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Opinions of Sunday, 2 October 2011

Columnist: Fekpe, Charles Kofi

Daddy! I Bombed The Exams Oh?

By: Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA CFE)

I talked to a very close friend of mine the other day and he lamented gravely about the statistics from the very recent 2011 BECE results in Ghana. A comment he made that stuck in my mind was this one – “Masa, can you believe in some places, a whole village didn’t have any student with a pass eh! Masa ebee serious ooo! Are we safe eh?”. I understood his frustration. Being the professional Auditor that I used to be, I got unto a few Ghana news websites to check out the news for myself, not out of distrust but more because I like to take responsibility for what I know and don’t know. I was lucky. Very lucky in fact. I came across many similar news reports, articles etc and after reading four or so of them, I repeated quietly to myself – “Eeeiii!! are we safe?” Here are a few headings I came across:

• Tamale Metro poor performance in the BECE: Implications & suggested actions

• Reverse abysmal BECE performance NOW!– Central region

• Educationists in Volta Region lament poor performance in 2011 BECE examination

My mind immediately travelled into 10 – 20 years from today and I began asking myself, what is the future for these children? And those before them?; and those coming after them? I reckon, like most of them, I wouldn’t want to be thinking about secondary school, let alone answer the question whether or not they will ever be making it into tertiary education.

I brought this up to point out how lucky some of us have been to have made it to and through tertiary education. Why? I heard someone ask? Why should I be counted lucky to have made it to or through tertiary education? – Well, to start with, if you have made it to the tertiary educational, it means you escaped being added to the under-5-mortality rate that stood at 100.1 as at 2003; if not, you definitely would have escaped the child labor rates that stood at 20% from 2001; or better still, you would have escaped the average 78% of children that didn’t make it into primary or JSS enrolment from 2003 (all kudos to the Ghana Statistical Service website) – so now you see how lucky we’ve been? There’s an equivalent 5-10 people who never made it to this level of education for each of us who made it to tertiary education. Is that the price that has been paid for each of us making it through tertiary education, or it merely is a case of “there must be losers for there to be winners? Why should “they” be the losers?

Over the last 10 years, I have watched on the one hand with incredible delight, the springing up of several and many University Colleges in Ghana and for that I say many Kudos to the Private Businesses, Individuals and Churches who have taken it upon themselves to move the tertiary educational systems forward in Ghana. I am also moved by the positive direction the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) has recently taken, in establishing a business unit through a private fund collaboration between industry and Academia. That indeed is the way to go. After all, most university graduates will end up supporting industry directly or indirectly and it only makes sense for industry to collaborate in shaping the resources in human capital that they will need in the future.

I didn’t want to say this but I’ve got to be honest, if I was one of the few privileged persons interviewing anyone for the position of the Minister for Education, my first question to them would be this “as the only condition for your ministerial appointment, you’ll would need to send your children to Kentikrono Primary school, then Nzulezu JSS and finally to Achinakrom Secondary School in order for them to gain passes, credible enough to gain straight admission into the university of Ghana. As a further part of this condition, they cannot be taken out of these schools at any time. Are you happy with this arrangement sir?” suffice it to say, I’ll leave the possible answers to such an interview question to my readers.

I do have a few soft questions I want to ask:

(i) So one goes to university, gets taught (God knows what), comes out and can’t get a job, sits at home and by the time he gets a job, his education has become irrelevant. Why? Because information is becoming available worldwide today at an exponential rate and on a daily basis, meaning that between when one leaves tertiary education and when one actually gets a job, what s/he knows becomes outdated. And this begs my question – what is the focus of our tertiary education? Are our brothers and sisters being taught with the focus of (a) learning and taking exams on the theories that worked yesterday OR (b) learning the theory of yesterday with emphasis on using it as a basis to be innovative for today and tomorrow?. In other words, is our tertiary educational emphasis biased towards being historical in our thinking or being expansive in the use of our mental capacities? Better still, do we get awarded for how “ditto ditto” we spill out our lecturers’ notes in our final exams or we get awarded for pushing our minds to think out new ways of solving today’s problem? Is tertiary education becoming useful in making us reactive to yesterday’s issues or proactive towards today’s? We’ve got to answer these questions if Ghana has any hopes of walking out of the “Third World” class. You see, the truth is this – if you look at the world today, the countries that are stable and solidly advancing forward are those that are becoming innovative and entrepreneurial. In contrast however, I wont be far from the truth in saying that our average universities and tertiary institutions have laid more emphasis on educating students in “theoretical status quos” as opposed to impacting them with “entrepreneurial and innovation vim”. The current trend means one of two things – firstly, either our successive governments do not have a clear vision of our country’s expansion and growth into the future and as a result, it cannot push her tertiary institutions to align their learning focus with that vision or secondly, the government does have a vision for the human capital needed to move Ghana forward, has communicated it to the tertiary institutions and yet the latter does not have what it takes to actualize the national vision. And whichever way you look at it, we are in some serious trouble. I mean, seriously, lets be frank – If we keep asking our brothers and sister to go to universities to be taught modern or historical “theories”, the only way we can expect them to be efficient is when we also provide “job” or “employment” environments where they may be required to apply those theories taught. Unfortunately however, from my research dating back to when I was ten years old, it doesn’t appear this country has been proficient with job creation over the years. On the contrary however, if our brothers and sisters in tertiary education are being challenged to be creative beyond academic theories and entrepreneurial beyond job prospects, then at least we provide them alternatives to explore if they don’t get jobs on graduation; at least we give them an opportunity to use their learned creativity to create their own employments; at least their entrepreneurial foundation takes away the fear of attempting to venture beyond traditional employment. And just who are we kidding, thinking that we will become a prosperous nation by merely breeding graduates who are afraid of walking outside the employment circle – except of course for the few brave ones – but how about making every graduate brave? How about that?

