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Opinions of Monday, 25 February 2008

Columnist: Ossei, Nana Yaw

Our Education System is Producing Emotional Elites

“Where nations will eventually stand in the economic ladder will depend on their strategic human resource management development”.

“A man asked his children: “If you had a choice between the clay of wisdom and a bag of gold, which would you choose? The bag of gold the naïve children cried, not realizing that wisdom had the potential to earn them many more bags of gold in the future”.

Ghanaians must ask themselves if countries like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia with miserable per capita incomes, overpopulation, and lack of natural resources could become industrial giants in less than 35 years because of their investments in human capital, why can’t Ghana achieve the same result? Why can’t Ghana, with its abundant natural resources and youthful population, develop its own human capital and unlock the techno-managerial and entrepreneurial potential of its great men and women?

There is no mystery behind some countries being rich and others like Ghana being poor. Rich countries are rich as a result of the policies they chose and the institutions they put in place. Although this may sound simplistic, it is nonetheless a truism which Ghana and Africa can ignore at their peril. Ghana is still wallowing in poverty after 51 years of independence despite being rich in natural resources. To alleviate poverty, donors and development partners have pumped billions of foreign aid into Ghana and Africa and still poverty persists. Our spiritual leaders have joined the battle by praying and fasting and still the situation remains dire. Different governing modes such as good governance, democracy, free market economy etc have been hailed and tried but poverty continues to bite. Ghana and Africa needs to address the domestic and international factors of their underdevelopment. There is need for a country and continent-wide approach to Ghana’s and Africa’s economic, socio-political, technological and intellectual marginalization. As a matter of urgency, Ghana needs to recognise the importance of human capital, good economic policies, sound institutions, technological advancement, appropriate incentive structures, political stability and discipline.

Ghana’s growth opportunity will have to a large extend, be driven by the level of development of its human capital. No nation becomes great or rich when majority of her nationals are mainly idle, semi- skilled and out rightly unskilled. One surest way for Ghana to achieve Middle-Income Status by 2015 is to develop human capital through education. However, it is not just about increasing human capital but also ensuring that it is of the “right” type. Whilst the school feeding programme in Ghana is increasing school enrolment rates especially for girls, it will be absolutely suicidal for us to exchange quantity over quality. The rule and choice is very simple because, the rule states categorically that, there is a global recognition that the creative requirements of global developments in the 21st Century and the competitiveness of nations will be dictated by the quality of human capital stock resident in each country and across different regions. It is the human capital that will create the conditions for technological and economic advancement, and countries with high investments in the institutions and processes that create human capital development will forge ahead in their competitiveness whilst those which fail to invest will remain uncompetitive. The rule is very simple but yet, it is a challenge that Ghana and Africa have failed to overcome and if we fail in our quest to overcome such a challenge, we can kiss good bye to economic development through industrialisation.

Whilst the likes of South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan focussed investments in high quality technological innovation together with the development of the requisite human capital, Ghana and Africa are busy selling and exporting their raw materials for peanuts under the misunderstood and misapplied theory of comparative advantage. Empirically, no country which is an agrarian economy or exports raw materials has ever developed and yet, leadership in Ghana and Africa are under the false impression that, we can export raw materials to middle-income status. Nations create wealth through producing and not via consumption. The East Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan were able to industrialise primarily because, they moved from being an agrarian nations to the manufacturing sector where they were able to produce goods. I recently learnt that, Ghana imports plantain and beans from Ivory Coast, tomatoes and onions from Burkina Faso and tooth-pick from China. Whilst Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries on earth, it has been able to harness and store rain water under culverts constructed underneath their roads which they use to irrigate agricultural lands. After 51 years of nationhood, Ghana still relies on what is called “God will provide agriculture or rain fed agriculture” which equates to the fact that, when the rain fails or become erratic, there is “wahala” for farmers, government, consumers etc. To be fair to this government, they have established some mini irrigational projects across various districts of the country but, we need to re-triple our efforts because, agricultural productivity is enhanced not only through irrigation but, things such as, high variety seeds, agricultural extension workers, land reform, investment in rural infrastructure such as roads, health centres, storage facilities, schools, post-harvest technology etc, agricultural technology, education, capital, and off farm income activities.

