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Opinions of Monday, 25 May 2015

Columnist: Tahiru, Abdul-Moomin

Poor performance at the basic level in the upper west

I've been thinking deeply about the pervasive poor performance of pupils in our basic schools, especially here in the Upper West Region. Every now and then, the main actors in the educational sector—teachers, educational authorities, parents among others—keep shifting the blame from one to another like musical chairs. The problem even becomes dire when all of them offload their share of the blame to the pupil. What a pity!
Without any in-depth document reference, I made a little scan of the not-too-distant past which revealed better pass rates at the BECE. Mention can be made of Tendamba ‘94 and ‘95 Year groups of BECE in the region. In contrast, no mention can be made of any good year in the recent past. However, the sharp contrasts between then and today are severalfold.

Most striking among the contrasts are the quality and quantity of teachers. In those days, junior secondary schools were populated with Cert ‘A’ and unprofessional teachers. Today, there are B.Ed, M.Ed. and MPhil holders teaching at the same level. Even diploma holders are at the primary and preschool levels. Think of quantity and you will notice that every school in Wa township is somehow fully if not overstaffed with these ‘highly qualified’ teachers. Unfortunately, academic performance has been falling freely.
A number of questions arise here:
1. What causes this devastating trend of performance?
2. What are the present and future consequences of this trend of failures?
3. What measures can we put in place to improve academic performance?
Discussing this topic dispassionately, I will begin with the causes, the main focus of today’s write-up. One major cause is the poor foundation given to pupils at the lower levels (KG to lower primary). The children graduate from primary to JHS with most of them being ABSOLUTELY UNABLE to read and write. Thus, how will the JHS teacher handle such a pupil to pass an external exam within two and a half years? This preventable situation traces its root cause to the use of local language as the medium of instruction at KG to lower primary levels. Worsening the situation, most teachers in the region especially those in the villages still extensively use the local languages as the medium of instruction at the JHS level. This issue probably makes no news; I guess you guess so.

Another factor that contributes to the pupils’ performing poorly in the Upper West Region is POOR SUPERVISION together with low dosages of teaching. Undoubtedly, precious input of teachers alone can make a tremendous change in pupils’ performance at the BECE. But how can teachers make the needed and the precious inputs? —supervision must be adequate.

Hanging on avoidable excuses such as ‘no fuel for supervision’ and ‘many schools in my circuit’, most circuit supervisors (CSs) perform their supervisory duties abysmally. This appalling supervision was revealed from the survey I conducted. Supervisory work has now been reduced to two secondary issues: adequate preparation of schemes of work and lesson notes, and regular attendance to school. Obviously, lesson notes in themselves are speechless in much the same way as teachers conversing in the staff common room or under a staff common shade amounts to no teaching. Supervisors must never pretend.

In nearly all the thin and ill-focused supervisory work, most teachers are rated excellent. However, when you interact with the note and exercise books of their pupils, the said teachers perform disappointingly. For instance, last term (second term of the 2014/2015 academic year) had fifteen weeks. If we take out weeks 1, 8, 14 and 15 for cleaning, midterm exam and finally end-of-term exams and marking of scripts respectively, we are left with 11 effective weeks for serious academic work.
Consequently, if a JHS mathematics teacher teaches across the three streams with a total population of 200 pupils, s/he should be able to conduct and mark at least ONE EXERCISE per week. Remember that giving exercises and marking is a key component of teaching mathematics in particular. So any output below 11 exercises for such a teacher should be an underperformance. Dear reader, just visit any school in the regional capital where supervisors probably need no fuel to visit and see whether pupils had up to half this expected number of assignments. Most probably lacking or failing to enforce any benchmarking indices to measure the performance of teachers, the supervisory unit of GES here in Wa seems to accept everything done by teachers. Quite unfortunate!

Another reason why pupils perform poorly is that they over-rely on foreign materials, otherwise known as leakages. (This issue is somehow nationwide but it wields its heaviest toll in the Upper West. Remember the Region is almost always rated last in the country.) The ancient and groundless belief that schools in southern Ghana get leakages every year makes both teachers and pupils to misdirect their focus and scarce resources. For example, teachers are quick to convince parents that pupils in other regions perform better because they get leakages or assistance in the exam halls. In consequence, pupils make unnecessary contributions for teachers to either help them get leakages or bribe invigilators to teach them during exams. What is the usual effect? A trail of lackadaisical attitude towards learning. And when such unprofessional arrangements misfire as has been the norm, the pupil is destroyed beyond measure.

Yet adding its hand to poor performance is ‘negligence of parents’ in the upbringing of their children. Lately, most parents seem to care more about unnecessary things rather than about the welfare of their children. In particular, most parents care less whether their wards learn at home or not. NOT A DIVERSION, PLEASE. The root cause here is that teachers NEVER give homework! Instead of struggling to imagine how teachers conjure marks to fill the Homework Column of the Continuous Assessment Forms, just come and crosscheck the schoolwork books. Even if circuit supervisors and teachers reacting to this write-up by giving pupils more exercises and backdating them can never cover up the mess. The mess is as bright as ‘Dumsor’.

I will return with Part II which focuses on the consequences and the way forward. Drop a comment. The writer derives no benefit by exposing anybody’s negligence at work but he benefits tremendously if everybody does his or her work well and our children perform academically to their God-given potentials.

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