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Opinions of Friday, 20 January 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Is Our Educational System in Ghana Globally Competitive?

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
18th January 2011


In the 80s, the then Rawlings regime introduced the current JHS and SHS systems in our Secondary Schools in Ghana as a means to give a practical content to our educational system which vociferous critics said then that it was bookish, theoretical and not labour market-oriented. Since the introduction of the current system 30 years down the line, many critics, including myself have viewed with cynicism, skepticism, disdain and misgivings the current system which is, to some extent, worse than its predecessor. In the media, there has been a lot of kerfuffle for the overhaul, review or better still, the abrogation of such a lowbrow and diluted educational system. The failure of the JSS and SSS systems can be blamed on several political, economic, social and global factors. In the first place, the leaders and policy makers who sat down to plot the trajectory of our educational system at the time may have been informed either by blinded revolutionary zeal for change for the sake of change, or due to extreme pressure from external forces whose lines of thought had to be swallowed hook, line and sinker or lock, stock and barrel. It is evident and abundantly conspicuous that the change from the old to the new system has produced the worst educational progression rates in our country’s history. On average, only 21% of SSS (SHS) graduates get admission to tertiary institutions. The dropout rate from JHS to SHS is even worse. Many of the products of the JSS and SSS have become an albatross on the neck of the nation as most are unemployable, semi-literate and are the sans cullotte. The original motive of the JSS and SSS was ostensibly good. It was to move us away from rote- learning or theoretical education, to a vocational-based practical education with a national focus and flavour. However, this noble objective is far from being achieved as the implementation of the scheme has been problematic and an abysmal failure. Economically, the various austerity measures in the country in the 80s and 90s caused many students and teachers to endure untold hardships so much so that some students dropped out of school and some of their teachers fled the country in search of the Golden Fleece in alien lands.

Socially, most students felt deserted because of family problems such as broken marriages, absconded fathers who got lost in the diaspora, among other familial problems. The arrival of the cell-phone and internet did not help matters as some of these gadgets diverted the attention of students from their studies. Many of these social factors caused a hiatus and disconnect in the learning continuum. Currently, educational standards in Ghana, when compared to countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria show that we are behind. A case in point is the dismal performance of our university representatives in the Zain (Airtel) African Challenge quiz competitions held a couple of years ago. Our students lack the proper instructional materials such as quality textbooks, and the teachers are damned lazy, apathetic, and exploitative. They lack patriotism. Many teachers use the school as a front for their private businesses and they devote little time to instructing their tutees. There is also a lot of laxity in school supervision because of corruption, apathy and in some cases, inadequate logistics such as unavailability of transport for the supervisors. In some cases, nepotism, corruption and tribalism have led to a crisis situation whereby the most incompetent teachers have been promoted to their highest level of incompetence (Peter’s principle) as headteachers and headmasters. Some of our teachers are lazy, as they do not carry out research before going to class or they adopt a lackadaisical approach to teaching, whereby they often go to school late or they take French leave when they feel like. Besides, most teachers do not work hard enough to complete the syllabuses with their tutees. They fail to plan their work ahead and in some instances, they give few assignments and exercises to students. Some of the worst culprits are female teachers, as they spend precious time in lobbies and common rooms prattling about their domestic chores and weekend escapades, ad nausea, while pupils sit in classrooms untaught or unattended to. I am writing this from observation and experience. You should have seen the great amount of sacrifices we made on behalf of our tutees when we were in the classrooms back then. Currently, where the teachers give tutees work; they do give few assignments and exercises. Sometimes it is not their fault as class sizes are huge, with one teacher having say 200 students to deal with in say JHS Social Studies. It becomes an issue of quantity and not quality. Where teachers give work, some do not mark the work and if they do mark at all, the feedback time is long and far in between. To compound issues, some of the school buildings in the rural areas are dilapidated, ramshackle and an eyesore. Some do not have desks, tables, chairs and textbooks. Not even basics like chalk, pencils and exercise books. If the issue of cost sharing or user-fees was introduced, it would be a non-starter as poverty levels are high. This is where interventions from the communities, churches, PTAs, local authorities, NGOs and the corporate world are most welcome. Education as a merit good, will be under-provided and under-consumed if left to market forces, despite its huge social benefits. Let us hope the e-book programme launched by the Ministry of Education will empower our pupils to access the internet and other sources of instructional materials, so as to improve our deteriorating standards. Our District Assemblies must be proactive and help revamp our educational system. Some of them are sleeping on their watch, as they only pride themselves on being appointed to the district chambers just to warm up seats and engage in tokenism. Granted that our teachers in the public schools are ill-rewarded, dispirited, demotivated and lack better incentives and fringe benefits. It is said that teaching is a vocation and a calling. Yes, it is, but then it is time we stopped subjecting our teachers to the Cinderella looks. They have needs to satisfy and they have aspirations. To achieve better results in our educational institutions, it is high time we professionalized teaching in Ghana for us to reap the stupendous benefits of such an action. Currently, morale among teachers is low as teaching is seen as a last resort or dumping ground for career failures and the army of the unemployed. To some critics, teaching is a sinecure where people make easy money. They had better take a teaching stint to savour the nature of the job.

