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Opinions of Friday, 16 June 2017

Columnist: The Mirror

Let’s be deliberate about education

Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Minister of Education Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Minister of Education

The just ended Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) brings me a lot of fond memories. For me, like most people of my age, the examinations marked the end of a chapter.

I remember the late night studies. I remember the revision classes. I remember the group discussions. I remember the anxiety and uncertainty that underlay the preparations for the exam. We all understood that in a way, it marked a decisive moment in our lives.

The BECE determines whether you would get the school of your choice. And it also determines your career choice as well.

Those who ended up doing science and technical courses (with few exceptions) ended up in the university pursuing science related courses. Those who choose the arts ended up as humanities students at the various universities across the country.

But most importantly, the BECE marks the moment when the intellects of young ones are tested externally. This may be a source of joy and sadness.

But here is the letdown. Up until this moment, there is no deliberate attempt at infusing in the student any philosophy related to education. Ask a student at that age what he or she intends to do with education; and the answer will barely surprise you. They would definitely say “I want to be a doctor”; “I want to be a lawyer”, “I want to be a President” and so on.

Up until this stage, the essence of education is limited to the individual and his well-being. It does not go beyond that. Very few children will connect the essence of education to nation building. Therefore, the focus of education is itself not razor-sharp. It is just blunt and left to chance.

Let me put in my point in another way. The policy rationale for education may simply be resting easy in the minds of some director of education or official of the Ghana Education Service. Even in those cases, the reasons given for education are as blunt and vague as an unsharpened cutlass. You can hazard a guess.

The reasons may include reducing the literacy rate and poverty as well as to make persons employable and so on. That is where it ends. In fact, in the larger scheme of things it is level one thinking.

No deliberate attempt has been made to consider the labour needs of the country. We are not sure of how many more doctors we need. We are not sure of how many nurses we need. We are not sure of how many engineers we need. We are all locked up in some narrow capsule minding our own business.

Thought formation and conditioning is also on autopilot in this country. There is no deliberate effort to harness the hearts and minds of young people to fill in particular gaps in the economy.

There is absolutely no plan. We just stand and hope that people will make good choices along the way; and if we are lucky, they would play some crucial role.

We can’t be lucky forever. At some point in time we must take the bull by the horn and move quickly. There are so many professions and expertise that we do not have in this country.

This means that there are so many opportunities that can be harnessed. This also means that there is a lot more to be done in terms of becoming better versions of our selves.

What are we doing about it? Nothing! If natural resources alone developed a nation, then certainly we would have been miles ahead of our neighbours and contemporaries at independence.

The reality however is that natural resources don’t grow nations. It is intellect that makes all the difference.

I read in a recent article in the Financial Times about how children in Singapore become so good at Mathematics. The answer was simple. There was a deliberate attempt at making them that good. They filled in the gaps where they needed to.

We are not hungry as a nation. We are almost directionless. We have so much in terms of natural resources that we barely pay attention to the intellectual and mental resources that we have.

Who needs brains when we have cocoa, coffee and other export crops? That seems to be the line of thinking on which we have long been operating.

It is about time we considered our ways regarding education. We have to be thoughtful and deliberate in executing a strategy as to what we want to achieve with our mental faculties. It is not just going to happen. It would take a lot of time and effort.

We can’t continue any longer in our drunken stupor. We must stay alive to the challenges that confronts us as a nation and also the trends taking place in other countries.