It is well established how Africa developed Europe. It is an established fact that, the most resourceless countries on earth are the most developed in the world. History of development in the last 500 years has shown that, human development is more critical than material resources. Most of the countries in Western Europe and North America are resource poor, but have been able to develop because they have found solution to how to subjugate and dominate the environment especially, the resource rich countries through human capital in manipulating knowledge. Colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism and globalisation are innocuously shaped and marketed to the resource rich countries such as Ghana, which lack the capacity to organise themselves and tap their God-given resources to their advantages. What the Ghanaian and African leadership fail to appreciate is that, material resources are exhaustible, while human resources are sustainable and infinite and it takes a much longer time to produce material resources than human capital.

I know that, Ghanaians love their definitions but, with a deliberate intention, I will skip the definition of human resource capital with the hope that, at the end of reading this article in whole, you will have an informed view about the subject matter. For example, when I asked a family member who is a third year student studying human resource management at university level in Ghana recently about the definition of human resource management, he gave me an answer in under five seconds but, when I prodded him further via the definition he gave as to how a nation or firm creates an efficient work force, he was speechless. I would rather he failed in giving me a definition of what human resource management was all about, but rather, was able to exquisitely tell me about the design process, strategies, guidelines, methods, capacity building process, time frame, technological know how in creating an efficient work force.. Good health, natural resources and infrastructure serve to complement human resources. Thriving in an information age depends largely on this God-given endowments. Sustained growth and elimination of poverty will for a long time remain elusive in Ghana until we succeed in building, retaining and nurturing the required human and institutional capacity vital for grooming the economy and successive generations yet unborn. And to date, it remains the most constraining factor in Ghana’s development.

Since independence came in 1957, Ghana and by extension Africa, have struggled to participate in building knowledge driven economies. Without boosting investment in human capital, we will continue to experience an intellectual and economic drought and we will be isolated from the rest of the global economic competition. The new economy makes enormous demands on a country’s stock of human capital. Effective participation in this economy requires highly skilled individuals who really understand the inner workings and demands of the global economy and can compete with their contemporaries from the developed world who are trained from the finest business schools on earth. The three essential choices for people are to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge, and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. If these choices are not available, other opportunities remain unattainable, including economic growth and development. Economic growth is a function of education among others, and productivity depends heavily on the level of education. Human capital is built through quality education. Investment in education increases future productivity through changes in the production process due to changes in technology and the growth of a knowledge based economy.

Quality education focuses on quality to prepare young people for the job market. Ghana needs to improve on educational infrastructure, quality teaching, first class teachers, redesigning our educational system via a new curriculum, improving on quality controls, beefing up on external audit checks, linking industry needs to our curriculum, establishing work experience schemes for undergraduates, improving the standards and morale of teachers, introducing regular on the job training schemes and significantly improving the quality of apprenticeship schemes.

In spite of massive investment in the education sector in Ghana, there is little to show in output. Many graduates have been churned out from our education system but, cannot solve our developmental woes. In Western Europe, education is not a means to an end but an end in itself. In Ghana, it is utilitarian. It does not build an individual for development and we are trained to reproduce other people’s knowledge which leaves little room for scrutiny and critique. The whole education system needs rethinking. Whereas in countries like Japan and South Korea, their education system is tailored to their developmental needs, Ghana’s education system is still tied to the academic curriculum of the West, most often based on either the French or British education system. Doing this may not be the end of the world but, the downside is that, the situation has created highly qualified people who do not have the right skills to do their jobs efficiently. The question I ask here is this, does going to university make you educated? There is a big difference between acquiring school certificates and qualifications and having the skills to do a job. It may surprise many to note that, there are a number of graduates in Ghana today who do not know how to use a computer.. There are several accountants in Ghana today who will duck when they are asked to switch on a computer let alone use it to work. Unfortunately, in the drive to provide the necessary education, Ghanaian leaders have ended up producing mass philosophers, storytellers, and scientists whose laboratory work fails to pursue research for wealth generation and industrial development.

