.  His lectures were far more than the revised repetition of what was in the textbooks.  His lectures were rich with additional and relevant materials, and his delivery replete with quiet enthusiasm and good reason.  He had a sense of fulfillment in teaching.  As a true teacher all these demands were self-imposed, for as a good teacher he was true to himself. 

Furthermore, Master H.I. Jagne had a real largeness and simplicity of nature, and was distinguished by the dignity which never fails to adorn the astute intellectual that he was.  He was upright and as gentle as a child, and while severely conscientious, he had a delightful sense of humour.  He was a man of fine presence, pure purpose and of gentle speech; a man whose high spirit a small mind and imperfect sympathy could not break, whose wide and lofty aims a circumscribed sphere could neither narrow nor lower.  He taught me English and Geography with an insight made luminous by love of language and of nature. If ever a man loved a language, Master H.I. Jagne loved the English Language, and spoke it and wrote it effortlessly and eloquently.  He was admired and loved and respected for his wide learning, gentle disposition, humility, and fine character. He was a quiet literally giant and a poet of great measure.

With himself, he was honest; to others, he was gracious.  In receiving friends or dealing with people, he was kind, generous, sincere and full of understanding.  At first sight he looked dignified and shy, but after an association with him for however short a time one quickly discovered and could not fail to feel the breath of modesty and friendliness filling the world.  He never ceased loving talent and cherishing scholarship and teaching the great principles of virtue. Everybody, whether acquainted with him or not, when they hear his name are full of praise of the perfect gentleman.  “His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand and say to all the world: this was a gentleman”.  When Shakespeare wrote those words, he had in mind people like Master H.I. Jagne. 

I do not think we can put it better than the Editor of Foraya when he said in the editorial of 7th November, 2012:-

“Hassan walked on this earth with a humility that made him invisible to those who did not know him.

Those who knew him could not fail to see his disregard for pageantry and pomp.  He looked down on pomposity and vainglory.  He had no interest in capturing the public eye.  He was contented with what he had and never sought to measure his worth by the properties he owned.  He was satisfied with the simple and ordinary.  He was never a burden to anyone.  He once read the following words written by a scholar with watery eyes confirming the ethos of his life: “Ask of society what a descent life requires and ask for no more and give to society what its development requires and give no less”.

Hassan was satisfied with the basics and was enthusiastic in giving every ounce of his mind and might to make the world a better place than he found it.  In this respect he still lives as a role model.  May he rest in perfect peace”.

Lux perpetua luceat ei. May light perpetual shine upon him.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Ina lilahi wa ina lilahu raji hun. We will always remember Master H.I. Jagne.