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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 October 2004

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

Kufuor Administration has Abysmal Record in ...

..Public Education Provision

Outcomes and effects of policies initiated and executed for provision of public education in Ghana during the first two years of the President John Agyekum Kufuor-led government of New Patriotic Party (NPP) hurt more than help the chances of rescuing the sector from almost two decades of downward spiral. Although the education sector attracted a relatively large proportion of the national budget during the first two years (January 2001 to December 2002) of the Kufuor administration, the country did not seem to have experienced positive change in access for students and quality.

Granted that the NPP government inherited a crumbling structure for the provision of public education, the evidence points to the reality that elitist policy actions of the Kufuor administration had the trappings of deepening social class differentiation in Ghana through the education process. However, it emerges clearly from review of press reports that lack of qualified management skills in the public service sector and high level of corruption resulting in low national tax revenue hamper resolution of problems and issues associated with provision of public education at the practical level in Ghana.

NPP 2000 Manifesto contained five pages under the heading ?Formal Education Policy? made up of repetitive declarations of intents and promises supposed to correct educational reforms made by the previous National Democratic Congress (NDC) government. The NPP Manifesto described the educational reforms of NDC correctly as ?chaotic NDC reforms.? The promises and intents in the Manifesto left the impression that the NPP government was bent on doing all the correct things needed to boost the quality of education in Ghana by providing ?access to basic education for all Ghanaian children, and to higher levels of education for all capable of benefiting from it.?

One would have thought that in a poor country with a relatively high illiteracy rate, society would benefit if the state picked up the responsibility of providing the conditions that make all citizens ?capable of benefiting? from higher levels of education. Interestingly, the nature and what qualified the individual as capable of benefiting from higher education were not defined in the Manifesto.

On hindsight, Ghanaians should have received NPP?s promises with skepticism and trepidation because the Manifesto was dead silent on the constitutional provisions that ?secondary education in its different forms ?, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.? (Italics for emphasis).

During Kufuor administration children ?capable of secondary level education were to be taken care of through the provision of at least one senior secondary school (SSS) in each District, ?developed to the status of the few better endowed Senior Secondary Schools of the country.?

NPP?s stated approach of providing one developed SSS per District was to be the solution for bridging a ?glaring gap? between rural schools and ?top schools? in the urban areas of Ghana with respect to facilities and equipment availability.

The first budget statement by the Kufuor administration presented in March 2001 set the basis for its education policy direction for Ghana. The Minister of Finance, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, indicated to parliament that education had the highest budget allocation than any other sector for the 2001 financial year. He detailed the amount of funds going for specific programs within the education sector.

In the 2001 budget, funds were provided ?to support girl-child education programs in primary schools and ?for the conduct of science, technology and mathematics programs for those at the senior secondary school level,? according to a news report. The report paraphrased Osafo-Maafo that ?in order to bridge the gap of enhancement in education between rural and urban, programs such as provision of incentives to teachers, in-service training for teachers, curriculum review and development and financial support for proven needy basic schoolgirls would be undertaken. ?He said government would focus on the provision of infrastructure facilities in schools, especially in rural areas, expanding existing ones, providing housing for teachers and procuring classroom furniture?.

In the budget, funding was allocated ?for the completion of 20 Vocational and Technical Resource Centers and provision of modern equipment and plant facilities for them to improve the skills of students. ?At the tertiary level, major rehabilitation and earmarked construction works will continue in a bid to expand the facilities, especially at the University of Ghana (chemistry block), construction of lecture halls at University of Cape Coast and improvement in the water systems at the University for Development Studies.? Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and some polytechnics had been slated also to be beneficiaries of rehabilitation and construction funding.

Every bit important in the 2001 budget statement was the announcement of introduction of ?a new concept known as Whole School Development (WSD) designed to expose teachers to current methodologies and skills.? WSD was expected to help achieve quality teaching and learning under the constitutionally mandated Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education program (FCUBE). Ghana Education Trust Fund (GET Fund) was to provide the financial backbone of the announced education programs.

In less than one week after the 2001 budget statement, Vice-Chancellor of Ghana?s premier public university, the University of Ghana, declared all universities in the country as members of ?Highly Indebted Poor Universities (HIPU)? relative to ?the precarious financial position of the nation?s universities.? The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah, in August 2001, caused a national stare when he refused to open the doors of the University of Ghana to students who failed to pay increased rates of ?Academic Facility User Fees? (AFUF) and ?Residential Facility User Fees? (RFUF). Addae-Mensah?s action was counter to an earlier memorandum issued by the Minister of Education, Professor Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, directing Vice-Chancellors and Principals in Ghana to accept previously existing rates of AFUF and RFUF.

