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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Columnist: Bonna, Okyere

Promoting Brain Sharing not condemning Brain Drain is the Answer

Ghana and African countries must learn to accept that brain drain has come to be part of the new trend of globalization and they cannot stop it with wishful thinking and empty political speeches. Promoting Brain Sharing not condemning Brain Drain is one way to improve educational standards and economic development in Ghana and African countries as a whole.

A report released on Tuesday, 17 May 2011 by the Ghana Education Service (GES) indicates that sixty-four per cent of pupils across the country cannot read and write. The report shows an even worse performance of the pupils in numeracy. The report buttresses age-long perception about falling standards of education in the country.

According to the Deputy Director General of GES, Stephen Adu, the report set out to establish the minimum competencies of the pupils as well as their proficiency levels (in Ghana) even though the proficiency levels were relatively high, same could not be said about their 'minimum competencies (Joy Online, 17 May 2011). The Ghana National Education Coalition has cautioned that the alarming illiteracy report must not be taken lightly, especially, when many of these middle school graduates cannot even spell or write their own names.

According to Coordinator of the Ghana National Education Coalition, Leslie Tetteh, “there have been numerous complaints about candidates of BECE who are unable to write their names.” It is about time our leaders stop giving us lip service and do what they say they will do. It is an understatement to say, fire all the teachers who have taught the child all these years if the pupil is unable to write his or her name at the end of the school year. In fact the problem is deeper and more than firing teachers.

Prof. Jophus Anamuah-Mensah, former vice chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba, has stated that the Ghana Education Service (GES) Tuesday, 17 May 2011 report is not strange at all. According to the former vice chancellor of the University of Education at Winneba, it is a known secret that standards have fallen so low, saying, “it must be a source of worry and concern to all” (Joy News, 17 May 2011). Why all these years the Ministry of Education has done nothing to arrest the situation beats my mind and imagination. Rather than focusing on both quality and enrolment levels as one unit, the Ministry has only been focusing on higher enrolment levels. Does this sound like lack of leadership and management?

Although the country has over the years improved on enrolment levels, Ghana Education Service admits that Ghana has failed woefully in terms of providing quality of education. What precisely is the point to make access to education high but when it comes to quality, the government seems to have no action plan?

For the past three decades the leadership of the nation, -both NPP and NDC- have not done much to improve educational standards. The Kufour administration did well by introducing the school busing and lunch programme but this did not go far enough to improve sound literacy. On the other hand the NDC has been toying with education in Ghana. Instead of continuing from where the previous government left off last two years, NDC has been bent on undoing some of the positive changes that were effected in the last administration. There was absolutely no point to reduce the number of years in school without a concrete overhaul of the educational infrastructure when NDC resumed office. This is sheer irresponsibility.

Both the NDC and NPP Government have been lamenting over the poor BECE results for decades and yet have done very little or nothing at all to improve the standards. Yes, enrolment has hiked over the years but that should not be taken as an achievement in itself without improved standard.

Provision of teachers and teaching aids must commensurate with the high enrolment levels. Above all, parents must be roped in as part of efforts at improving education standards in the country. Education cannot be the sole responsibility of the government and the Ministry of Education. However, the Government and the Ministry of Education have failed to involve parents and other stakeholders. Since the government does not have the resources to do it all alone it must do well to find creative ways to involve parents and other stakeholders,--the Ghanaian people-- in the classroom. There are several creative ways to involve others in the classroom.

The Ghana National Education Coalition has suggested that tertiary students be encouraged to assist in the education of pupils in the lower levels. Will the GES and Ministry of Education heed this advice? How is the Ministry of Education going to involve the tertiary students?

It must be stated that many Ghanaian sympathizers- professionals and scholars in the Diaspora have tried in vain over the years to assist in this direction. No matter how they tried the Ghana Government and Ministry of Education have not been receptive and welcoming. Their intended sacrifices have often been met and greeted with suspicion. Or lack on the part of the government to do its part to give them access to the classroom.

This lack on the part of the government to grant access to other stakeholders has been manifesting in various ways. For example, the Ghana Government and Ministry of Education refuse to handle shipping cost of free textbooks and computers that are donated to the needy institutions. Sometimes it is even only the delivery cost. The local universities would either refuse outright or hesitate to offer free accommodation at their guest houses in exchange for free tuition and professional consultation.

