Feature Article of Monday, 10 May 2010
Columnist: Mensah, Isaac
*Let me tell you a story:*
St. Paul Technical School, Kukurantumi,( SPATS), my Alma Mater was built some 53 yrs ago by the Catholic Mission. It was the first Technical School to be established by the Catholic Church in Ghana and as such, was well maintained and catered for. The Vision was a model Technical School here in Ghana comparable to those in the U.K, U.S. and other developed countries. The teaching staff consisted of the best of both local and foreign Tutors of which some were Catholic Priest. The Tutors were periodically sent on Industrial Attachments and on research to companies like VALCO, VRA, ECG, TOR etc. for hands -on- working experience and updating their skills. Some were flown abroad for Exchange programmes, short courses and further training to enhance their teachings. They were very motivated and well paid so as not to lose them to the big Companies who are always trying to pooch them.
The School's various workshops were by then “state of the art” as new Equipments were being shipped-in almost now and then to update the workshop, to the extent that Technicians and Engineers from Companies come to use our workshops as their last resort to get things fixed. Students from the School were registered to write the external "City and Guilds of London" Technical Exams along with other Technical Students from Developed Nations such as the United State, United kingdom and others, and most SPATS students passed with distinctions. It must be noted that on one of these Exams that 13 candidates presented by the School performed exceptionally well and were presented with 13 of the 15 Medals for Academic Excellence by the City and Guilds of London Exam Board, this led the School to be christened “The Best Technical School in West Africa". Forgive me to quote one of my tutor who was am old student as he narrated this to me “ yes! This was when the whites (Catholic Church) were in-charge and this is no exaggeration, but can be verified from either the City and Guilds of London or School. Such was the standard of education enjoyed by the then students who are not only running majority of the companies in the country as Technical heads and Managers now but are successful Businessmen and Administrators: Popular are Mr. S. Gray, MD. of the real estate giant: Reginauel Gray Ltd. and
Mr. Sam Doodu, Head of Technical Education of the Ghana Education Service only but to mention a few .This Education tailored with discipline made it very easy for most of the then students to progress academically by proceeding to various Universities within and outside the Country to further their studies. Some ended up becoming Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, lawyers etc., they got the chance to study other fields of their choice and were not restricted to only Engineering and Construction fields.
That was the standard by which the School was run by the Catholic Mission until early in the 1990's when unfortunately the Government decided and took over the School. No one needs part of David Copperfield's powers to figure out how things will turn out. The reduction in salaries of the teacher coupled with lack of motivation and gradual degradation of both learning and teaching facilities resulted, in the Massive Absorption of teaching Staff and even workshop assistants by VRA, TOR, Valco, and others. I personally witnessed more than 5 teachers leaving to VRA from my department, including the H.O.D himself. The School’s City and Guilds curriculum was changed to that an “Advanced” Curriculum of the Technical Exams Unit of which till date had seen little or no revision. Students are now supposed to study only 2 subjects plus 1 practical for the same duration as their mates in the Snr. High School. Bottom-line, student no more sat for the City and Guilds of London Exams, but that of the Ghana Technical Education Unit which comprises of the your 2 subjects and a practical as Final Exams then you are supposed to go and find work in a factory as a factory hand or whatever.
This is the same exams students of all Technical Institutes in take this present day and the results dose not even qualify one to enter into a Polytechnic or for that matter, any tertiary institution. One had to do some “part 1” for almost a year doing the same 3 subjects in a Technical Institute, sit and must pass all 3 subjects when results are released the following year.
Then proceed to do the part 2 again in a technical institute and must pass all 3 papers to when the results are released the next year, only with the part 2 results that you can enter into a polytechnic to do the part 3 also for a year which is a tertiary programme or if you are lucky, accepted to do the HND for another 3yrs. From part 1 till you do any tertiary programme (part 3) it will take about 3 yrs.
If one fails in any subject at any stage, he has to resit the following year or He cannot proceed to the next stage and with Technical Exams, there are only 4 grades: distinction, credit, pass and fail. The fact is all these Parts are needless and time wasting as the course contents just repetitions of what you studied at the Secondary Stage. Whiles you were wasting time doing these “Parts”, your mates who went to Snr. High, will be almost through with their Tertiary Education.
Thank God, The Polytechnics have seen this abnormally and I hear are in meetings with policy makers to plan some 6 months course to replace the whole “Parts” thing and to think that this “Part” System been running for more than 45 years only makes pity myself. Asks to why Technical Students cannot proceed to the Universities, Polytechnic or any tertiary institution to further our studies like their mates in the Snr. High Schools, we got to know those Policy makers in their understanding knew that Technical Education is for the School dropouts, those with no prospects in live, those academically challenged and those who want to stay working as factory hands until they die.
The sad thing is most parents with little information about the Technical Education System in Ghana and sometimes the past exploits of the St. Paul Technical School, rush their wards into these Technical Institutes. One will see young very good BECE grades, with high hopes, expectation and ambitions only to find out somewhere in form two that after their 3 years in the school, they cannot get into a polytechnic and have to spend another 3yrs doing part 1, 2 and 3 before they are deem fit to be given a shot at tertiary education. Meanwhile their classmates who went to Snr. high will be rapping up their tertiary education. Parents that are lucky to be advice withdraw their wards to start all over in a Snr. High School. St. Paul technical School in an effort to reduce the dream killing effect of the Technical Education System mandates each student to do the 3 core subjects, Maths, English and Science, Social studies, Life skills and physical education in addition to the 2 final Exams Subjects throughout course duration so after completion, a year of Snr. high schools remedial classes can enable then write and pass WASSCE exams then proceed to any tertiary institution to do something meaningful with their lives.
