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Making The Educational System Work For All Ghanaians
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Opinions of Sunday, 17 September 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Making The Educational System Work For All Ghanaians

Democracy is not easy or cheap. Our meritocratic democratic experiment is at a stage that can be likened to a ploughed field, ready to be seeded. If rightly seeded and in a timely fashion, the yield could be bumper. The commitment to plough and seed has already been made. What we need now are well-intentioned implementers or enforcers dedicated to the cause. There is a dire need for a clear vision and system oriented plans to carry this fight to its logical conclusion. Meritocratic democracy may not be the best but relative to anything we’ve seen so far, it offers the best hope, especially in a multi-ethnic (tribal) arrangement like ours. We must endeavor to provide a level playing field so our rising tide may lift all boats.

I am a firm believer in education and I make no apologies. It is for this reason that I lose a lot of sleep over the miserable failure of our educated folks. The more our so called educated folks disappoint, the more these hardcore traditionalists hold us hostage to archaic and irrelevant institutions. Our only triumph card is to create an inclusive society where all will come into their own. Some say a little education can be dangerous but I have seen people with a lot of education behave disappointingly too. Whatever slant, rap or patina we put on education, let us not dampen our spirits and efforts. Education will not solve all our woes but it is certainly a much better option and holds a lot of promise, relative to bald face ignorance. If you judge from the educational programs that Nkrumah put in place, we have made significant strides. We are not there yet but there is hope. We have a lot of work to do in the area of education and training.

While in Ghana this summer, I met a young lady whose dreams of getting into the University of Ghana, Legon, was fading fast. She missed narrowly, the stiff academic requirements for admission into the nursing program. Her tiring treks up the Legon hills could not help. Eventually, she reluctantly settled into the stark reality that her nursing training would have to be elsewhere. Since she was and still is, hell bent on training as a nurse, she decided to enroll in a private school. She was admitted without much fanfare and consternation. Because of the goodies, lower cost and pride that come with government institutions, most Ghanaians stay within the public school system. Out of curiosity, I asked if she will get the same financial arrangement in the private school as she would if she had attended Legon. “No” she said politely. Then she added defiantly that, “it is ok, I will leave this country as soon as I get my education.” Her reasoning here is that once she funds her own education there will be no pressure on here to stay and serve her fellow Ghanaians. My first reaction was to say what about the shortage of nurses? How dare me a disaporan summon the chutzpah to make such a claim? I quickly regrouped and empathized with her.

Now, let us plug this data point into the Ghanaian equation. The slots at our government universities are very limited. This has raised the bar to a rather high level. The debilitating effect of this situation is the shedding of very credible students at various stages of our trouble educational system. If you don’t bloom early or on time, you are history. We have a situation where medical professionals continue to flee the country like bats out of hell. Our leaders weep copiously about this unrelenting trend without having a clue as to how to singe it. While this trend metastasizes flawlessly, our government has found money to splurge on a $30 million presidential palace, $20 million for 50th birthday bash, funded a royal academy for chiefs and continues to drive their gas-guzzling SUVs. They seem not to have a care for the very problems they were voted in to solve. So the beat goes on and we continue to dance in tandem helplessly.

Here is my issue or question, how come students who attend private accredited schools in Ghana cannot get the same funding as those who go to state Institutions? What does the accreditation of these institutions mean if students attending them cannot get financial aid to continue their education? A nursing student at Legon has certain entitlements. Among which are housing, student loans, classrooms, lecturers and other incentives. How come that a fellow Ghanaian nursing student schooling in a private accredited school cannot get access to financial aid that is available to those at government institutions? Keep in mind that financial aid is one of many benefits that those in state institutions enjoy. Now, let us not forget that the current rendition of government, affectionately called the NPP, is a free market self-confessed aficionado. If we are to believe the NPP, the private sector should be humming with activity like a beehive. What instead do we see? How can we develop the private sector or encourage private institutions if all the resources are geared towards the mismanaged public sector? Why can’t financial aid, at least, be available to all students regardless of whether they attend public or private school? We fund class based academies but not private schools? Why discriminate against those that end up in private schools on merit? When was the last time any patient checked if the nurse in attendance went to a public or private school?

Financial aid should be based on need and potential. It should not be solely based on academic prowess or whether you get into government-sponsored institutions or not. If we do the latter, we sacrifice a broad range of our youth to a life of despair and neglect. Indeed, what might be appropriate is means testing to make sure that the rich do pay for the education of their kids. After all, children from rich home go to the best schools and are tutored at home by private teachers. Can the poor afford such? We must make the playing field as level as we can to ensure that all the sons and daughters of the land can participate. When you look at the manpower shortfalls that we experience in Ghana, it just does not make much sense to end the dreams of willing students at one stage or the other. What needs to happen is a stringent collection regime to make sure that all students pay back their loans. Since there is no glaring evidence, that, private school attendees may or do have an alarming rate of default, why are we punishing them? Some of these students will easily make it into top schools in the West and elsewhere. They graduate and contribute to the Ghanaian economy just like those that attended government institutions. So why are we discriminating against them? Their only crime is to live in a country where the slots for higher education in public institutions of higher learning are limited. You see why I say life is about opportunities? Why can’t we expand capacity in the public and private education realm, instead of killing the hopes of the youth?

Whether we make our democracy a vibrant humdinger or not, will depend to a great extent on how equitable a society we create. We will not effectively sell this democratic experiment to our people if we continue to nurse these anachronisms. That dictators and scofflaws, parading as protagonist for social justice, continue to enjoy popular support in our midst is a clear indicator that the deal on democracy is not signed and sealed yet. We have to earn this democracy with our actions, not empty rhetoric, puffed up promises, gassy effusions and chronic bloat. The more equitable a society we create, the higher the confidence that our people will have in our democratic system. This is especially true at the local level. All those that support the creation of a meritocratic democracy must insist that our government invest in schemes and systems that benefit its entire people instead of a privileged few. Our resources remain wholly untapped. The little that we have available must be used to shore up our democracy, by providing services that the people demand and need. To provide services for the broad masses, we must enhance capacity in the human resource arena. To enhance capacity, we have to train our folks adequately. To train our folks, we must provide opportunity for all based on need, ability and willingness to follow the rules. This we can and must do through development relevant education.

Free education is guaranteed in the constitution so why not fund education adequately? We can’t continue to make excuses even as we build royal academies and ornate palaces for a privileged few. Financial aid must be extended to all willing students. After all, student loans are not free! If they will be paid back, why deny some and provide for some? Are we saying that those who attend public schools are more trustworthy? What is the evidence so far? This just does not wash at a time when we bleed critical manpower resource is particular areas. Let us endeavor to provide financial aid and accommodation allowances to all needy students who are willing to learn regardless of what institution they attend. All Ghanaians must be treated equally! Are we all not God’s children? Where are the pastors and Imams when you need them? Speak up for the poor and down trodden! Speak up for social justice!



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