Students of the University of Ghana had refused to pay the new rate of fees because the government of Ghana had promised to absorb the difference between the old and new rates. However, because the government had delayed making payment of the fees increase to the university, the vice-chancellor reacted with a statement to the press that ?We cannot run the university on a government promise.? (Italics for emphasis). Prof. Addae-Mensah complained also about shortfall in the payment of emoluments and subventions by the government to the university for the previous academic year.

While the battle over money raged on between the University of Ghana and the Kufuor administration, an outspoken secondary school headmaster charged the government publicly, with failing to provide textbooks for three academic subjects ? economics, social studies and integrated science?offered at senior secondary schools in the country. The Headmaster of Obiri Yeboah Secondary School at Assin Fosu, Mr. Bediako Adu, ?stated that the non-availability of the textbooks has been one of the major factors for the poor performance in the newly established community schools because most parents cannot afford books by private authors.? Given the general circumstances of education in Ghana, it is fair for one to assume that headmasters across the country shared Mr. Adu?s observations.

Professor J. Anamuah-Mensah, Principal of Ghana?s University College of Education told a Conference of District Directors of Education in October 2001 that about 60 percent of pupils in primary schools could not read.

In December 2001, Addae-Mensah expressed concern about the high rate of illiteracy in Ghana relative to the country?s desire for sustainable national development. He told a meeting of University of Ghana?s Institute of Adult Education that ?43.4 percent of those who are three years old or more have never been to school and 49.9 percent of the adult population of 15 years or more are totally illiterate.? (Italics for emphasis). Yet, some members of NDC parliamentary opposition pointed out that the Kufuor administration made no provision to fund adult literacy education in the 2001 budget statement. They noted also that ?distance education, non-formal education and improvement of library facilities in the country? had not received funding in the Kufuor administration?s first budget statement.

As Chairman of Presidential Educational Reforms Review Committee, Prof. Anamuah-Mensah discovered that teachers in Ghana had been suffering from ?chronic prestige deprivation.? (Italics for emphasis). In that instance, Anamuah-Mensah, who was Principal of Ghana?s University College of Education, reportedly, ?stressed the need to enhance the status of the teaching profession in order to reduce the popular perception that ?anyone can be a teacher.??

Given the exiting condition of ?chronic prestige deprivation? that characterizes the teaching profession in Ghana, there should be no wonder, that ?an average of 10,000 teachers leave their classrooms in an unregulated manner every year to pursue further studies, thus creating staffing problems in the schools, which eventually impact negatively on academic standards,? Anamuah-Mensah surmised.

By July 2002, 652 schools located in various parts of Ghana had no teachers, Anamuah-Mensah disclosed. Thus, it is fair to suggest that the status of teachers in Ghana needs to be enhanced otherwise the quality and standard of education in the country would continue to go in the downward direction.

To support evidence of downward trend of Ghana?s education system and its implications for society, one only has to look at some grim and disturbing indicators provided by Anamuah-Mensah in January 2002. Anamuah-Mensah was paraphrased thus: ?He said available data showed that out of an average of 200,000 JSS [Junior Secondary School] students who pass out every year since 1990 only about 72,000 gained admission into senior secondary schools, while about 10,000 get into technical institutes and vocational/technical schools. This leaves 118,000 on the street every year and for the past 12 years, this gave 1,416,000. ?Similarly, out of about 72,000 students graduating each year since 1992/93 academic year, only about 25,000 gained access to universities, polytechnics, teacher training colleges and other tertiary institutions, leaving about 47,000 unattended to each year.? (Italics for emphasis).

NPP Minister of State in charge of Primary, Secondary and Girl-Child Education, Ms. Christine Churcher, expressed concern about operations of private schools in Ghana which she noted could lead to the creation of two social classes in the country, ?with exorbitant fees as the main discriminator.? Nevertheless, Ms. Churcher failed to recognize that Kufuor administration?s policy of providing one top senior secondary school in each District of Ghana would contribute to the creation of two classes.

One top school in a District in Ghana would not likely be able to absorb all qualifying students, then kicks in the concept of ?those capable of benefiting.? Academic screening for admission to the top school in a District was likely to result in differences in opportunity for access. Family income status, with respect to inability to pay school fees, would contribute also to deepening class differentiation in Ghana?s morbid political-economy.

