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Opinions of Monday, 27 February 2017

Columnist: Abdulai, Iddrisu

GES promotes wrong spellings in schools

By Abdulai, Iddrisu

This article is written in response to the unprofessional posture of Ghana’s educational authorities and refusal of Ama ‘Atta’ Aidoo (the renowned Ghanaian poet) to accept an award. In this write-up, I attempt to justify how the unprofessional posture of Ghana’s educational authorities directly resulted in the authorities mis-educating our students right from preschool to the university level.

One direct evidence of the mis-education is the increasing surge of reckless misspellings as seen in the Independent Day’s address (March 2016), teaching syllabuses, textbooks, BECE and WASSCE examinations papers and marking schemes, national signboards and on state vehicles.

The celebrated playwright reportedly refused the award on the said day because of the ‘genuine’ misspelling of her name as ‘Atta’ instead of Ata. Her refusal of the award was caused by her lost of touch with Ghana’s current educational system, which is error-based.

We begin from the photo above. Just look at the arrow in the photo provided. In case the photo is not published, the arrow points to this phrase: AVOID TEENAGE ‘PREGNANCE’. The phrase is part of the logo of a project named CAPECS/PLAN GHANA GIRL POWER PROJECT (GPP).

First, you will wonder where the writer got the photo from. The photo is boldly displayed at the front gable wall of Ga E/A Primary School in the Wa West District of the Upper West Region. The wall is 70 to 80 metres away from the Wa–Kumasi Highway.

Second, what is wrong with the photo? The ‘genuine’ misspelling of pregnancy as ‘PREGNANCE’. Ask how the misspelling escaped the donor agency—CAPECS/PLAN GHANA. More importantly, ask how the head teacher, class teacher, all other school teachers, the visiting circuit supervisors, and all other visiting educational authorities never noticed the incorrect spelling, which has been on display for several terms or years.

The answer to the above surprises is unprofessional conduct by MoE/GES. Obviously, serious educational authorities are concerned about the educational value of every readable material. Accordingly, these serious educators always demand a copy of the material, read it first, approve it and then authorize its display.

Therefore, we ask ourselves this question—if a student writes ‘pregnance’ in place of pregnancy in a dictation test in the said school, does the teacher have the professional right to mark the student’s answer wrong? We will return to the answer later in the discussion.

How do we attribute this incorrect spelling to MoE/GES? The authorities are ‘ignorant’ of correct spellings or they are tolerant of incorrect spellings especially those made by their staff members ranging from curriculum developers to authors of textbooks to WAEC (as seen in BECE and WASSCE papers).

Our evidence is as follows. I visited CRDD, where I met its Director, Mrs Felicia Boakye-Yiadom, on 4th July last year to express my uttermost regret and disgust at the errors in the integrated science teaching syllabuses (for both JHS and SHS) and textbooks (both govt approved and privately published). She keenly listened and equally expressed regret (though somehow insincere) for the errors in privately published textbooks. She even suggested punitive measures to be taken against the authors including banning the said books.

Conversely, I tried proving to her that the errors in the textbooks were a replica of those in the syllabuses and WAEC examination papers. I opened to Page 11 and 12 of the teaching syllabus for SHS (2010). Before I could read some incorrect information, the Director demonstrated her tolerance of the errors by saying this: ‘ALIGNMENT ERROR’. That is, these authorities have already prepared defences or justification for any error in the syllabuses or Govt-approved textbooks. Perhaps, ‘Atta’ could go to MoE/GES for the interpretation of or justification for the wrong spelling of her name.

This is part of the information on the said page of the syllabus. Page 11 has a specific objective (3.2.7) which reads ‘describe vegetative reproduction in plants’. One of the teaching and learning activities under the said objective reads ‘Write word equations for aerobic and anaerobic respirations’.

Obviously, the teaching and learning activity belongs to Unit 5 named Respiratory system but was misplaced under Unit 4 named Reproduction and growth in plants. That is, the error is not caused by alignment but it is caused by failure to edit the syllabus. While she was still defending the error, I showed her the spelling of the unit title in the syllabus, which is RESPARATORY. Her strong defence was weakened and she then resorted to the unprofessional mantra—haven’t you ever made a mistake?

I responded professionally. Assuming we (teachers, authors, examiners at WAEC and designers of the curriculum) all agree that we make mistakes and therefore pardon ourselves for the errors, does it mean that a student who re-produces our mistakes in examinations will be marked correctly? Here, her responses slowed down; that is, she could no longer link policy implementation with the reality in Ghana’s educational system.

We return to the story of ‘Atta’. What went wrong with the spelling? Absolutely nothing unusual. The usual way of coining words in English language is doubling of the letters. That is, a double letter usually differentiates many words (eg, super & supper, later & latter and mating & matting). Therefore, inability to recognize and use the double letter is a spelling blunder.

Since when did Ghanaian writers (curriculum developers, authors, teachers and examiners) lose their sense of noting the difference between single and double letters in words? Several years ago probably beginning from the time ‘Amma’ ‘Atta’ completed school and her teachers retired. See several pieces of evidence below.

EVIDENCE 1. A former player of Ghana Black Stars is Osei Kuffour (containing double letter). Accordingly, most Ghanaian writers incorrectly write Agyekum Kuffour instead of Kufuor (?). Even the main highway from Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Achimota named after the former president bears Kuffour. Yet an article published on Ghanaweb(@ 17/09/2016 )—It’s wrong for Mahama to wear military uniform—by one US-based lawyer Prof. Kweku Asare contains this statement: ‘I cannot recall President Kuffour or Mills ever wearing military uniforms.’ Thus, something is certainly wrong with our writers.

Evidence 2. Another former president is Hilla Limann. Several millions of Ghana cedis in taxpayers’ money was used to brand the Metro buses, yet the authorities expectedly failed to notice that Limann has double ‘n’. That is, ‘Liman’ requires doubling of the last consonant while Atta requires singling of the only consonant. What was then so new about the nationally approved misspelling patterns in which case Ata must ‘genuinely’ be rewritten as ‘Atta’?
Evidence 3. A hall at the University of Ghana (UG) is named after Limann. Just last semester (Aug/Sept. 2016), students’ registration forms still contained the incorrect spelling ‘Liman’. That is, authorities of UG once again messed up with the spelling of another important personality that they honoured.
They (who?) say ‘If you go to Rome, do what Romans do’. Accordingly, ‘Atta’ overreacted because one probable trademark of UG is to misspell words. And I am so happy that the incorrect spellings from ‘big’ academicians are gradually been exposed because MoE/GES erroneously believe that only PhD holders and professors are intellectuals.

Borrowing the terminology of Slisko and Hadzibegovic (2011), we conclude as follows. Pessimistic educators are those currently administering Ghana’s Education (MoE/GES/CRDD and/or WAEC).

These authorities are partisans of the view that ‘to err is human’. If you are a partisan of this view, you are an academic misfit and cannot justifiably mark a student wrong when s/he defines mass as how a long an object is. The reason is that the student erred because s/he is human, among whom erring is the norm.

Long live practising teachers, long live Ghana!
Idris Pacas (Cite as shown below)
020-9101533 & iddrisuabdulai12@yahoo.com

Iddrisu Abdulai
The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission
PO Box LG 80