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General News of Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Source: Class FM

Flashback: We never took anybody's allowance, we even fed trainee teachers for free - Opoku-Agyemang

Former Education Minister Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, has denied withdrawing the allowances of trainee teachers and nurses during her tenure.

In an interview with Kwabena Bobie Ansah on Accra100.5FM’s Citizen Show just a few weeks before the flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr John Mahama named her as his running mate, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC) said: “We never took anybody’s allowance from them”, explaining: “Those who had the allowance already, had it throughout”.

“It was a new group coming that was placed on student loan scheme. So, there was nothing like that”, she clarified.

She even challenged anyone with contrary evidence to call into the show to expose her if they so could.

“And, I want anyone to phone in and say somebody withdrew his or her allowance”, she dared.

Ghana’s first female Vice-Chancellor reiterated: “Those already in the colleges got their allowances throughout because they were already in the system”, adding: “And, normally, when you bring a new rule, it doesn’t always affect the [existing group]; it affects the new group”.

“I see you are amazed but this is the fact”, the first-ever female running mate of the biggest opposition party told Kwabena Bobie Ansah.

“I think the new group came in 2015 or thereabout”, insisting: “The new entrants never received any allowance for them to even say it was taken from them”. “If I take something from you, it means you possessed it and then I dispossessed you of it but they never got any allowance in the first place but for those already in the colleges, everybody got their allowance throughout”, Prof Opoku-Agyemang said.

Asked why the Mahama administration could not drive home the explanation she gave on the show about the matter, Prof Opoku-Agyemang answered: “We responded several times on many many platforms but maybe it’s because when you hear ‘free’ then you get excited; or?”

She said apart from “replacing” the allowance with the student loan access so as to increase enrolment into the colleges of education, the government ensured that the trainee teachers were fed for free.

“In fact, I discussed with my deputies that: OK, the arrangement at the colleges of education is that they feed them just like I was saying that it is like a secondary school, so, they have their dining halls and so on and so forth. And, so, if this new group comes and they cannot be fed, I don’t think it will create a good atmosphere. And, now, are you going to say that they should pay for their food and somebody else is not paying their food? It’s akin to being at home and preparing food and saying: ‘Kwabena, here you are but Akosua, you can’t be part of it’. How can you even think about that?”

“So, what we did was to provide free food for them apart from their allowance after we decided to replace the allowance with the loan scheme. You had to, because the second- and third-years there were eating for free through their allowances, and, so, if the new ones don’t get allowance and would have to go for a loan, then you cannot exclude them from the dining hall”, she said.

Impact on enrolment

Prof Opoku-Agyemang also said contrary to claims by the New Patriotic Party that the replacement of the allowance with the loan scheme was counter-productive, subsequent enrolments shot up drastically as a consequence of same.

“And, then the enrolment that people said widely that no one availed themselves of; we were able to increase enrolment by nearly 60 per cent. They [colleges] all went very near to their maximum. If the capacity were 300 and the school consistently enrolled 120, 110, 150, 160, which meant it had gone up, after we introduced the new policy, the same college could enrol about 280 people”.

“So, you see, that was the policy that erred on behalf of the youth because all these thousands of children that were staying at home with no hope of training – when you say you’re interested in the youth, what should it mean? When they are capable, they want to learn, they can learn; the space exists and you say that because I cannot give you free allowance, go home. When you compare the two scenarios, we thought the better option was to create the space for many more of our youth. When you get the training and the skill and say you won’t work, you can say you will do a little something on the side but if you don’t have the training, what do you do?” she wondered.

In her view, the reversal of the policy by the Akufo-Addo government, has rather not been helpful to the students.

“With the current situation, I don’t have the accurate data but we all sponsor kids in these schools and they’ll tell you: ‘In the past, we were being given GHS500 but today, they give us GHS400 and we have to pay this, pay that, do this, do that, and by the time we’re done making those payments, all the money is gone’. And I say: ‘But that is what you people said you wanted’”, she said.

There was no back-tracking

She also denied claims that the Mahama administration beat a retreat on the policy.