Ghana and many African governments have sponsored many of its citizens to study at the most prestigious institutions both home and abroad so that, they can share their acquired knowledge in developing Ghana. Contrary to expectations, they bring back an arsenal of certificates, foreign culture and languages without any knowledge or skills. In spite of this, they return to a warm reception of executive offices, luxury vehicles, palatial mansions and heavy perks at the expense of the already strained taxpayers. The supposed “saviours” to Ghana have rather become a burden to government and society. Although they carry prestigious titles, their impact has never been felt. They have failed in leading us to the promise land. For lack of innovation, they never do hands-on job. Everything is done on their behalf. They do without thinking or innovating new approaches to Ghana’s developmental agenda. All they accomplish is auctioning Ghana’s natural resources to foreigners in the guise of developmental partners and perpetually beg for aid. They should not be referred to as ‘educated’ people but rather, as ‘cultural slaves’. Our sub-standard education system is to blame for poor leadership in Ghana.. It has led to leaders being voted in on the basis of their tribal alignment, family ties, religious-standing, and even appearance. Only after elections do citizens realize they voted in thieves who steal the country’s meagre resources.

Presently, majority of the programmes being implemented in Ghana are foreign induced. The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy I and II which is the developmental blue print of Ghana and was written as part of the poverty reduction strategy papers were sent to the World Bank in Washington for approval before HIPC funds were released to Ghana. The current leadership boasts of passing the internal audit act, procurement law etc which is excellent but, IMF documents on Ghana clearly reveals that, all these laws were passed not because, they had the vision of doing so but rather, it was a conditionality attached to HIPC. Simply put, “you pass these laws and you get your HIPC cash or you fail to pass these laws and you get no money”. There is also a litany of programmes which are financed by multi lateral and bilateral agencies. My question is this, do we really have any home grown policies devised by our technocrats? What do they really do? Are they there to implement polices introduced by multi lateral and bilateral institutions?

The low incentive structures, low pay, and bureaucratic pressure found in Ghanaian universities have rewards for long service rather than for creativity and innovation among faculty members and researchers. Teaching methods are unacceptable, with instructors doing little more in an overcrowded classroom than copying their notes onto a blackboard, while the students in severely inadequate library and laboratory facilities, as well as distracting living conditions tend to engage in memorizing the notes for examinations. These passive approaches to teaching and learning, with little or nothing to offer in a world where creativity and flexibility are the ultimate drivers of knowledge- based and techno-entrepreneurial development, have further rendered the entire system hopeless. A simple walk onto the campuses of Ghana’s flagship universities, for instance, will convince anyone in doubt of the level of decay in the nation’s higher education system.

The level of the educational and technical capability resident in the nation is the basis for attracting FDI. The quality and quantity of the talent pool is vital for accelerated national development and quality service delivery. It is a key factor in attracting and promoting investment opportunities. Potential investors assess a country’s potential for business investment based on among other things the availability of a ready pool of individuals with the requisite talent, production capabilities, work ethic and work culture. The smallness of the talent pool in Ghana, the technical capability and work ethic have been major negatives in attracting investments into Ghana and a major contributory factor to the underdevelopment of the private sector in Ghana.

Ghana needs a proper education system that is devoid of political intrigues and heavy foreign alignment. We need an education system based on skills and creativity, ability to forecast, analyze, critique and give objective opinion. Our education system should be designed to yield knowledge and not certificates. With knowledge, one has the ability to achieve amazing accomplishments. One is able to create technologically viable working methods and modalities that cannot be beaten by skewed development plans. We need to develop our education system in such a way that, the citizenry would not only qualify for jobs on paper but rather, are competently and technically skilled to do the job. Engineering and manufacturing should form a core area of our development. Our education system should create value through brains and not brawn.

Part 2 of my article will espouse on how to create an efficient human capital in Ghana. Remember, the interest of Ghana reigns supreme over all other interests.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.