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Opinions of Monday, 3 September 2012

Columnist: Adjei-Barwuah, B.

Our Education And Our Future

It has been common knowledge over a period that results of our first cycle education tests have been abysmal and this should underline the fact that Ghana is at moment non-competitive as a nation. And these low levels of educational attainment across our school system are indicative of our country’s avoidable slide into a socio-economic sink hole.

Education can be an emotional and political subject. Indeed, it always has been. It is also a socio-economic imperative. It is not climatically controlled nor is it seasonal. It is permanently continuous. It thus further underscores the fact that we cannot live in a changing society and a changing world and expect our education system to remain a museum piece.

We cannot make the argument that what used to work for us can be considered to be appropriate in all circumstances and especially in rapidly changing times. The content and quality of a nation’s education offer, therefore, are critical indices of her developmental resolve, a measuring rod of her progress and a verifiable gauge of her future. Education is one of a set of national issues that cannot and should not be on the menu card for periodic political brinksmanship.

You may want to raise the question – what is education? And I suspect there might be as many and different reactions as the number of people who attempt to take a stab at an answer. Two recollections from my first year at Prempeh College defined education for me. My History teacher once said ‘a painted monkey is still a monkey.’ Then there was the episode of the whole junior section of the school being punished because the majority were late to the dining hall. The punishment was an imposition – ‘a liberal education without the fundamental idea of character development amounts to nothing’ – and each student was to submit a hundred lines every lunch time for a week. My take on the two recollections were and still are that:

• Education is not synonymous with qualification;

• A person with competence is not necessarily a competent person;

• The hallmarks of good education should include the ability to read, write and speak reflectively and passionately and also to think critically and constructively;

• The learner must become aware and significantly conscious of conditions in his/her life and in society generally and to tool up with the necessary knowledge and resources, as well as the appropriate skills to be able to plan and effect positive change.

The main strictures in our current education system are related to the following:

- large cohorts of people are prevented from accessing education due to poverty, deficient national policies, sub-standard management regimes and corruption;

- the demonstrable and continuing deterioration in the quality of the physical plant and of teaching standards in our educational establishment over the years;

- the evidenced drop in national educational achievement levels, especially since the early 1980s.

Considering that we cannot make any significant strides in our quest for beneficial socio-economic transformation of the nation without an appropriately educated and trained population, we must now take on the responsibility of re-shaping our education and training regimes to suit our national purposes and also to meet the challenges of the modern era. This responsibility revolves around the following:

A) The Basics

- The assembling of a well-trained and respectably remunerated corps of teachers and other education workers;

- Improvement in the variety and quantum of resources for the education sector;

- A significantly improved environment for teaching and learning.

B) The Imperatives

- A review of national policy to allow for embedding education and training at the core of the nation’s development effort;

- Building new and strategic alliances in the education sector;

- Introducing strong and enlightened leadership in the education system;

- Initiating key interventions in education including the improvement and expansion of educational opportunities for girls;

- Expanding the use of ICT and other modern methodologies in teaching and learning.

C) The Ultimate Intent

Our education provision needs to go beyond facilitating the ability to read and write. It should be a process and should be aimed at creating cohesive communities and welding them into a prosperous, respectable, and enjoyable country for all citizens.

This country has been sagging so fast over the last three years that if we do not urgently and assiduously rectify our pathetic education and training situation and offer ourselves, especially our younger citizens, a good reason to expect better times, we definitely will be inviting the kind of socio-economic mayhem we have never thought possible in the lifetime of any of us. We need to quickly move away from the brink by defining our educational intent and make it possible for all those who want to take a stake in it to do so with enthusiasm and confidence. The stated intent should include guarantees of access, adequate and contemporary support, relevant programming and clearly mapped out destination points.

As a nation we have to have a firm belief in the proposition that providing education and training opportunity is a moral responsibility, a civic essential and an economic imperative. Thus we have to enter into a contract with all learners about not only supporting them to learn but also helping them learn to love to learn. And this is essential on the basis of the necessity to recognise learning as a lifelong undertaking and to allow for upgrading, updating and up-skilling of all citizens especially those who form part of the active workforce. The contract with learners should also provide assurances of quality and standards.

We have to have the will and the strength to overhaul our current educational setup to allow for quality and standards, innovation, higher learner completion rates, success and ultimately access to meaningful jobs. In this wise, one cannot ignore the need to put some emphasis on continuing education and thus the need to revive and support adult education as well as general rural community literacy and numeracy programmes.

Ghana is one country that has no reason to be poor. But we are. I believe we can and should use education and training as the buttress to support the efforts to raise our national fortunes. We have to break the back of poverty in this country. And the picture should be clear to us all. We have all the building materials to raise the country we desire, deserve and want. That country cannot be just a dream. It must exist. And we have to make it a reality. It is our duty to develop it. The first weapon is education. Let us get to grips with it. And now!

One does not have to wear any specific political colours to recognise the sanity in asking the nation to invest in providing state-supported education to cover learning between kindergarten and Senior High School. And should you be arguing that this programme is expensive, I can assure you that the most expensive investment in education is always cheaper than the lowest investment in illiteracy and ignorance.

Dr. B. Adjei-Barwuah

About the Writer. Former Ghana Ambassador to Japan and High Commissioner to Singapore. Current: President, Learning Works – a Teaching and Learning Consultancy Company. Previous involvement in education and training: Lecturer, University of Ghana, Legon. Senior Lecturer, Erith College of Technology (now Bexley College) Kent, England. Head of Faculty of Access and Development, Hackney Adult Education Institute, London. England. Development Adviser, Learning and Skills Development Agency, London, England. Co-opt Member, Widening Participation Committee (1995), Further Education Funding Council of England. Professor and Dean of the Business School, AUCC, Accra.