“We never back-tracked. I think it was bad propaganda, bad press in the sense that it got to a point [that] a similar situation also existed in the nursing schools, and if a lot of the nursing schools also enrolled more, it will be OK. Here we were building CHPS Compounds; we were building hospitals, district hospitals, regional hospitals; turning regional hospitals into university teaching hospitals and so on. You needed more people, and yet again, if you were enrolling them in drips and drabs, there would be a problem, so, we needed to expand enrolment”.

“So, the idea was that they should put them on the GETfund where we draw some of these allowances from and the student loan and so on, but we had to pull back because the Act that set up the GETfund was not meant for that”, she explained.

“And, you see, what a lot of people also don’t know is that, in terms of medical training, the medical schools are under the universities and the universities are under the Ministry of Education. A lot – I think apart from, maybe, the Legon School of Nursing, UCC, and I think Tamale or so, they are not that many – the vast majority of our nursing schools are under the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Health didn’t have an equivalent of a GETfund and I’m not sure the NHIA has any such facility to give support to students”.

“So, you notice that, no, you can’t do that because the law doesn’t allow, so, you have to go back, give them back their allowance and then put the structures in place, if necessary, maybe through the Ministry of Health because the nursing schools are under the Ministry of Health, they are not under the Ministry of Education. And the Act that set up the GETfund does not allow you to do this, so, you have to do the right thing”.

She, however, conceded that the roll-out of the policy for the trainee nurses, could have been better.

“You see, you start with intention and, yes, you’ll make mistakes. I agree that the first step could have been different in the sense that we could easily have amended the GETfund Act to bring them all in; I mean it’s all Ghanaian people’s money. And, again, yes, they also got their money. Sometimes, find them in your studio and talk to them: how much are they getting now? What are the institutions taking from them? How much were they getting the? How much will the loan have given them? Right now, how much are they getting? How much are they getting for fees? How much are they paying for examination fees? Are they sending all the money back and more? So, who didn’t think through what?”

Trainee nurses and teachers campaign against Opoku-Agyemang

On Wednesday, 8 July 2020, Members of the Concerned Teacher and Trainee Nurses Association said they received the selection of Prof Opoku Agyemang as Mr Mahama’s running mate with lots of “fear and trepidation.”

The concerned trainees said their fear is premised on the fact that under the reign of Prof Opoku-Agyemang, as the Minister of Education under the erstwhile administration of the NDC, teacher and nurse trainees in Ghana “went through several ordeals following the cancellation of trainee allowances.”

The group noted in a statement that its members have no doubt that the decision by the then-President and now-candidate John Dramani Mahama to cancel these allowances, “which were a major source of reprieve for us trainees, was based on advice from [Prof. Naana Opoku-Agyemang]”.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo restored the allowances when he won the 2016 elections.

The trainee teachers and nurses say with Prof Opoku-Agyemang as the running mate to Mr Mahama, “we have no doubt that she will pursue her agenda once again, in the unlikely event that the NDC wins the December 2020 elections.”

It is for this reason that the trainees are calling on their colleague trainees and other Ghanaians aspiring to pursue teaching and nursing as professions “to mass up at the various registration centres to register and vote massively against the NDC in the December 7 elections.”

Pro-Opoku-Agyemang trainee nurses and teachers welcome her new role

However, another group calling itself the Ghana Trainee Teachers (GhaTT) has welcomed the choice of Prof Opoku-Agyemang as the running mate to former Mr Mahama.

“We, Ghana Trainee Teachers (GhaTT), write to express our deep-hearted enthusiasm for the nomination of Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, an astute academician and a humble woman of integrity with enviable proven track records in the education industry”, the group said in a statement co-signed by Nasrullah Mutawakil, President; Ayitey Samuel, Secretary; and Joseph Boakye, PRO.

It added: “We are particularly happy about the emeralds she brings to the table as an educationist, a former Minister of Education and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast”.

“As Trainee Teachers, we recount her fantastic work as a sector minister who ensured that all trained teachers from Colleges of Education were duly employed directly into the Ghana Education Service (GES). Unlike today, under Akufo-Addo, qualified trained teachers are being forced to sit for licensure examination and also undergo a one-year national service only to be denied employment afterwards”, the group lamented.

