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Opinions of Thursday, 6 October 2011

Columnist: Dakwa, Kwame Dwamena

Attracting teachers into rural areas

Attracting teachers into rural areas: How creative are we pursuing this critical national issue?

The central government through GES/MOE maintains teacher-trainees allowance which covers boarding and lodging; travel to and from Instructional Technology Training Center’s (ITTC’s), as well as basic textbooks. (TED, 2000). This has been the guiding funding principle of the scheme since its inception. This scheme, the District Sponsorship of Teacher Trainees Scheme is recommended to be administered by a District Sponsorship Screening Committee whose membership should be drawn from various stakeholders of education in the district. They are to select students from their areas who are interesting in the career of teaching. It is believed that when students from rural areas are selected and trained as teachers, they will return to their localities and practice in the schools. But has this been happening?

Studies indicate that our education system has failed to achieve any measurably feat. And Ghanaian classrooms continue to suffer from teacher shortages and absenteeism. As of now about 50% of our students who take the BECE fail, out of the about 50% who pass only 20% qualify to enter senior secondary schools. Not surprisingly, most of our districts fail to attract and retain qualified teachers. Trained teachers are mostly unwilling to accept posting to rural areas, those who accept seldom stay there longer than 2-3 years. What are we doing as a nation to arrest this phenomenon that seems to be setting us behind educationally? A nation without an adequately trained workforce is doomed to fail and will be stagnant economically.

In Ghana, graduates from many schools are not prepared to be college and citizenship ready, because standardized tests are shaped by outdated colonial notions of academic rigor and by political and financial considerations. Researchers have defined rigor as having the right answers to academic content, but the rigor that matters most in the 21st century and for the work environment, learning, and citizenship is the ability to ask the right questions and to solve real life problems. Our education system has been characterized by lack of adequate teaching aids, absence of effective syllabi, inadequate textbooks, depleted school infrastructure, and low budget outlay from the government.

Provisions of new buildings or renovation of old ones can have positive effects on motivation and engagement. Studies have correlated building condition and student achievement. However, it should be noted that dilapidated school buildings contribute to poor student performance, but it was not convincing that schools need to be anything than normal for better student achievement. It has been suggested that good teaching occurs in schools with good physical appearance. However, relationship between good school buildings and student performance could have a varied amount of reasons. Other variables could affect teaching in good buildings and student performance. Our teacher training programs should be pushing teachers and educators to redefine rigor in teaching and learning.

Ghana’s education reform program addressed in part how teachers could have a stronger impact on the general student population. From a researchers’ perspective, the concept of enhancing student achievement motivation should be the main goal of Ghana’s teacher education reform. This need to excel in learning tasks and the capacity to experience pride in accomplishment is the catalyst that will allow students to acquire intrinsic motivation in their quest through school and beyond. Policies that address effective teacher education programs incorporated with adequate parental and community involvement will have a profound effect in the communities. With appropriate innovative teacher education training, educators would be in a better position to mediate the acquisition of knowledge in the classroom. Ghana’s education reform should be cognizant of this and address teacher education, community, and parent involvement in education. Suffice to say that an education reform at the macro level that operates without increased internal efficiency of the teacher training college system with communities and parents will have minimal effect. The school curriculum should provide a broad and balanced learning experience and a pupil-centered school-based curriculum that is diversified, flexible, and coherent across levels to foster life-long learning. Teaching should be pupil-centered, with clear objectives that can construct knowledge, provoke thinking, develop learning abilities, and foster positive values and attitudes. It should cater for learning differences, enhance interaction, build up pupils’ learning confidence, foster interest in learning, and stretch student potential. It would also be ideal for schools to provide a pleasant, open, and stimulating learning environment for pupils, and encourage proactiveness, sharing, collaborating, and exploratory thinking. Schools should enable pupils to become life-long learners who enjoy learning, are effective in communication, creative, and have sense of commitment. Schools should formulate clear performance assessment policies, maintain openness and fairness in assessment systems, and employ reliable and effective methods and information to comprehensively assess and evaluate pupils’ performance in various aspects, and use different kinds of feedback to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning. If such methods are adopted and Ghana does not blindly follow or adopt foreign education policy to necessitate funding, our students will not be failing year after year. Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer of Ghana Education Service, Charles Parker-Allotey has sarcastically stated that “I want to put it on record that this is a normal trend; there is no cause for alarm yet.” This was in response to over half of the candidates who wrote the BECE in 2011 failed to qualify for admission into senior high schools (SHSs) and technical institutes (TIs).

Kwame Dwamena Dakwa

Bloomington, Indiana