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Opinions of Thursday, 20 March 2014

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

We Need Col. Nkegbe, Beyond Small Class Sizes

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

At a golden jubilee birthday celebration by Mr. Emanuel Dei-Tumi, founder of the Future Leaders Group, Ashesi University's Founding-President Patrick Awuah was reported to have partly faulted large classroom sizes for the abysmal decline in the quality of Ghanaian education (See "Class Sizes Must Be Reduced - Patrick Awuah" Ghana News Agency / 3/16/14). Mr. Awuah was also quick to point to gross managerial inefficiency, in the form of overly centralized administrative bureaucracy, as being integral to the problem. He also underscored the imperative need to foster continuous training programs for teachers.

On all three counts, Mr. Awuah could not be more accurate in his assessment. However, there is a fourth dimension to this problem; and it is also the most significant. And it regards the curriculum, or the content of what our youths are being taught vis-a-vis a fast-paced increasingly technology-oriented society and culture. Of course, class sizes matter, but it clearly appears to me that what is sorely lacking is the woeful underfunding of our public educational system, which directly translates into the dearth supply of teaching materials and other quality-enhancing facilities, such as well-equipped laboratories, up-to-date and culturally relevant textbooks and modern physical plants.

And by the latter, of course, is meant study-friendly classrooms and gyms/playgrounds. I choose to ignore classroom sizes because as a student growing up in Ghana, during the 1970s and '80s, we had relatively small class sizes at both the lower and upper levels of our secondary schools. Our primary and middle schools were no remarkably different, for the most part. For instance, from forms one through five, no classroom had more than the approximate maximum of thirty-five students. And at the advanced (or A-Level), class sizes ranged anywhere from four (4) to about twenty-five students. At least this was the case at St. Peter's Secondary School - PERSCO - Okwawu-Nkwatia.

At Prempeh College, Kumasi, located between North and South Suntreso and Kwadaso, to the north, the situation was a little different at the lower levels; but this was primarily because the administrators predicated their intake of students as much on naked and shameless bribery as they did on merit. And so we ended up with up to at least 20-percent of the boarding student population sleeping on floor mattresses. At the A-Level, or Sixth-Form, the situation was roughly on par with what prevailed at Persco. The stark difference between the two renowned schools, however, was that at PERSCO, when we had them, our teachers actually came to class and taught. They may not have been the most experienced or even among the best of their ilk, for the most part, but they definitely, each and every one of them, gave off their best.

At Prempeh College, on the other hand, we had to literally pester our teachers to come to class, almost as if in coming to teach they were doing us undeserved favor. We actually had to pay them extra tuition fees on the side in order to get them to fulfill their regular pedagogical obligations. But even so, we had to constantly chase them around. I would eventually lead a protest against such criminal shirking of pedagogical responsibility and be disqualified from sitting for my A-Level examinations.

What I am trying to unabashedly suggest here is that the average elementary and secondary Ghanaian schoolteacher is clinically selfish and too lazy to be deemed worthy of such noble designation. And those of our readers who are old enough to remember Col. Paul Kwame Nkegbe (1932-2011) know exactly what I am talking about. Col. Nkegbe was the first Commissioner of Education under the Acheampong-led National Redemption Council (NRC) junta. He was known to round up and drill habitually lazy and absentee teachers. And so whenever teachers and headmasters learned of an impending inspection tour of their school by Col. Nkegbe, they began practicing a regimen of professional diligence weeks ahead of the D-Day, as it were.

In essence, what Ghana needs today is a tech-oriented curriculum with practical relevance for our society and culture. And then a hard-driving progressive task-master like Col. Nkegbe.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
March 16, 2014