In the teacher education fraternity alone, the groups said: “We can add to Prof Opoku-Agyemang’s achievements as the Minister of Education who increased trainee teachers’ enrolment from 9,000 to 15,500 annually, added eight new colleges of education, ensured all colleges of education benefited from GETFund Projects such as hostels, dining halls, teachers’ flat etc”.

Some of the eight new colleges, the group said, include St. Ambrose College of Education at Dormaa Akwamu, Al Faruq College of Education at Wenchi, Bia Lamplighter College of Education at Bia, Methodist College of Education, Akim Oda, SDA College of Education at Agona in Ashanti Region, McCoy College of Education in Wa, Gambaga College of Education in Tamale

“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Matthew Opoku-Prempeh-led ministry of education as it had introduced the obnoxious licensure examination and national service. Painfully, the Akufo-Addo-led government denies newly-trained teachers employment after going through this stress”.

In the group’s view, “With Professor Naana as Vice-President of the Republic, we believe the licensure examination and national service would be cancelled and more importantly, automatic recruitment of teachers would be restored”.

Transcript of Opoku-Agyemang’s interview with Kwabena Bobie Ansah

Let me come to an issue that became so thorny: the teacher ratio. You’ll notice year after year after year, the highest number of teachers we train was close to 9,000 and yet look at your birth rate, look at the number of children that go to school every year. So, in this year, you have to predict your population, especially if your birth rate is stable as ours, maybe it’s even gone up, so, we were all looking forward to the census but it’s OK, it will come at some point, so, that you see that, OK, this year, I have 100 children in primary school; next year, I’ll get 110 and you keep the same number of teachers, then your quality is already going down, so, you must train more teachers. And what is preventing you from training more teachers.

And let me tell you; before they became colleges of education with the harmonised statutes and so on, they were all under the University of Cape Coast. We supervise from admission, recruitment of staff to evaluation. They take our certificates – UCC certificates. And there is something we call the Professional Board and the Vice-Chancellor chairs the Professional Board. Apart from being an external examiner in English for so long and so on and so forth, I was also privileged to chair the Professional Board and so many things became clear to me that: so, every year, the same number [of teachers], which means a lot of the schools don’t get [teachers], so, actually, it was the principals themselves, PRINCOF, that broached the idea at the Professional Board that their institutions don’t have full capacity. If they can take 300 people, they have taken 120 and we asked: what’s the problem? And they said it was the allowance because the government must look at how much it can afford and that’s what we call the quota. So, they themselves were saying that there are some people who want to come; someone even said he doesn’t mind paying fees for the training. And I was saying that: why should someone enjoy the training for free while others pay fees for it? So, I said: what if everybody pays something small so that you spread it across? That way, the one paying fees wouldn’t be burden by a huge figure and, thus, wouldn’t be a burden to his parents. So, the idea was that: ‘no, we need to do something about this allowance’.

So what did we do? We were told we scrapped the allowance and plenty talk as you’re aware. But you see, we gave a one-year notice that from next year onwards, anybody who comes to the colleges of education will no more be given an allowance but rather will be given the opportunity to get the student loan just like those who are studying education and the University of Education, Winneba and the University of Cape Coast. They are out of that bracket and there’s a history to it and the history is that the colleges of education started as secondary schools, oh yes, that was the diversification at the time, so, even when you go there today, you’ll see that they have chapel cloth, uniforms, just like a secondary school. Would you see any such things at the universities? So, now you’ve raised their status to tertiary, it’s a different thing altogether. And, more importantly, you realise that you need more qualified teachers because the pupil-teacher ratio was widening. It got to a point, we introduced the UTDB – the Untrained Teachers Basic Training and so on in education so that people can do distance education, those who don’t have certificates, which also came with its own challenges. They still persist but challenges are supposed to be confronted and to be reduced. And, so, we saw that, no, if we say we are withdrawing the allowance, what will the students do? So, first of all, you give a notice and then give student loans. They went to the colleges, they helped the affected students, they were able to accept the loans. And, of course, we got a lot of bad publicity that even that year no students came and so on and they got some children on the radio stations to say: ‘My allowance has been withdrawn’.

