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Opinions of Thursday, 4 April 2013

Columnist: Ayando, Mmaah F.

Mr. President

It was, with great interest, that I listened in to the many debates during the run up to the 2012 General Elections. My interests were varied but I had one that superseded all and that was in the submissions of all presidential candidates with regard to the subject of education. One will largely agree that never in the country’s history has education been given so much attention as was the case during this last election.

For purposes of this write-up, I shall stick to the submissions of the two major contenders of the last election. One argued that, the best education a Ghanaian child could hope for must come at a fee with a level of subsidy from government. The other submitted that, Ghana had reached a stage where the country could afford to foot the bill of each child of school going age until the point of tertiary education. As individuals and citizens of this country, each one of us took our own stands depending on which of these two viewpoints you concurred with. I too, certainly took a stand.

Today, however, we know how many Ghanaians voted for Fee Paying Quality Education and how many did same for Free Quality Education. Interestingly, the one phrase that resounds in all two viewpoints is “Quality Education”. In fact, I cannot say that any of the two candidates convinced me enough when they made their submissions before us for our vote because the more they argued; the more I concluded that all two cared very little about the subject of quality education in this country. They cared more then, about whether or not they will become president after December 7, 2012 than they did about who became literate after years of schooling. How else is it that they could have missed a major point in their submissions and yet want our vote?

Education is not about who pays or who does not; even though I will go with the former any day. Education is a partnership between the provider of the education, the student and the home. These three people form the central part of the educational divide. If one of these parties is left out, the equation will automatically not balance. If the provider decides to shut down the school, where will the students learn? If the student refuses to be in school, who will the provider of education provide education for? And if the home refuses to be a comfort place for the student after school, how will the student have the peace of mind to study? In a state-run school, the provider of education is government whose sole responsibility is to provide education for the majority of children within the state; the two other factors, student and home, remain unchanged. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that if all the above factors play their roles perfectly, then we should have a success in our educational sector. The government must have every interest in Education in order for it work to work. So must the student and the home. I daresay that we’ve more often than not, witnessed some level of passionate interest by the student and home but for government, it has always been another “Do Little, Talk Plenty” attitude.

Tell me how a person who provides education cannot trust the system enough to take care of his own children but will prefer a private provider to do the same job? Tell me why our lawmakers, for whom the Ghanaian tax payer provides all the comfort he needs in exchange for good laws that will bring the greater good, refuse to be governed by the law he himself has made? Let members of the Legislature tell me why they make laws for our schools and decide how much of the country’s money is spent on the educational sector yearly, yet, refuse to enroll their children in typical public schools run by the state? Is it the case then that what is good for the goose is no longer good for the gander?

For me, this is the only thing wrong with our educational system and this is what I longed to hear from the well–meaning gentlemen who fought so hard for the title of President. I needed so badly for them to tell Ghanaians that when voted for, they will ensure that every Tom, Dick and Harry whose salary is paid for by the ordinary Ghanaian including the President himself, sends their children to public schools.

The state has continuously refused to patronize its own but expects that the ordinary Ghanaian goes through it without any complaints. How do we expect a change in the poor nature of our state-run schools if the change drivers have no stake whatsoever in the country’s educational systems? How do we expect a change, when legislators sponsor their wards through very expensive private schools in the country whose curricula are more often than not alien to that of the Ghana Education Service (GES); all in the bid of guaranteeing that their children have their proper places in the global world upon completion? How do you expect a change in the School Feeding Program when the one who decides how much of the Capitation Grant should be allocated to the cooking of food for school children makes it a lifelong mission of ensuring that none of his children, nieces and nephews ever has to taste food of such deplorable nature? It is just like preparing dinner for the family and refusing to partake; everybody at the table will believe the food is poisoned. You couldn’t find a better reason. How can one possibly make laws for us and not be governed by those same laws?

When your child returns from school on a typical school day without homework, you will be forced to find out why? When your ward comes home with a reading material full of grammatical errors, I expect that you will be at the school before the dawn of day to ask why the teacher is feeding your ward such poison. When your ward goes to school and for five continuous days has no teacher in his class to teach, I am sure you will use your executive powers to ensure that that teacher is brought to book. When your 14-year old child completes Junior High School and cannot read, you will be forced to ask “Why?”. With questions such as these, comes much soul searching to find answers and then, solutions. When solutions are found, then and only then, can one expect meaningful change.

I do not see how one can convince another of change, if he or she is not feeling for that change. We can talk all we want of the changes that must come, but until people who make the laws and manage our resources feel the need for such change, we will not make any progress. Using the recent strikes by various teacher unions in the country as a prime example, how long do you suppose it would have taken to find solutions to issues of teachers’ emoluments if all children of our dear legislators were students of schools affected by the strike? Very little time I suppose or better still, they would have even addressed these issues long ago before it even got to the point of striking. Believe me you; they could not be bothered because, for them, the private schools offer a much safer haven from any strikes and/or other bitter experiences that can only befall the public schools. I am also interested in knowing how long it would have taken government to put up a structure, supposing, with all due respect, that the Northern Regional Minister’s young son goes to school under a tree and in the full glare of the scorching sun, each day, from Monday through to Friday? Or are they all down south sharing in the joy of having to sit in fully air-conditioned classrooms all day and week long? Please, let someone be kind enough to answer to these questions!

If we really desire change in our country, let us review our constitution to include a law that mandates any person wishing to be appointed or elected into public office, including the President himself, to patronize out of necessity, state-run services including education. Their children must also go to “Syto” like most Ghanaians not for the fun of it but so that we can bring a total change to the entire system. This way, when legislators make laws and the executive implements them and the Judiciary attempts to interpret them, they will do so knowing that it affects all including each and every one of them and not only a select majority.

Let not anyone say to me that officials of government had their private lives before joining government because that will be a most unfortunate stand to take. Let it be known that once you decide to tow the public path, you must denounce your private life and go with the interest of the public sector full time and in body and soul. If one takes on the public office to better the lives of Ghanaians, then you must necessarily abandon your privacy.

Mr. President, I, more than anyone, wishes you absolute success in your tenure. I must, however, say that if you so wish for your name to go down in history as the president, who made all the difference, please think twice about education in this country. It is not an easy road to take but the prize ahead always determines how much farther you are willing to go. You must make sacrifices even if it means denying your children the best education possible and enrolling them in state-run schools to ensure that your resolve for quality education comes to pass.

I wish you well, Mr. President.

Mmaah F. Ayando B.A.(Hons)