Feature Article of Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Columnist: Mensah, Opanin Kwabena
The presidential candidate for the opposition party, New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Akufo Addo (NAA), in a speech at the IEA on Monday August 22, 2012 outlined his policies for which he sought the mandate to be the president of Ghana. Among other things he proposed fee-free education through high school when he said: “…We will redefine basic education and make it compulsory from Kindergarten to Senior High School. To ensure that no child is denied access to secondary education, we will remove the biggest obstacles that currently stand in their way: cost and access. In addition to tuition and other costs already borne by government, admission, library, computer, science center and examination fees will all be free. So will boarding, feeding and entertainment fees, along with textbooks and utilities. In order to ensure equity, day students will also be fed at school free of charge. Free secondary school education will cover Technical and Vocational institutions.”
He admitted to the challenges involved in implementing the policy, among them being the availability and role of teachers when he stated: “These plans can only work with the enthusiastic support of a well-trained and motivated teaching workforce. We do not have enough teachers and many are not happy with their lot. Last year, the Minister for Education said there was a 60,000-teacher deficit in the country. The NPP will attract, train and retain young professionals into the teaching profession. We will make it easier for teachers to upgrade their skills, improve their status and provide them with incentives”
As expected critics like one Baba Musah has cried out loud that “the solution to the problems with regards to SHS education in this country absolutely goes beyond a mere rhetorical promise of making it SHS education free especially when the facts on the ground are very clear that, our current educational system does not have adequate existing infrastructure to support even all those who are qualified by GES standards to gain admission into the second cycle institution how much more to accommodate the huge numbers at all the SHS level in the country.”
If the Almighty God listened to somebody like Musah, he would not create the world. At the time God made the decision there was nothing to compare with but he had a vision and went ahead with it. Today we have a world populated by billions with each generation proffering solutions to the problems of the day. When the late Professor Atta-Mills (President of Ghana 2009-2012) sought to establish two universities in the country, he faced the same lack of infrastructure issue and yet went ahead to cut the sod for them. The Volta University would admit students for the 2012-2013 academic year.
A former governor of the Lagos State of Nigeria, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, campaigned and was elected on his fee-free high school education policy (NAA should contact him for advice). To the surprise of his detractors, he built hundreds of schools throughout the state and employed domestic and foreign teachers to educate the students. He increased the enrolment of students in teachers’ colleges so that by the fifth year of the program’s implementation he had more than enough teachers. His actions would explain why the many Ghanaian teachers who were in Lagos State were let go. The program was successful. He had thought about it, planned and implemented it, as expected.
It is believed that the policy of fee-free education through high school would be possible so far as teachers are concerned and should be encouraged for implementation. One of the major challenges that would have to be overcome, as NAA rightly pointed out, is the provision of teachers to teach at all levels of pre-tertiary educational institutions. Actions are being taken here to expatiate on the aspect of the policy that affects teachers – quality and availability. In the short run, the first action would be to direct all the over 60,000 yearly National Service personnel into the classrooms with exception of probably doctors and nurses (National Service: government should extend this to cover all foreign students in our tertiary institutions as this is the law of the land. It should be a condition for studying in Ghana). Second, all teachers due for retirement and retired teachers who would want to teach should be contracted for a period of time.
Third, which is both short and long term, relates to what New York City (NYC) did when it had to “alleviate chronic teacher shortages in high-need subject areas” such as special education, science and mathematics. Mayor Rudy Giuliani (1994-2001) established what he called The NYC Teaching Fellows – an alternative certification program designed to bring talented individuals into the NYC classrooms. Giuliani was quoted as saying “Rather than completing a traditional teacher education program prior to entering the classroom, Fellows engage in an intensive pre-service training program and are then eligible to begin teaching full-time - a fast track into the teaching profession. The program looks for successful, driven individuals from different backgrounds and careers with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree conferred by the start of the program. A key element of becoming a Teaching Fellow is enrollment in a subsidized master’s degree program, which helps develop the skills and the understanding of the theories needed to help students succeed in the classroom.”
Ghana now has thousands of unemployed graduates (a situation that led them to form the Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana - UGAG) from which the program can draw its personnel to solve the teacher deficit problem. In addition to the 38 Colleges of Education, both Cape Coast University and University of Education, Winneba (UEW) with all of its satellite campuses would serve as ‘boot-camps’ for three months (90 days) to prepare these graduates for the teaching field. Academically, they are already qualified. Just as the NYC Fellows, they would be encouraged to pursue graduate courses to earn promotions in the teaching field. Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (ODKN) established Emergency Colleges to train pupil-teachers for forty (40) days to teach in the primary schools. He succeeded.
In the long run, just as ODKN enticed the graduates of the then middle school system into the 4-year teacher training colleges who became professional teachers on completion, the many graduates of our university system are to be enticed into the teaching profession as per NYC Fellows’ method. For this to be effective the present method of teacher education should be reviewed to respond to challenges of the day. The system is weak and counter-productive. Weak in that it is one-size fits all just like the provision of school uniforms to school children and it does not consider the sizes of the children. Ghanaian teachers should have a preference among areas like (but not limited to) early-childhood education, special education, elementary school education, high school education, counseling and educational administration.
It is counter-productive in that soon after graduation from a three-year diploma awarding institution, the teacher thinks of going back to a university/college for a first degree. There is no job satisfaction. In a Ghanaweb Feature Article from Tuesday, 22 May 2007 titled JAK! Give Teachers University Degrees, it was argued that “The system discriminates against those with Certificate ‘A’ and diploma in that they cannot be promoted to take up responsible and challenging positions. Nobody wants to stay in a profession that keeps some of its personnel at the lower social strata. This explains why there is not much job satisfaction among those involved and thus creating instability in the system. If the trained teacher were given a degree, the study leave with pay would in the long run be curtailed. This would release enough funds for their remuneration…A teacher with a degree exhumes confidence, assertiveness and possesses high self-esteem” (Those who question why a teacher should have a degree to teach in elementary should note that given the chance, persons with advanced degrees – probably Ph.Ds. – would be the right people to teach in primary schools).
From the preceding it is being argued that the government should (a) phase out the practice of giving diplomas to teachers and replace them with degrees and (b) government should get out of teacher education. This would mean either UEW absorbs all the 38 Colleges of Education and make them satellite campuses or divide them among all the public universities as departments under Faculty of Education. Government could maintain its role as the examining body to certify all teachers in the country as done by other professions. Funds for teacher education should then be redirected to give respectable salaries to teachers. In a feature article from Saturday, 9 July 2005 titled Paying Teachers, it was stated that “As the government gets out of both teacher training all the subsidies, grants, scholarships and all expenses that it used to bear are going to be released and a sensible way out would be to divert them into the remuneration of teachers to attract the target population into the profession.”
Fee-free education through high school would succeed in Ghana if implemented with the commitment it deserved and made sure that the teachers were properly remunerated. Recruiting persons with first degrees into the teaching profession would reduce the cost of teacher education and bring about stability in the system since very few, if any, would leave the classrooms for further education. Funding for teacher education would be considerably reduced; the difference should then be directed towards the remuneration of teachers, especially for those in the very remote parts of the country.
Opanin Kwabena Mensah