We never took anybody’s allowance from them. Those who had the allowance already, had it throughout. It was a new group coming that was placed on student loan scheme. So, there was nothing like that. And, I want anyone to phone in and say somebody withdrew his or her allowance. Those already in the colleges got their allowances throughout because they were already in the system. And, normally, when you bring a new rule, it doesn’t always affect the [existing group]; it affects the new group. I see you are amazed but this is the fact. I think the new group came in 2015 or thereabout. The new entrants never received any allowance for them to even say it was taken from them. If I take something from you, it means you possessed it and then I dispossessed you of it but they never got any allowance in the first place but for those already in the colleges, everybody got their allowance throughout.

We responded several times on many many platforms but maybe it’s because when you hear ‘free’ then you get excited; or?

In fact, I discussed with my deputies that, OK, the arrangement at the colleges of education is that they feed them just like I was saying that it is like a secondary school, so, they have their dining halls and so on and so forth. And, so, if this new group comes and they cannot be fed, I don’t think it will create a good atmosphere. And, now, are you going to say that they should pay for their food and somebody else is not paying their food? It’s akin to being at home and preparing food and saying: ‘Kwabena, here you are but Akosua, you can’t be part of it’. How can you even think about that? So, what we did was to provide free food for them apart from their allowance after we decided to replace the allowance with the loan. You had to, because the second- and third-years there were eating for free through their allowances, and, so, if the new ones don’t get allowance and would have to go for a loan, then you cannot exclude them from the dining hall.

And, then the enrolment that people said widely that no one availed themselves of subsequently, we were able to increase enrolment by nearly 60 per cent. They [colleges] all went very near to their maximum. If the capacity were 300 and the school consistently enrolled 120, 110, 150, 160, which meant it had gone up, after we introduced the new policy, the same college could enrol about 280 people. So, you see, that was the policy that erred on behalf of the youth because all these thousands of children that were staying at home with no hope of training – when you say you’re interested in the youth, what should it mean? When they are capable, they want to learn, they can learn; the space exists and you say that because I cannot give you free allowance, go home. When you compare the two scenarios, we thought the better option was to create the space for many more of our youth. When you get the training and the skill and say you want work, you can say you will do a little something on the side but if you don’t have the training, what do you do?

With the current situation, I don’t have the accurate data but we all sponsor kids in these schools and they’ll tell you: ‘In the past we were being given GHS500 but today they give us GHS400 and we have to pay this, pay that, do this, do that, and by the time we’re done making those payments, all the money is gone’. And I say: ‘But that is what you people said you wanted’.

We never back-tracked. I think it was bad propaganda, bad press in the sense that it got to a point a similar situation also existed in the nursing schools and if a lot of the nursing schools also enrolled more, it will be OK. Here we were building CHPS Compounds; we were building hospitals, district hospitals, regional hospitals; turning regional hospitals into university teaching hospitals and so on, you needed more people and yet again if you were enrolling them in drips and drabs, there would be a problem, so, we needed to expand enrolment. So, the idea was that they should put them on the GETfund where we draw some of these allowances from and the student loan and so on but we had to pull back because the act that set up the GETfund was not meant for that. And, you see, what a lot of people also don’t know is that, in terms of medical training, the medical schools are under the universities and the universities are under the Ministry of Education. A lot – I think apart from, maybe, the Legon School of Nursing, UCC, and I think Tamale or so, they are not that many – the vast majority of our nursing schools are under the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Health didn’t have an equivalent of a GETfund and I’m not sure the NHIA has any such facility to give support to students. So, you notice that, no, you can’t do that because the law doesn’t allow, so, you have to go back, give them back their allowance and then put the structures in place if necessary, maybe through the Ministry of Health because the nursing schools are under the Ministry of Health, they are not under the Ministry of Education. And the Act that set up the GETfund does not allow you to do this, so, you have to do the right thing.

You see, you start with intention and yes, you’ll make mistakes. I agree that the first step could have been different in the sense that we could easily have amended the GETfund Act to bring them all in; I mean it’s all Ghanaian people’s money. And, again, yes, they also got their money. Sometimes, find them in your studio and talk to them: how much are they getting now? What are the institutions taking from them? How much were they getting the? How much will the loan have given them? Right now, how much are they getting? How much are they getting for fees? How much are they paying for examination fees? Are they sending all the money back and more? So, who didn’t think through what?

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