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Opinions of Monday, 18 September 2017

Columnist: Nana Yaw Osei

Free SHS must come with a curriculum change!

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched the Free SHS policy last Tuesday at WASS President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched the Free SHS policy last Tuesday at WASS

I strongly agree with the veteran journalist, Abdul Malik Kweku Baako that there is Nkrumahism in President Akufo-Addo.

I have a conviction that any president who supports Nkrumah’s ideals relative to the development of Ghana and pan Africanism must be applauded. Per my personal commonsensical judgment, President Akufo-Addo appears to be the most trustworthy and credible president under Ghana’s fourth republic albeit the incipient nature of his government.

Nudged by his self-confidence, moral uprightness, disdain for ostentation, selflessness, political maturity and a sense of patriotism, he has failed to be fittingly engulfed by Mario Cuomo’s famous political dictum:“Politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”Since 2007, Mr. Akufo-Addo appeared almost limpid about his convictions about Secondary School education. Almost every Ghanaian thinks Free Senior High School is essential.

However, the bone of contention is over sustainability. In effect, President Akufo-Addo has translated his campaign promise of Free Senior High School (SHS) into reality during the first year of his presidency. He must be commended. Free SHS is here! Commentaries abound! As usual, I am without a soupcon of intention to be an indifferent observer. I think the thoroughgoing attempt to reconsider Ghana’s High School Educational policy must include a paradigm shift if not an adjustment, of the High School curriculum.

We must change the high school curriculum from grammar focus education to career, technical and vocational oriented education. Truth be told, Free SHS has brought reliefs to some parents and all that we can say is thank you, President Akufo-Addo! Like the proverbial Oliver, we will always ask for more! Therefore, I personally think the free SHS must come with a change of curriculum. We still need attorneys, journalists, teachers, physicians, pharmacists, theologians and fine art professionals which the current curriculum has been a blessing in these respects.

This means that we cannot totally discard the current secondary school curriculum, even so, it could be re-designed. We must carefully design our curriculum so that products of schools will not count on the government for employment. Graduate unemployment rate is very alarming and I fear that improper planning of free SHS implementation risks setting the rate of joblessness higher than my ability will allow me to articulate.Just a reminder to the discerning readers that I am not doubting the integrity of the Free SHS implementation committee. They have done a terrific job! I am humbly contributing to the ongoing debate.

Evidence-based research suggests that blending career-focus and academic courses save secondary school students from premature career decisions and equally offer them practical application of their academic subjects. How practical is our high school curriculum? For example, if the high school agricultural science curriculum focuses on the practical aspect of animal rearing and crop farming rather than theory, graduates of Secondary Schools should be able to operate their own farms without going to university or agricultural college. High School agriculture science departments must be properly equipped and motivated to go into farming to supplement government feeding budget. Teachers must stop creating negative impressions that farmers are under punishment by stopping situations wherein students are punished by weeding. In the USA for example where public High Schools are free, the schools are mostly day schools.

Agriculture high school farming will save some funds for the other government business. Schools of Agriculture at the universities must be tasked by the government to produce for the boarding schools. To borrow from our grandfather I. K Acheampong (May his innocent soul rest in peace), let us implement operation feed your own boarding students. Parents will be deferring cost if products of Free SHS come out and depend on them. Therefore, the imperative need of designing and implementing theory and application oriented High School Educational curriculum cannot be gainsaid.

Free SHS is destined to increase high school enrollment by leaps and bounds. This means student-teacher ratio will be high. High student-teacher ratio means ineffective classroom supervision. It will also put pressure on infrastructure. A high Secondary school enrollment means we need more colleges and universities to absorb the products of Senior High Schools. This will increase government expenditure on education because more facilities, teachers, textbooks are needed to cater for educational needs of students.

Concentration on technical/technology and vocational education means that there will be less pressure on the tertiary education because products of High school will be independent enough to prefer creating their jobs to pursuing certificates which will render them jobless. Mr. President, if you will have to increase the High School duration from three to four or five years to blend theory and application, I think it is a step in the right direction. High school graduates must be given the opportunity to study courses of their choice at the tertiary level.

Technical/technology focus High School curriculum must continue to the tertiary level of education. Erstwhile John DramaniMahama administration hurriedly converted polytechnics into technical universities without recourse to the curriculum? President Rawlings administration also converted some technical schools into polytechnics without focusing on instructors. Most of the technical school instructors were sacked because they did not meet the requirement to teach at the then polytechnics.

If the products of humanities-based University of Ghana, University of Cape Coast and the University of Education are going to teach at our technical universities then how technical are the so-called technical universities? How technical are the so-called technical university lecturers? We must revisit polytechnic education with Industrial attachments with some few of those institutions converting into technical universities.

I recently read from that plans are underway to convert Colleges of Education into degree awarding institutions. There is no place in the world where every Post-Secondary institution awards baccalaureate to students. Do we want students to pass through bachelor’s degree or we want bachelor’s degree to pass through them? Ghana is gradually becoming a degree mill. As Albert Einstein observed, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” What will vindicate the need for free SHS is the application of knowledge to accelerate development not going through secondary schools for going sake. Curriculum redesign and teacher motivation must be an integral part of free SHS program, Mr. President. Educational policies must become entrenched clauses in our constitution to prevent politicians from the needless educational experiment.

As the government has begun the implementation of free SHS, Ghana Statistical Services (GSS) must team up with National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) for birth control and family planning. Per social theory, Free SHS is likely to promote parental irresponsibility and rapid population growth. A Ghanaian mentality must be restructured with the implementation of free SHS. Good intention they say has a wonderful beginning but a terrible end at times. Negative mindsets can obstruct smooth running of President Akufo-Addo’s wonderful high school vision. I have a story to share. In 2005, I boarded a bus (Trotro) from Tema station to Adenta. A well-built gentleman was sitting by me. He was eating two oranges. Legon road was under construction so we went by East Legon road. We witnessed with stark horror that this man threw the orange peels at east Legon while in a moving trotro. I asked, “massa why?”

This man instantaneously recognized a heightened level of anger and responded, “what is your problem and what is the purpose of Zoomlion (a cleaning company)?”I shut up to avoid physical assault. A friend also told me of a man in the Western Region who quickly married two to take advantage of President Kufour’s free maternal care. I will not be surprised if someone like this co-passenger of mine and that man in the Western Region begins to produce more children because of Free SHS. Fellow countrymen, we must be mindful of the fact that cheap things are not always good and good things are not always cheap! Civic education is necessary for cognitive restructuring regarding the potential abuse of the foregoing policy. The government must also welcome parents who are willing to pay for the SHS fees of their kids.

In a related development, I will like to also congratulate President Akufo-Addo for working hard to clamp down illegal mining. Once again thank you for being a man of your words. Fellow compatriots, let us all pray for our President. When the righteous rule the people rejoice, and when the wicked rule the people groan (Proverbs 29: 2). God bless you for the Free SHS. May God grant you wisdom to consider teacher motivation also! God Bless Our Home Land Ghana!