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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

University Education or Football: Choose One

Edward is an active footballer, a powerful striker and a second year student of Sociology at the University of Ghana, Legon. His two senior brothers completed their university degrees two years ago and are still unemployed like many graduates. This hopeless situation scared Edward. He finally took a decision to end his university education and to engage in active football. He had always been a good footballer.

Within a year he was signed up by a very strong team in Europe. Today, he earns £60,000 a week playing football. His brothers, who now have teaching appointments, earn GhC2500 a month. Edward is now the one who supports his brothers and his parents financially.

The present school system: six years primary, three years each at Junior and Senior High schools, leaves much to be desired. Kufuor's decision to make SHS four years was reversed to three years by the ruling NDC. The old system had seven years of quality education, (5years O Level and 2 years A Level). All the teachers were graduates and specialists. However, in the present system, where the Junior High School is detached from the Senior High school and joined with the primary, no graduate teacher teaches the JHS students. Only pupil-teachers and trained teachers teach them, something that was unheard of when the old system was in place.

Both the Junior and the Senior High schools are churning out low quality students who get enough credits to continue their education but can barely express themselves in English. Due to high cost of tuition and hostel facilities, very brilliant students, especially from the rural areas, are unable to pursue further education. The universities are filled with thousands of half-baked students, most of whom are not able to clear Level 100 (what used to be called First University Examinations (F.U.E) in the “good old days”) and are, therefore, expelled from the universities. Each year not less than four hundred first year students fail Level 100 and are expelled.

Those days when university admissions were determined by good passes in the GCE A Level examinations, the names of all successful candidates were published in the national newspapers according to the university that selected them and the subjects they had chosen or were given to study. This helped to check impersonation. What do we see today in this present educational system? Many students are able to enter the university with other students’ certificates due to lack of control and laxity in the admission system. About two years ago, suspicion was raised at the University of Ghana concerning impersonation. All the universities were directed to check the transcripts and the original certificates of all students. When the announcement came, about two hundred students vamoosed from the University of Ghana alone. A similar thing happened at the other universities too.

What is worse is that the private universities accept students with weak passes, because these are primarily profit making institutions. These students are supposed to better their grades before they complete their courses at the universities. If one is unable to better one's high school grades before the final year examinations, one is expelled from the university or not awarded a final certificate. Pastor Dr. Mensah Otabil's Central University had to expel more than a hundred students who were unable to polish up their High school grades. This is a sheer waste of money, time and effort.

One of the things I have seen in Ghana is the huge imbalance in BCCE and WASSCE results between the urban areas and the rural ones. The city kids have lots of extra classes, remedial classes, private teachers, easier access to the internet, and score all the As. The numerous perfect 8A scores comemainlyfrom schools in Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi, not from those in Hwidiem, Asankrangwa or Adidome whose students are supposed to answer the same questions as the city dwellers. Educational performance in Ghana is increasingly becoming a class thing with the children of the poor falling ever behind. It didn’t use to be like this!

The reason for Ghana's adoption of a new system of education is to skillfully equip students to take hold of the existing challenges and turn them into opportunities. Whatever the initial plan, has theJHS/SHS system succeeded in transforming education and teaching for our children?

When one considers the new reform in education, one sees that much has changed from the system of education that was introduced by the colonial masters and what exists today.

This article is really about choosing university education versus doing something more or equally useful. I chose football just as an example of that something else but there are other things too. You can become a singer, an actor/actress, a young entrepreneur, etc – all those things that you can do if you do not go to university. Arguably, the present educational system leading to university is not necessarily providing the needs of the individual or even the society. A person could do better by doing something else – playing football, for example. The educational system must still be tweaked so that people will realize their strengths and abilities early in the system and not necessarily have to go to university. We are putting too much emphasis on university education especially in the liberal arts, which is not what the country needs right now.

Some of the reasons why there is massive unemployment among graduatesinclude the fact that we are not producing the graduates that we need. The economy is not expanding fast enough to absorb those that are produced.

When it comes to choosing a football career over university education, my personal opinion is that, not everybody has the talent to play football well enough to earn £60,000 a week. Indeed, only very few do. Right now, parents in Ghana don’t frown on their boys playing football like in the old days because they know something good can come out of it. Many Ghanaians are playing football. But even then, only a tiny fraction can make it to the big money leagues in Europe. Those who make it have to play football all their lives and may not even have the time to go to SSS, talk less of university. The choice of a football career is made long before one enters university. So there is really no choice between football and university degree at the university level. That choice must have been made long ago (unlike Edward who had to decide in the university). Other dangers of a footballing career have to do with getting injured before even reaching the big league, early retirement from football in which case you must do something else. Not all old footballers can become successful coaches or football administrators. You can make enough money to go into business after your career, but how many are really able to do that?

The best thing for Edward to do would be to combine both – football and a university education. But this is impossible. Anybody earning £60, 000 a week in football must devote ALL his time to football. Maybe he can get a university degree after his football career ends but he will be too tired and too rich to even do that.

Gone are the days when final year students at the Ghanaian universities were lured with cars and jobs by companies and institutions even before they finished their examinations. Today thousands of students who have completed universities gallivant the streets in search of non-existent jobs. With such difficulty in gaining employment after university, was Edward right in ending his degree course and choosing a football career? Your guess or comment is as good as mine.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads Email: