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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

Ghana's education week 2019; a few questions

The Ministry of Education of Ghana (MOE) is hosting an education week from 6 to 9 August at La-Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra.

“No one can fool us; nothing good is going to happen to education in Ghana” are the true words from my mentor.

The so-called development partners including USAID who are supporting the government of Ghana deliver its education policies are certainly clear that no one can fool them either.

Does anyone expect frank discussions about Ghana’s education – and with what consequence? Does anyone remember the injustice meted out to the Nigerian Professor – Augustine Nwagbara?

Let us get some perspectives clear; education week is organised regularly in many nations with different objectives – public education, boys’ education, you name it. Australia has celebrated education week for at least 70 years.

We are not interested in what the stated grandiose objectives of the Ghana Education week are; we have heard it all before and we are no cynics either.

All we ask is this: are the leaders and their paid hirelings ready to work for a progressive society with clear objectives and actions toward national development?

Do we know that education policy cannot run in isolation?

All over the globe, educational policy makers go round shopping for ideas on best practice. What a 2015 US educators delegation from Massachusetts found in Singapore was forthrightness and clear thinking, as published in the book “Fifteen Letters on Education in Singapore”.

“Schools and educators are very responsive to the external accountability system, but are also able to exercise their professional judgement at the local level. For Singaporean educators, being accountable is being responsible, and being responsible is being accountable,” wrote the US delegation. “Moreover, in Singapore education and the economy are intertwined. The economic imperative for this emphasis is clear – it is essential to their survival as a nation and this imperative is accepted by all.”

By Singapore’s 50th independence anniversary in 2015 it had had “four major education transformations and [had] experienced rapid change in both its education system and economy,” the US delegation added.

But has Ghana in 63 years not had an equal number of education reforms if not more? And with what result – a better or worse educated population, you tell me?

Singaporean education is of course not a perfect one; it has promoted meritocracy and is now battling “hereditary meritocracy”, whereby those with generations of educated people in their families are benefitting significantly to get ahead in school.

But look at us now; our once vaunted educational system in tatters with – sycophants, chancers and rent seekers fawning over a political class that has no academic, scholarly, cultural or historical reference point for their decisions.

Some proper perspectives are needed to guide the way forward for Ghana: for example, Singapore’s Ministry of Education is managing policies for a national population of about three million; best practice Finland, for a national population of five million.

In Ghana, the primary one to Junior High School three population alone (6-14 year olds) exceeds the Finnish national population, and our poor Ministry of Education is overwhelmed with thinking and planning for a national population of about 30 million.

Given the poor ghanaian decision making paradigm which is based on NOTHING tangible, my mentor, for example, has suggested that our “Ministry of Education should focus on basic education only” which now includes secondary education, and leave tertiary education alone.

What resource base – both knowledge and otherwise – does Ghana’s MOE and its agencies possess that emboldens them to manage (and sometimes micromanage) tertiary institutions?

This suggestion is not unknown to our political establishment; Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Standards Authority, Tema Oil Refinery, National Media Commission, and National Communications Authority, as examples, were given autonomous powers so that their respective policy making ministries will not have daily control over them.

As far as any Ghanaian will care to admit, these parent ministries have great difficulty managing themselves – it has been so for years, and they have now gotten worse under the current crop of 125 ministers.

Imagine Ministry of Education or Ministry of Health trying to manage University of Ghana Medical School or the tier-4 500-bed University of Ghana Hospital and the other Teaching Hospitals!

We hope that all participants at the Education Week will engage in frank and successful deliberations, remembering that
“Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.”

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