(ii) Finally let me return to the issue of education at the pre-tertiary level. If I had my way, I would banish every politician from ever saying “we have done well by eradicating learning under trees, we provide free school uniforms and free exercise books”. For the sake of a God in heaven, primary schools where NOT supposed to be learning under trees to start with and providing them school uniforms and exercise books is their right not a privilege. But these are all trivial issues, very trivial I must say. I shudder to ask whether the provision of classrooms and uniforms and exercise books have matched the quality of education that these children receive. Really, how useful is it for these children to be provided with just “education” and NOT “quality education”? If you asked me, I think these are atrocities punishable with the same penal intensity as those that have involved ethnic cleansings and mass graves and war crimes etc. Let me put it this way – Every child’s destiny in Ghana, is worth their very life. If our governments cannot accept that every child has a potential that cannot be compromised, then we might as well also accept that none of them has a life worth living too. If we can throw away the destinies of our children by providing them half baked education, it is worth well equating it to throwing their very lives away.

I wonder at times how it would feel (and please feel free to picture this with me) for one to go through primary school and not make it to JSS, or go through JSS and not make it to SSS or make it through SSS and not make it to Tertiary education and at any of these stages of not being able to move forward, to also see a very vivid and clear picture of what one could have become or achieved if one had gone all the way; how life would have turned out well and fulfilling; but alas! Such is not the case, not because you didn’t do your best, but because your school was not in the “prestige league of schools”. And the question begets – who decides who goes to a prestigious primary, JSS or SSS school and why. Why would a child in a remote village with the same dreams and potentials as another in Accra or any city be denied a full achievement in life simply because of his location or because someone else has made the wrong decision on which school facilities should end up where.

As at 2003, the net enrolment of children into primary and JSS schools stood at an overall average of 22% meaning that 78% were not enrolled into these levels of schooling – and it appears we can’t see the urgency of the looming disaster – that a whole generation of educated working force or human capital is being wiped off. It’s fine for us to have a lot of university colleges today. Over the next ten or so years, these universities will cater for the backlog of students who couldn’t get into tertiary education in the past fifteen years. After that they would all be hit by a dwindling demand for tertiary education, because there would not have been enough primary school students, who have made it to JSS and to SSS and who need to enter universities. Over the past 13+ years, the government of Ghana has been spending between 25-43% of its budget investment on education, 40-60% this amounts have been on basic pre-tertiary education – so why have the primary and JSS failures continued over the past 13 years? Why are the destinies of these children rolling and not the heads of the people holding our monies? And why should we condone a press statement by the GES saying “It has come to our notice that less than 50 percent passed this year’s placement exercise. I want to put it on record that this is a normal trend; there is no cause for alarm yet.” When should we be alarmed?

It feels a lot like being in a hole, and knowing that no matter how loud you scream, you would hardly be heard; but then again shouting seems a better option than silence; a better option because of such a thing as “hope”; a hope that resembles “despair” in every way. Yet today, I ask the questions again: What are the “Ghana governments” doing about our leaders of tomorrow? What exactly are they doing with the 25-43% of our overall budget every year on education? How would you like your child to come home and say to you: “Daddy, I bombed my BECE exams oh, but the GES says its normal and you don’t have to be alarmed yet”

Charles Kofi Fekpe will be delivering a free public lecture to Tertiary Education Students at the plush ALISA Hotel Botsio Auditorium in North Ridge on xx October 2011. To Attend FREE, simply email stating your full name and institution to reserve a seat. Spaces are VERY limited.

Mr. Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA)

Writer; Speaker; Finance Manager (UK); Director, CFekpeConsulting Ltd

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