The Government, or the university administration, to say the least, will rather hire foreign experts and pay them higher consulting fees together with free accommodation and food at their guest houses. These efforts usually are costly to the nation to keep up and therefore projects are abandoned in the middle of finding solutions. If the said Ghanaian authorities could only trust their own kind- Ghanaian professionals in Diaspora-the outcome could be different now.

Ghanaian experts and professionals in Diaspora could be lured with free room and board only. Many Ghanaian professionals in Diaspora are willing to take sabbatical leave to come home and help out from time to time. The Government and the universities could be saving themselves thousands if not millions of dollars annually; and above all the programmes of change could be effected.

The government of Ghana may not be able to control brain drain (simply due to lack of funds to compensate the acquired skills of the Ghanaian professionals in Diaspora) but it certainly can promote brain sharing. I think it was only wise for Ghana (and African countries) to move away from the Brain Drain rhetoric to Brain Sharing policies. The truth of the matter is the entity that is prepared to offer the highest bid will always win. So why could poor African countries compete with the rich industrial nations for their best brains, especially when it is costing them so much to be fighting a losing battle? It is time for African nations to devise creative means to attract and benefit from their scholars and professionals in the Diaspora. I entreat Ghana and all African governments to begin working towards a Brain Sharing Policy.

Critics of brain drain in Africa and the haters of the Ghanaian (and African scholar) in Diaspora who has chosen to stay abroad to earn their worth should do a little reflection here. Brain drain cannot be blamed only on the scholars but also the home government policies. The good news, though, is that one should realize that at the end of the day the home government also stands to benefit from the brains acquired outside after all.

Apart from the monies (foreign exchange) the Diaspora sends home each year to boast the home economies, they will also eventually come home after retirement. Almost every Diaspora and for that matter the African Diaspora, wants to go home when he or she retires. Think of the wealth of knowledge and experience they will send home when all is done. A clear example worth mentioning here is Kofi Annan, the ex-UN Secretary General. Look at the massive contributions Kofi Annan has made in the economic development of Ghana. Since his retirement he has been a tremendous asset to the home government too. All what he has contributed to Ghana within the past two years alone far supersedes what many of those who remained have given to Ghana.

The scramble for foreign assets, especially in the US and UK within the government of Ghana today is too telling. In the wake of our foreign educated graduates who returned to assume positions in government now investing their earned or stolen monies in acquiring properties abroad, Ghanaians need to ask for brain sharing not brain drain. There are many in the Diaspora who has been working tirelessly like Kofi Annan whose efforts have not appeared in the headlines. At the same token many other diasporas who are willing to help back home have had their efforts and dream pooh-poohed by the home government of Ghana either by redtapeism or sheer jealousy. Let Ghana and Africa now shift from brain drain to brain sharing.

It must be reiterated that Ghana Education Service (GES) has now indicated that sixty-four per cent of pupils across the country cannot read and write. What are we going to do about this? Vice-chancellors are left to plan with little or no money. Almost all the time the school heads are frustrated in their efforts to improve educational standards. The least the government of Ghana can do now is to invest in education. The government must give priority to education in its budget. Resources must go into the universities especially the University of Education, Winneba to train the tertiary students before enlisting their assistance in the education of the pupils.

The current government must do well to work with Prof. Jophus Anamuah-Mensah, former vice chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba to implement a National Assimilated Literacy Programme in which pupils will at very tender ages be introduced to their local Ghanaian languages before gradually introducing them to the English language.

Improving education is a hideous task but it is not insurmountable. We can arrest the problem with the concerted efforts of all stakeholders-students, parents, teachers, government and all Ghanaians everywhere.

Okyere Bonna (www.okyerebonna.com)

The author is the author of Stopping the Carnage on Africa Roads, A New Agenda for Ghana (Vol. I & II), Ghana, Conversation and Development, Ghana, the Rediscovered Soccer Might (SPORTS)’ (www.okyerebonna.com) And co- author of Traditional Institutions and Public Administration in Democratic Africa (http://www.africaninstitutions.com),

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