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Opinions of Saturday, 26 August 2017

Columnist: A. C. Ohene

Give free quality Secondary education

A university professor is said to have written this message to his doctorate, masters and bachelors levels and placed it at the entrance in a university in South Africa. And this is the message:

“Collapsing any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examination by students.”

The patient dies in the hands of such doctors. And the buildings collapse in the hands of such engineers and architects. And money is lost in the hands of such accountants. And humanity dies in the hands of such religious scholars. And justice is lost in the hands of such judges… “The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”

The good old days

It is in view of this awesome truism that I devote this edition of Ghana Today to basic and second-cycle education in this country. I must confess, my verdict is that quality of education has steadily deteriorated over the last 70, 100 or even more years. I have this blunt view that, even though teaching and learning was way better in the First Republic than it is today, teaching and learning in the colonial era was better than it was in the First Republic. The stuff that the Kofi Annans, Korankye Taylors, Alex Quayson Sackeys, Joseph Boakye Danquahs, Kwegyir Aggreys and George Fergussons were made of is rare today.

In the good old days quality of education was real quality. In those gone good old days, there was admittedly a big disadvantage: a huge lack of access. Those who had the privilege to enter the Achimotas, Prempehs, Adisadels, Wesley Girls and Aburi Girls came out roundly schooled. Many people who could have turned out fine scholars ended up ‘bookmen,’ housewives, palmwine tappers, seamstresses, crab-catchers, food vendors, coconut climbers and at best pupil teachers. Farming continued to engage too many people and the profitability of the occupation has dwindled to date. All in all, schooling was indeed schooling.

Mass education drive

The Free Education policy embarked on by the Nkrumah regimes was well-intended: to get everybody of school-going age enrolled. The visionary leader actually had Free Night Schools for those above regular school-going age. The surging numbers dipped quality a bit, but supervision and strong leadership still accorded this nation a respectable place in the international community, as far as teaching and learning was concerned. By 1970, changing trends had necessitated variations in course structures and course durations. The Abrefa Busia government and Kutu Acheampong junta introduced Continuation and Junior Secondary schools to run parallel with, and later replace, the Middle Schools then in existence. Products still knew the geography, history and nature study of their country but earlier leavers were obviously better.

Rapid deterioration

The Junior High School of three, instead of a maximum four years; plus the Senior High School of three, instead of a maximum seven years; were institutionalised by the Rawlings military regime in the 1980s and ‘90s and they have landed us where we are. Before the 1990s, some of the universities were running four-year undergraduate courses; the Rawlings reforms cut them to three. Quality of education so much slumped that the universities unilaterally reverted to the four-year length and introduced entry tests on top of the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations.

There are born geniuses who excel with just a little coaching. However, overwhelming majority of children are average pupils or students who need a lot of contact hours with their teachers to cover their syllabuses and make the grade at the exams. In the country of the blind you always have a king; but, he is often a one-eyed man. Today, we still turn out our doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, priests, judges and journalists. Whether or not most of the journalists we are making are half-baked paparazzi, many of the judges are bribe grabbers, thousands of today’s priests are extortionists and beggars, majority of the accountants are figure jugglers, too many engineers and architects are shoddy workers and equally high numbers of our medics are murderers is a matter for you, my cherished reader, to judge. But, it must certainly worry you that this dear nation of ours is producing too many illiterate graduates from our universities, polytechnics and diploma awarding institutions.

Quantity, not quality

As I said, nominally, we are making some progress in education. In 2013, the total number of those who registered for the Basic Education Certificate Examination was 391,079 that had been trained in 11,778 schools. That included 209,381 boys and 181,689 girls. A year later, it shot up to 422,946: 223,765 males; 199,181 females. In 2015, those who wrote were 438,030: 229,724 males and 208,306 females. Last year, the aggregate was 460,929: 239,889 was the number of males; 221,040 females.

2017 BECE Results

This week, the media reported 468,053 as the total number of candidates, which included 241,148 males; 226,905 females. From a 2013 figure of 11,778, the participating schools had shot up, this year, to 15,185 writing at 1,702 centres. A phenomenon that was rare at the inception of independence – examination malpractices – keeps gaining notoriety such that, this year, as many as 1,298 candidates’ results were cancelled.

For want of time and space, I can’t reproduce details of all the years under review. Suffice it to say that, this year, 155,077 (54.06%) passed in the much-dreaded English Language. That was from A1-C6. Add those who made grade D7 and E8 who numbered 73,409 or (25.59%) and you have as high as 79.65%. Those who failed English this year were 58,351 (20.35%). That is an improvement over the grades in English in the recent past. Mathematics – another waterloo for BECE and WASSCE candidates. A1-C6=122,450 (42.73%); D7 and E8=106,024 (37%); F9=58,070 (20.27%). Integrated Science: A1-C6=125,204 (43.66%); D7-E 8=84851(29.59%); F9=76,693 (26.75%). And Social Studies: AI-C6=149,806; D7-E8=69,795; F9=67,078. Results have improved over the years. Even as the results have improved so-called, most basic education certificate holders can barely write their own names right. The second-cycle schools are a pale shadow of the schools of yore. Public universities today set objective tests, giving possible answers; an apparent lowering of the bar to allow many to pass their tests.

A new dawn

We have an opportunity of a new beginning. The Akufo-Addo Administration is trying to give meaning to an aspect of the spirit of the 1992 Constitution – making education continually free. This regime’s Free Senior High policy is a bold and good one. I humbly implore His Excellency the President to take a very serious note of the already degraded and still worsening standard of education in this country. Yes, we want expanded accessibility; no, we don’t want our boys and girls to just go through the motions in the name of free education. 2) The President, ministers at the Education Department and all duty-bearers should keep in mind that we are pursuing free second-cycle education and not free education for what we call secondary schools alone. Technical and vocational schools should be given equal attention, if not more. 3) Frivolous excuses should not be resorted to, to disqualify prospective beneficiaries to cut costs. 4) At the same time, implement no omnibus policy that automatically admits every BECE writer into the second-cycle; if they flunk their papers ten times, let them go back to write them ten times.

Indeed, it is the candid opinion of Ghana Today that second-cycle students who fail their promotional exams should be made to repeat, while the New Patriotic Party regime takes a bold step to review the number of years pupils and students spend at school – with the view to increasing them generously.

All is not lost; not all of Ghana’s education looks grim and dim. With the release of the 2017 BECE results, parents – both rich and poor – have been relieved of the hustle for monies to pay all manner of fees. Parents and guardians are being relieved of the dilemma of not getting admission for their kids and wards, with heads of school being warned against unapproved admissions. The 30% allocation for pupils from deprived areas in the big league and other schools obviously aims at equity. That books and stationary will be supplied at all times is another reassuring stuff.

But, none of these is really new; we’ve heard them over and over again. A vision without a mission would make our new leader a mere visionary. He needs to do all it takes to provide meaningful free education. The watch words – the catchphrase – should be Free Quality Second-cycle Education: FQuSE. Have a wonderful weekend.