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Opinions of Thursday, 26 April 2007

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa

Ghana's New Education Reform: Is the Philosophy Right?

Educational reform is a necessary measure for reorienting the content of the educational enterprise to meet the developmental goals of every nation. Some Ghanaian educationists and politicians writing about educational reform have argued for a system and curriculum that would let us catch-up with the rest of the world.

In pursuance of this goal, recent educational policy debates have reiterated the need to emphasise the teaching of science and information technology, and it is not surprising that the new educational reform recently announced by Government seeks to make educational products more employable in the global market.

However, the question for Ghana is whether meeting the demands of the global market should be a central aim and guiding philosophy our educational system. I believe that the nett success of any educational reform in Ghana need not be measured by the comparison of our educational products with other nations on the global market. In fact, I argue that such a goal or philosophy is irrelevant for Ghana, until our educational products are transformed into a unifying current for our redemption from hunger, disease and poverty within our local communities; and I underscore local communities. This goal or philosophy has been missing from our educational thinking for a long time.
The Nkrumah government sought in the beginning to facilitate the emergence of a Ghanaian population that would be literate and employable in the new nation Ghana. Our educational system and its products were to become, in Nkrumah’s vision, a pioneering example of an educated and skilled population running an emerging healthy African industrial economy- an answer to Europe and America, and a fountain for our true emancipation.
The current reform emphasises the role of science and information technology in our educational ‘cooking pot’ as a step towards competitiveness on the global market. It also aims to increase the percentage of students going into science related disciplines and alter the number years spent by students at the pre-university level. The last measure may have little bearing on educational outcomes given other more serious factors at play in the system. In my opinion, the current reform is nothing new, but another attempt to re-organise a system that has been subjected to repeated confusion, fragmented and ineffective execution of broad policy intents, underfunding and experimentation with the lives of children. Although it may bring some benefit to students in terms of preparedness for university education, it appears to miss some key considerations necessary for any meaningful outcomes for all Ghanaians.
A meaningful educational reform (in my view), should aim to see an educated Ghanaian as one who is well rooted in the values of our culture and employable for the benefit of our local community. In order to achieve such an educational outcome, I contend that two vital orientations are indispensable, namely Values-based education and Vocational education with a community orientation. These two orientations are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other.
Values and Development
Although the world is at a stage where the focus of education is towards the demands of the global market, countries like Ghana should rather be looking at what makes a school product a reliable and valuable soldier for local community productivity, sustainability and/or an expert of the immediate environment.
Jacobs and Cleeland (1999) made a strong observation about Values, which I borrow here to enhance my discussion. They wrote that values are internal organising principles that direct human energies and determine the course of individual and social development. They are also pragmatic principles for accomplishment transmitted by society to successive generations as a psychological foundation for its further advancement. The values of a society, they stated, are a crucial aspect of its people’s self-conception of what they want to become. What do we want to become as a nation? What do we want to transmit to our children through our education and of what benefit should their education be to the community?
Do we seek a nation of school products whose skills have no direct positive bearing on our communities, and who indulge in building beautiful houses in a sea of garbage, poverty, disease, dishonesty and greed; pacifying God with their lips in prayer-houses and yet performing no acts kindness? Or do we seek a nation of informed and skilled people who have the skill, the will, and intent to contribute to a common good that touches us first in our local communities?
I agree with Jacobs and Cleeland’s assertion that the intangible nature of values and the long processes involved in their formation make us overlook their central role in development. For this reason, we as a society are yet to recognise that development is not the overt manifestations of things in other countries that confront our eyes, but the underlying process involved in the creative minds of the individuals and of each society. Thus, development as a human creative process can only be realised if Ghanaians recognise that it ourselves who constitute that potential force for development, and that this recognition brings with it a responsibility for cultivating an inspiration (through the values we hold) to create processes and instruments that allow us to tame our immediate environment for our exclusive comfort. No other nation can develop Ghana, and the idea that foreign aid (in the forms of food, money etc) is development, is to lose sight of the fact that they are merely end-products of the creative process, which issues from values they have cultivated for themselves.
Human societal existence, functioning and happiness are therefore determined by the values that hold sway and Ghana’s existence is and will undoubtedly be determined by our values. Sadly, the values of African societies have been those most eroded in the last 400 years of the world’s history, as a triple consequence of slavery, colonialism and cultural pollution/ dilution. Rebuilding these values is achievable and only our educational process is capable of instilling these qualities in our future generations, through values education and vocational education with a local community orientation.

Values and Values-based Education

In order to build communities that we all feel proud to belong to, our values for education should be taken from our African philosophies/cultural values, which enshrine the principle of living for the community. We have to reshape our values to the idea that we have the responsibility for building happier communities and the central goal/philosophy of our educational reform should reflect these values.
The Ghanaian saying “ No one teaches the child God” when viewed in the context of socialization and pedagogy, intimates that the child would learn the values of society that align with the nature of God in the process of growing up. This saying has an underlying philosophy similar to Rousseau’s child-centered approach to education. Rousseau held that the child is inherently good in his/her nature; it is the society, which corrupts the child. In this sense, our Ghanaian children are good as God made them and aspire to the values of God or nature. It is our society that corrupts our children and today most Ghanaian children “don’t know God” and don’t know the values for bettering our communities.
Tanzania adapted the educational curriculum to deliberately instil specific social values, attitudes and mental states their citizens and a similar measure for community improvement is warranted in Ghana. What I am proposing is not a new Ujama project, but the development of a set of values, including more crucially, the values of respect, responsibility and the transformation of local community productive capacity, through deeper study and understanding of our environment, and the creative pursuit of optimising the benefit of our local resources.
These types of values that are required for change are currently not effectively taught in schools. Values such as honesty and service for the good of community are nowhere demonstrated for the young to emulate. If civil servants must receive money to do their work for which they are paid and contractors are unanimous in their belief that shoddy jobs are good provided those are government jobs, then our kids will never learn any values of benefit to our society.
Unfortunately, we aspire as a nation to be like Europe first and second to be ourselves (Africans). If we employed what I elsewhere called the reversal principle, then we would need to be first Africans who have mastered our environments and honestly value the progress of our communities. In this way, we would first and foremost endeavour to explore and develop pragmatic ways of dealing with or taming our harsh environments, and utilise every drop of our creative powers to harness our unique resources to stop hunger, disease and uplift our living conditions. For the simple reason that some solutions must have a unique African focus, this is the way forward, rather than trying to be like Europe in one giant leap.
Vocational Education with a Local Community Orientation
I argue that we are choosing the wrong philosophical premise for our current reform by seeking to channel our educational products towards entry into the global market, rather than enhancing the quality of life in the local community.
Our young people are shunning the existing technical / vocational education programs, which appear to have no meaningful bearing on improving our infrastructure and ways of living. Therefore, very few of our young people have the skills in industry that could be used to directly improve the quality of infrastructure we are building for our future.
Our technologies have become stagnant for the last 300 years and we have been holding on to the same methods of producing soap, charcoal, pottery etc. However, our survival and comfort have to do with mastering our immediate environments in a way that allows us to make maximum use of all types of resources including foods, herbs and other unique local materials. As Ghanaians, our environment is unique and useful to us first and all others second. Thus, no other persons/societies should or will do the mastering of our environment and resources for us, and no one in the western world is ever going to seriously help to develop our local foods, plants and herbs for our exclusive utilisation on diseases that are unique to us.
In the face of these, our vocational education should have a pronounced local community orientation. Such an orientation would imply that the types of plants, foods, infrastructure, skills and services required in a local community form the basis of the vocational education curriculum. For example composting, metal works, irrigation systems and dam construction technology/skills should be part of vocational training in all localities where such services and skills are part of the community’s economic life. Teacher training should then focus on the capacity of teachers to adapt their teaching methods in ways that bring out the creative powers of both students and community institutions to improve on the methods of harnessing local resources.
This type of focus already takes place in the area of health in Ghana, where almost all health personnel have deeper understanding of, and are able to treat malaria, measles and other common diseases.
Now is the time to redirect vocational education to create products of schools that can develop and manage our land and water resources, road network, and synthesise knowledge of our local herbs into a collective portal of viable treatment options for diseases in our communities. We need to creatively use our resources and dispel the illusion that we cannot use our resources for anything meaningful. The GRATIS programs, including STEP, which provides training in metal fabrication, woodwork, metal machining, auto-mechanics and electronics must be adapted to specific local community needs and be part of an integrated model of applied technical skill development and local community improvement. These linkages are needed as a vital step towards facilitating a process of inter-sector support in each local community with a view to creating a giant spiraling leap in over development.
The reality is that we do not escape from poverty, disease by having skills, which are comparable with others on the world, but mean nothing for our communities and /or by building nice homes in filthy, diseased environments. We forget that we can never be truly happy and free until our environments and communities become free; for the mosquitoes and bacteria do not need visas to travel from the dirty mud-huts into our new modern European-style homes. We would benefit in terms of over all progress (good health, security and happiness) if our houses were mud-huts in communities that value our common good through providing good sanitation, food, education, drinking water, and basic health care. Our educational goals and philosophy would need to take this direction and I hope our policy makers are listening.

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini
(C.E.V.S. Tamale, Ghana)


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