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Opinions of Friday, 28 October 2011

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Mr President, Half A Million Bece Failures

Mr President, Half A Million Bece Failures In 3 Years Is A Threat To National Security

Asare Otchere-Darko

According to statistics published this week in London on the 2,000 people charged over the August riots in England, there is a strong connection between a failing education system and social tensions.

More poignantly, kids who fail in schools are more likely to fall prey to the underworld of crime and delinquency.

Specifically, the England figures that those arrested for the riots were poorer, younger and of lower educational achievement than average. The UK government figures show 13% of those arrested were gang members; 66% or two-thirds of the 1,984 young people in court were classed as being under-achievers or having some form of special educational need, compared to 21% for the national average. Moreover, more than a third of young people who were involved in the riots had been excluded from school, for one bad deed or the other, during 2009-10 - this compares with Department for Education records showing 6% exclusions for all Year 11 pupils. Some 90% of those brought before the courts were male and about half were aged under 21. Only 5% were over the age of 40.

In short, many of the young people arrested for the riots came from deprived areas. Deprived neighbourhoods, whether in London or Accra, Chicago or Tamale, tend to lack the institutions and organisations that help improve life outcomes, such as good schools. Again research shows that young residents in deprived areas are less likely to have access to stimulating learning environments such as parks or use community services that promote healthy development. Moreover, the stigmatisation of neighbourhoods by both society, at large, and public institutions further inflates the low expectations and life chances of residents in repressive ways.

According to Faiza Shaheen, a UK-based researcher on economic inequality, 30 years of literature, from Europe and across the Atlantic, has documented the outcomes when social housing, unemployment and poverty is concentrated in neighbourhoods. And, these outcomes range from higher levels of crime, poor academic achievements, to poorer health.

In the US, there is evidence that once unemployment and high school drop-outs hit a certain level (a ‘tipping-point’) in a neighbourhood there is a mushrooming of social problems including crime. This mushrooming is related to the influence of peer groups, i.e. the way negative behaviour of the people around you can in turn strongly affect your behaviour.

When earlier in the month, Nana Akufo-Addo, the flagbearer of the New Patriotic Party, delivered his ‘Teacher First’ education policy statement, there was one key point that he made, which seemed to have been lost in the subsequent debates. He said:

“We need to reverse the current trend which sees half of students failing at the BECE level at 15 as minors who are not old enough to be employed, yet who are considered old enough by the system to leave basic school, but to a future of grave uncertainties. In five years, that could amount to an additional one million young men and women in our streets without any form of employable skills. We need to bring an end to this disastrous phenomenon. We cannot afford failing 50% of our youth. It is potentially a major threat to our national security.”

Figures from the West African Examinations Council show that the pass-rate of students who sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examination has been on a constant downward decline since 2009. In sum, out of the total number of 1,121,817 students who sat for the BECE in the past three years, 574,688 failed to achieve the pass mark.

This means that more than half a million young people, with an average age of 15 years, have been thrown onto the streets with no employable skills in the past three years alone.

This is a clear indication of a dangerous trend in falling standards in education, especially at the most important stage of a child’s formative years, the basic education level.

That is why the Danquah Institute is calling on Government to pay attention to this serious crisis in the quality of education at the basic level and take urgent, decisive and sustainable action to arrest this negative development.

We are making this call because, otherwise, we fear that, if this trend of high failure rate continued, the nation risked banishing about half of its young generation to lurching on the fringes of society, a phenomenon that could have dangerous national security ramifications for Ghana in the near future.

The 2011 results of BECE students have been the worst in 13 years, using 1998 as the base year, with 46.93% of students achieving a pass rate and thus being eligible for placement into Senior High Schools. Out of the 375,280 students who sat for the 2011 examination, only 176,128 passed their examinations with the fate of 199,152 students now doomed to a grim future of uncertainties.

In 2010, 350,888 students sat for the examination. 172,359 of them, representing 49.12%, achieved a pass rate. That was worse than the 2009 pass rate of 50.21%, confirming the worrying trend of worsening results.

The 2008 batch of BECE students performed comparatively better than 2007 and 2009, with 210,282 students out of the 338,292 who sat the examination scoring between aggregates six and 30, thus meeting the requirements for placement into second-cycle schools under the Computerised Schools Selection and Placement System. This represents a percentage pass rate of 62.16%.

Figures from the WAEC reveal that 61.28% of students passed the 2007 BECE examination.

While the average pass rate in the last 3 years, under the National Democratic Congress, has fallen by more than 12 percentage points to 48.75% the New Patriotic Party, in its 8 years, achieved an average pass rate of 61.25% for students who sat the BECE examination. 2001, the first year of President J A Kufuor, represented the lowest point of BECE results under the NPP’s tenure with 60.40% of students achieving a pass rate. What the results also show is that students did better in the BECE under the previous NDC government than they are doing now.

These sudden reversal of students' performance, resulting in a peculiar constant decline in standards since 2009 calls for urgent, detailed analysis. It signifies a crisis in education at the basic level that requires urgent and deliberate attention from Government.

The recent falling standards may also be measured against policy decisions taken by the current administration. What has been the impact on teaching and learning from agitations and strike actions by teachers? What about reduction in real terms in important social interventions in education?

In an article I wrote a year ago, “It’s the Poverty, Stupid!” I stressed on the obvious that all governmental actions must be designed contextually with the nation’s deep poverty issue in mind. Typical of this is the high failure rate in schools. Analysis of the results at any given school in any district, point to the obvious socio-economic circumstances that constitute the core cause of lowered scores in many instances.

Ours is a nation where multitudes have been condemned to a life of urban or rural anonymity. They are not living; merely existing. Ghanaians are poor. Our people are very, very poor. My point is that there is very little any government can do within its life time to change that mightily, when the basis of the people’s adversity and misery – lack of education, lack of skills and lack of jobs cannot be tackled with any radical zeal. The Ghanaian situation calls for structural transformation of the way things are to achieve three things: (i) access to quality education for every Ghanaian child; (ii) acquisition of relevant, practical, employable skills for the youth; (iii) integrated industrialization that adds value to economic activities, especially at the SME level.

Every Ghanaian mother may be willing to accept her own limitedness if given credible assurance that her children are likely to have a better life. Some fathers want to make sure their human dignity – of being able to provide the basic necessities of life to their wards — is not taken away by the inadequacies of their circumstances.

As I wrote sometime back, there is nothing that subtracts dignity from our humanity than not being able to care for the children you bear. Will he or she grow up in a society of opportunities? What, with less than half of JHS graduates earning a pass grade? What happens to the majority who didn’t pass? What investments have been made in vocational and technical educations, from where the majority of skills that make any nation develop are churned? Why should Hope be hanged so high up beyond the reach of the many who only want it to inspire them, motivate them, and serve as a pillow to their daydreams. Why all so high?

The Danquah Institute feels that to fail our children is the worst crime that any government can commit against a nation’s future. The destiny of Ghana, as a peaceful, prosperous and free society can only be realized if we make the quality of education we offer to every Ghanaian child a national priority. Surely, we can offer a future of enhanced opportunities for our kids. Yes, we can! And, we must!