The Way Forward
1. All the teachers in Ghana should be registered as professionals, as members of the teaching fraternity with strong professional code of conduct, emphasing professional ethics. All teachers should be articled and licensed, with practicing licences issued by an independent teaching service commission. Teachers to be subjected to continuous upgrading examinations and to pay annual subscriptions to be in good standing with their professional bodies.
2. Model schools to be set up throughout Ghana to teach internationally- acclaimed curricula and syllabi such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) ordinary level examinations, aimed at those between 14 to 16 years and run and administered by the University of Cambridge Examinations Syndicate in London. This is one of the best educational programmes in the world for ensuring functional literacy, which even the Swedish have adopted. It offers contemporary quality education for digital natives and there are many vocational subjects to choose from such as ICT, Business Studies, Entrepreneurship, Accounting, Tourism, Statistics, among others.
3. Identified schools in Ghana should be made to run the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme which is fast replacing the ‘A’ levels as the programme of choice by quality universities throughout the world, because of its exceedingly rigorous, rich and superior nature as a diploma. It is a mini-university diploma as it exposes students early to research skills, theory of knowledge, creativity, action and community service. The programme is headquartered in Switzerland with its examinations headquarters in Cardiff, Wales in the UK.
4. The London Ordinary Level (Edexcel) and the Cambridge A Levels should be made available in most schools in Ghana so that our students can compete against students from other countries worldwide, as this has a wider global presence than WAEC and they are highly professionalized and they adopt global best practices. If our students take part in examinations conducted by Edexcel or UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate), then they will compete globally and gain access to Ivy League and top league universities in the world such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Caltech, UCLA, University of London, McGill, MIT, Princeton, Sorbonne, among others. Our current WASSSC is too dichotomized and unstandardised as the constituent member countries of WAEC pursue their own different national agendas in educational policies.
5. We should institute national awards and scholarships to recognize and reward our students who excel exceedingly in final examinations.
6. We should set up regional and district educational monitoring and advisory boards to oversee and superintend education at the grassroots level, and to give advice to the District Assemblies to check laxities in the system at the local level.
7. Despite the fact that we have had many commissions of enquiry and commissions in the past, which were set up by former presidents, we should still have a probe into our current malfunctional and dysfunctional ‘cyto’ schools so that an appropriate model can be recommended. In the past, we have had the Evans Anfom Commission (1986), Dzobo Commission and the Anamuah-Mensah Commission (2002).
8. We should ensure that all private providers of education in Ghana employ properly trained and professional teachers, instead of employing low grade SSS dropouts in order to cut down cost. These private schools should be seen to be operating in conducive and salubrious learning environments, and following prescribed syllabi and curricula. They should be appraised periodically and accredited by the national accreditation board.
9. In trying to localize the content of our curricula, let us not forget that we are part of a highly globalised world and we cannot esconce isolate ourselves from the happenings and demands in the global milieu. Therefore, our curricula should have both local and global content and focus.
10. We should decongest the currently crowded JHS and SHS syllabi as the workload does not match the timeframe stipulated, and the capacity of our system to deliver optimal service delivery is weak and low. Our young minds are overburdened with too much work, without emphasising the core basics of imparting reading, analytical and writing skills, which formerly we referred to as the 3Rs or the basics of educational functionality. Currently, the emphasis is on breadth rather than depth of knowledge and skills. What do we get? Shallow and superficial educational products.
Concluding Remarks