Concerns about conditions of early childhood development raised by Ms. Churcher broke the ground. Whereas early childhood development remains an area that is significant for upward mobility of society, it had not been at the forefront of professional and social discussion in Ghana.

Ms. Churcher?s view that ?there is the need to take the foundations of education in the country more seriously, since that is where a child learns most of what takes him or her into adult life,? was one that ought to have received the attention of any well-focused government of Ghana. She observed correctly with concern that ?currently, early childhood development [in Ghana] is left in the hands of private owners, resulting in differences in scope and content of curriculum.? Fortunately, in December 2001, President Kufuor announced his administration?s intent to make nursery schools integral part of public primary school education in Ghana.

In addition to shortage of qualified professional teachers, refusal by some of them to accept posting to schools in deprived areas also had been contributing to the poor quality of education delivery in Ghana.

To entice teachers to accept postings to deprived areas of the country, the Kufuor administration introduced a program to offer some incentives to them. However, the material value of what the Administration offered to Ghana?s teachers for accepting postings to deprived areas of the country had not been substantive. The incentive package made sense only when valued vis-?-vis the relatively low salary level of teachers in the country. Frankly, the so-called incentives could be considered insulting to the integrity of the teaching profession.

From the practical point of view, if qualified professional teachers accepted postings to schools in deprived areas of Ghana, it should be considered a high level of sacrifice to society but not because of the puny offering of so-called incentive from the Kufuor administration.

The Ghana Education Service (GES) christened the incentive package ?Deprived Schools Teacher Incentive Scheme? through which the identified teachers received gifts of bicycles, radio cassette players and cooking utensils. Yet, the NPP Minister of Education, Prof. Ameyaw-Akumfi reported to parliament, in July 2001, that out of Ghana?s 17,964 public schools, 6,317 of them, with 24,183 teachers, qualified as deprived.

Deprivation of the 6,317 public schools remained such that the ministry of education categorized them further into: ?highly deprived schools, deprived schools, and fairly deprived schools.? Some of those schools had been deprived so much that they had had to close down due to lack of teachers. Poor and ramshackle classroom structures forced some schools in both rural and urban areas to close down as well.

Convinced that Ghana?s ?education system has fallen into questionable circumstances?, Pres. Kufuor appointed a 28-member Educational Reforms Review Committee, in January 2002, to examine outcomes and implications of the existing Educational Reforms Program. ?Among issues to be discussed by the Committee, ? were funding of education in the country, quality and funding for expansion of education in the rural areas.? Kufuor?s stated intent for reviewing the educational system had been ?to put the country in a position that would empower it to be part of the mainstream technological advancement in the world,? a news report indicated. ?President Kufuor urged the Committee to come out with practical proposals for all levels of education from the pre-school to the tertiary, to put the country?s education on a level where its graduates could compete with anyone anywhere on the globe.?

When President Kufuor inaugurated the Educational Reforms Review Committee, his Administration released, simultaneously, a document titled ?Activities and Achievements of the Ministry of Education from January 2001 to Date?, according to a news report. ?The document named some of the projects which are being undertaken in eight schools in each region of the country as the rehabilitation of science, home economics and dormitory blocks, among others. ?New facilities to be constructed include classroom blocks, latrines and septic tanks as well as the extension of electricity to some of the schools which are in dire need of such services.?

Tertiary education funding in crisis ? ?Resolute Action? advocated At the same time that the Kufuor administration inaugurated the Presidential Educational Review Committee and released ministry of education?s ?Activities and Achievements? document, Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Ghana, Dr. Ishmael Yamson, raised the alarm about Ghana?s tertiary education in the throes of crisis. He pointed out that public funding support for tertiary education in Ghana had not kept pace with increase in student population demands. ?He said demand for tertiary education had increased with the increase in population and the widening realization that a university degree was essential to the economic realization of the individual.?

Yamson said ?the average subvention per student per annum paid by government to the university [of Ghana] had decreased from 2,360.74 dollars in the 1991/92 academic-year to 585.60 dollars last academic year [2001].? In that regard, he called for ?some resolute action? to take place, with respect to provision of tertiary education in Ghana in order to avert ?a social and economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.? For instance, ?he said the value of academic staff remuneration had seen constant erosion over the past 25 years and the result has been a massive brain drain of the best existing and potential academic talents from the system with a demand on retired and sometimes tired professors and lecturers.?

Yaw Adu-Asare
DALE CITY, Virginia

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.