But for this intervention, majority of the students will not have their dreams come true, like my Snr. Kweku Temeng, a TV news Caster formerly of NET2 TV, but now with TV3.This is just one out of the over 23 Technical Institute in the Country, what about the graduates of the other 22 institutes which since time immemorial “played by the Book” and were teaching only the 2 or 3 exam able subjects for 3years.? No wonder we talk in town and hardly do we see anyone wanting to be associated with any Technical School. One should go and see the conditions of these Schools from falling apart Classrooms to empty and ill equipped workshops. Some even without the basic of basic tools. The disillusioned and seemly helpless students will all go confirm the effect of what the years of governmental neglect had done to the supposed training schools for our Engineers, Technicians and middle age manpower the Nation needs to drive its development agenda. Broken down equipments and machinery needed to train the students do not get repaired nor replaced and left to rot.
The Ghana Education Service and for that matter, The Government's policies in respect to Technical Education still remains unchanged and that is Technical Education is considered, NOT IMPORTANT and TOTALLY IRRELEVANT to the Nation’s growth agenda.
So the Focus of both current and past Governments had been on the Snr. High Schools.
They care about the conditions of facilities in there and will vote huge sums of money to maintain, expand and build more, from Dormitories, School buses to Science Resource Centers. We always hear new Snr. High Schools being built, even from scratch, by or with the support of the Government, but not even One Technical Institute had been built and equipped in the part 35 yrs or so.
Please don't be confused, for I'm not referring to the small structures put up by the NVTI, where the Hair dressers, Seamstress and other artisan go and enroll for a month or two “polish up” courses and are issued with certificates upon completion of their apprentiship.
I'm talking about The Formal Technical Schools / Institutes like Tema Technical Institute, kpando Technical Institute etc., of which one need good passes in BECE certificate to gain addition and has to be chosen by the candidate during the school selection exercise.
The years of governmental neglect and attention as well as clear cut policy direction by the policy makers has succeeded in running down almost all the Technical Institutes and I will quote Mr. Ben Antwi-Boasiako, Executive Secretary, National Board for Professional and Technician Examinations (NABPTEX) ,
“Out of the 23 public technical institutes under the Ghana Education Service (GES) only four can qualify to be called technical institutes. The rest do not qualify to be called Technical Institutes. The state has ill-equipped it’s 19 institutes and run it down whereas the organizations which put up the other four institutions have provided adequate infrastructure and equipment to guarantee students utmost level of practical training.”
The four includes my alma mater, use the link to read the whole report.
I can feel his frustration as he draws the Government’s attention to the need to change and review its “leave to rot” stand on Technical Institutes on every single platform he gets, but it’s like no one hears him.
The Government doesn’t have a problem importing and paying for well trained Engineers and Technicians from other countries, but will not bother equipping the training schools to train its students to match them. I personally think St. Paul Technical School had been able to pull through because of the support the Catholic Church by out-sourcing assistance on the school’s behalf in updating its teaching and learning equipments periodically so it can function as a full Technical School.
Notable among these assistance is the setup of a new ultra modern I.C.T. Lab with an Internet by the Arthur Waser Trust of Switzerland last year for the School which was commissioned by the Eastern Regional Minister, Hon. Samuel Ofosu Ampoful, an old student and once a tutor in the school.
As I type now, Foreign Volunteers are being mobilized (through the Ghana chapter of “VOLU") by the management of the School to assist in the renovation and maintenance of the school’s structures this summer and this is one of the moves the school authorities through the Catholic Church, old students and other organizations dose so it stay afloat and not runned down by the government as I guess, no money is and will ever come up for those purposes.
This is just my logic thoughts at work and maybe, this is not the situation on the ground.
I am not saying each Technical School should be runned like how the Catholics once runned St. Pauls, but a little attention and a clear cut vision as to where it wants Technical Education to go will help greatly.
Since graduates from the Technical School cannot go to the polytechnics, Almost 92 % of students in Polytechnic are Snr. High Graduates who didn’t get admissions into the Universities and have no options than to do the courses HND course offered, though majority deny that fact. So you have a Snr. High Graduate who read Science or Visual Arts now reading HND Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic for two and half years and as a nation we complain if this graduate cannot replace his own bicycle tyre, let alone perform when employed? Our Polytechnics are gradually losing their focus and are trying to compete with the Universities by offering “striped down and replica” of programmes runned in the Universities. Rather than being the pinnacle of Industrial and Technological Research, Support and development of new technologies to enhance life, as well as produce well trained middle manpower needed to dive the nation’s engine of growth which is the case in other advanced countries.
Why will the Government, for the love of God take over a well managed institution like St. Paul Technical School and other Mission Schools when it knows it can only at best run it down eventually as we all see now?
It’s a pity that our policy makers dose not seem to know that no Country can develop if it dose not have a good Technical Education Policy and a serious approach to Technology?
I read today on that the Government through parliament has contracted 7,495,000.00 euros loan from the Central Bank of Austria for upgrading and enhancing Technical and vocational training centers in the country. This is a good thing.
My Problem is why will our leaders pretend to be blind while things deteriorate to this level only for them to go and source for loans to buy new stuff that the GES will not provide funds their maintenance?
These are some of the main reasons that almost all our Technical Institutes are not fit to be call Technical Institutes as the head said.
Mark my words, Ten years from now, we will be singing this same song. Majority of the equipments and new stuff purchased with this loan will not be in sound working condition, due to our understanding that Machines and equipment runs till they breakdown, making provision for spare parts and others for maintenance dose not even come into the picture.
Thanks for your time and please do all you can as citizen to draw our policy maker’s attention to this issues as I said, feel free to