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Opinions of Saturday, 18 April 2020

Columnist: Iddrisu Bariham

Towards providing quality and inclusive education for all Ghanaians: The pre-tertiary education Bill debate

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Inclusive quality education for all is critical and serves as fulcrum within which the progress and development of modern societies revolve. The ability of government to innovate and implement context-specific policies for the effective and efficient management of education especially at the pre-tertiary level is fundamental to Ghana’s socioe-conomic and political development, and the achievement of the SDG 4 which focuses on inclusive quality education opportunities for all and lifelong learning by 2030. No nation can develop without consciously putting in place strategies to develop her human resources.

Global economic competition has brought to the fore importance of quality of human resources, and the need for new competencies. On the job market, the proportion of jobs, which require low skills are decreasing, while the ratio of jobs that require high skills are increasing. It is against this background that I wish to share my views concerning the recent debate on the Pre-tertiary Education Bill currently before Parliament of the Republic of Ghana.
The Bill seek to implement strategies to improve quality inclusive education opportunities for all and lifelong learning.

As a result, the bill seeks to place the management of pre-tertiary education in Ghana under the following categories: Primary and Junior High Schools would be managed or run by Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies; Senior High Schools would be managed or run by Regional Education Directorate (Regional Coordinating Councils); and Technical/Vocational schools would be managed by their own Director-General who will be independent of the GES. That could be problematic because our MMDAs may not be able to carry that huge responsibility. Rethinking is required in that portion of the bill.

Again, if the bill succeeds, the implication will be that, the ability of each district to mobilize and allocate enough financial and logistical resources to education will determine the quality of education each child will receive in the district (Center for Socioeconomic Studies, 2020). MMDAs will employ teachers based on their ability to pay. These will eventually lead to the privatization of education where children from privileged homes will have access to quality education while their peers from poor households will have limited access to quality education. The agenda of Global Education is Leave No Child Behind and the inability to pay should not be a justification to leave many children behind. Education globally has been recognized as one of the basic human rights.

Article 26 of the UN Charter asserts that, everyone has the right to education and that education should be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages of schooling (Human Rights Charter, 1948). In addition, Article 25(1) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, guarantee the right to equal educational opportunities and lifelong learning. This should guide us as we engage constructively on this bill.

Data from Ghana Education Strategic Plan (2018-2030) discovered that the completion rates among Ghanaian students vary substantially by income and region, with learners from the lowest income quintile being only 0.37 times as likely to complete Junior High School compared to those from the highest quintile. The report also observed that there are about 450,000 out-of-school children who are mostly from the poorest households and within the five northern regions of Ghana. Among the factors responsible for the high number of out-of-school children are sociocultural practices, parental illiteracy, early marriages, teenage pregnancies, lack of teachers in schools, long distances to schools and insufficient classrooms conducive enough to support effective teaching and learning.

For instance, the classrooms deficits were estimated to be 5,491 classrooms for KG (24% of the existing classrooms), 4,236 classrooms for primary (5% of the existing classrooms), and 1,247 classrooms for JHS (4% of the existing classrooms) (Ghana Education Strategic Plan (2018-2030). Even the majority of existing schools lack the internet coupled with computers and other relevant digital infrastructure to support the integration of technology in instructional processes. Things could get worse if the Bill is passed into law in its current form.

Elsewhere classrooms are well equipped to support teachers to deliver quality instructions to students to enable learners to acquire the 21st Century learning skills such as critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, digital literacy, communication and collaboration needed for national development.

In terms of school management and accountability, under the proposed bill, the District Chief Executives shall be responsible for the appointment of the District Directors of Education, appointment, promotion, transfer, discipline, and dismissal of the staff of the education unit. This will lead to politicization of education with its consequent impact on teaching, learning, management and the administration of schools. Presently, the National Inspectorate Board (NIB), the National Teaching Council (NTC), and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA) are responsible for the oversight of accountability in schools in the country.

While the regulatory agencies are responsible for designing and enforcing accountability structures, the implementation of these structures spans the entire system. Within the Ghana Education Service, for instance, the network of regional and district education offices to the school level should be able to fully discharge their responsibilities in a fully functioning and accountable educational system. However, the regulatory agencies have not performed effectively due to lack of staff, insufficient funding, lack of powers of enforcement, and lack of clear accountability framework (Ghana Education Strategic Plan (2018-2030).

But the recent distribution of vehicles and motorcycles to the Ghana Education Service staff by the government for monitoring may address some of these challenges. Nevertheless, addressing these bottlenecks does not require a new bill but financing and equipping the institutions and monitoring to ensure that they deliver based on their mandate.

Teachers are the implementers of the curriculum, and their unions play a key role in complementing government efforts of providing quality education for all in the country. The level of success of a policy is dependent largely on the level of stakeholder engagement and acceptance. It appears there was no sufficient stakeholder sensitizations and consultations on the bill in question before laying it before parliament.

As a result, Teachers Unions such as the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the Coalition of Concerned Teachers-Ghana (CCT-Gh), and the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) held joint press conferences where they raised objections to relevant portions of the bill and called for its withdrawal from parliament. The Minority in Ghana’s parliament also held a press conference where they raised a plethora of fundamental flaws on the bill and called for its withdrawal from the house for further deliberations.

In conclusion, therefore, I wish to appeal to the Sector Minister, Parliament of Ghana, and its sub-committee on education to withdraw this bill from the house so that nationwide stakeholder consultations and engagements can be conducted to fine-tune the bill in line with our needs and aspirations as a country. This will build consensus and acceptability even before its passage.

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