My examples here may be deemed to be far-fetched and perhaps statistically insignificant. Nonetheless, one or two examples are far better than making allusions in a vacuum. I hope to score points with them to buttress my assertions. About 10 years ago, my friend’s son relocated from Nigeria to Winneba Secondary School with his ‘O’ Level results. He was nearly rejected from joining the then SSS (now SHS) class because of his small stature and also because of his ‘O’ Level background. Lo and behold, at their final speech and prize giving day, he collected most of the prizes and when he went to the University of Ghana, he graduated with First Class in Economics and Statistics. I have another friend whose daughter did ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels in Zambia, and recently she graduated from the School of Administration, Legon, also with a First Class. What do these two examples tell you of the quality of our educational system in Ghana now? All these point to the fact that our much vaunted current educational system is weak and uncompetitive, save for those who pass through private schools where class sizes are smaller and they receive a lot of attention from their teachers. In my own mind, the current system in Ghana is designed to make majority of our Ghanaian students literate illiterates. Many of the products from the public schools cannot write or speak correct English, as they make a lot of grammatical errors, and when they argue, they lack substance or depth of knowledge. Gone are the days when we had quality students from the Akoras, Kwa Botwes, Accra Aca, Santacalusians, St Peters’, Bishop Hermans, Augusco, GSTS, Apass, Weygayhey, Aburi Girls, Prempeh, Holy Child, St Monicas, St Roses, Archbishop Porters, among many others. Since I have taught in Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia for decades, I speak from experience and empirical-observation. Fortunately, when researching for my master’s dissertation, I conducted it in the area of secondary education and in my literature review and global contextualization of the subject matter; I did a comparative study of secondary education in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and all parts of the world. I do follow the global university rankings. However, one can take those rankings with a pinch of salt as they are done for several motives and based on several criteria, some of which are beyond the reach of Third World countries such as Ghana. Many Ghanaians shudder to relocate their children to Ghana because they are not sure of the current educational system. This is not to say there are no pockets of quality education in Ghana. Many expatriates in Ghana place their children in International Schools such as SOS Herman in Tema, Lincoln International School and Ghana International School in Accra. These are exclusive schools which charge thousands of dollars, which is out of reach of many Ghanaians. Many academics in our universities have alluded to the low calibre of students from our secondary schools. These remarks have been made by Vice Chancellors and eminent educationists in Ghana. It beggars belief why these eminent scholars are not driving for changes and they have given in to the status quo. Perhaps, the policy makers fail to listen to them or they have their own interests and hidden agendas for the continuity of the rot. Education is the only vehicle for the upward mobility of the child from a poor home and it is the most potent tool for fighting effectively and efficiently against poverty as it is a leveler.
Currently, our educational system is being driven by the Education Strategic Plan(ESP) 2003-2015, based on the Dzobo, Evans Anfom and Anamuah Mensah Reports commissioned by previous governments. The VSO (Voluntary Service Organisation) and UNESCO are partners in driving this plan. However, we have to state that after 2015, we must have a radical review of our current JHS and SHS system which is producing literate illiterates, who cannot compete favourably on the global market. Our education system should be based on education for life or a functional education which should assist us to adapt easily to this fast changing world. The ESP programme which is driving our current system is anchored heavily on e-books, ICT,-e-learning and Technology and Science in general. I beg to differ that these alone cannot guarantee a holistic education. Currently, our system is so localized that it has no comparator and as such, our products cannot be accepted internationally. The basics of critical writing, induction and deduction, are lacking in our students. Here, teacher education becomes of cardinal importance because half-baked teachers will produce quarter baked students. Our current educational system has become a rat-race, highly elitist, discriminatory and dysfunctional in the sense that emphasis is on quantity rather than on quality. Many are those going to school, on the mantra, ‘no child left behind’, but few are those accessing quality education as they progress on the educational ladder. Quality education in high-fee paying private schools has become the exclusive preserve of the rich, and a mirage or golden fleece to the majority poor. This was not the case 30 years ago. We had better sit back and take a critical look at our current educational system in Ghana, which is retrogressing, while other countries like Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe are marching ahead. Those of us who are currently dubbed digital immigrants are far better off than our young digital natives who have a plethora of information but they fail to use it to the maximum.

Kwesi Atta Sakyi