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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben

Refocusing the aims and objectives of Pre School

Refocusing the aims and objectives of Pre School (Nursery and Kindergarten) Education in Ghana.

There has been an increase in the number of private schools and so called international schools in Ghana in recent years. This is in part due to the crumbling nature of public schools in the country and the need to find an alternative form of education for our children. Particularly there has been an influx in the number of pre schools and elementary schools in the country. It seems to me that the mark of quality of a school is measured by how much they charge not what they teach and what facilities are made available to the kids in their studies. Another measure of quality, the management of the schools and the public tend to believe is whether the school collects its fees in Cedis or US dollars. The public falsely believes that if a school charges dollars and increases its fees every year the better the school is. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I recently undertook a project to evaluate the effectiveness of pre school and primary education in Ghana and my visit took me to several pre schools in all the regions and in the districts. To my surprise, there seems to be no standard curricula or activities, nor is there any guidelines from the ministry of education on pre school education in Ghana. Even in the elementary school section these private schools follow no guidelines from the education ministry, it is free for all and very chaotic indeed with respect to what is taught and how it is taught. I would like however to focus on pre schools in this article.

On my trip, I found my self asking the question ‘So what is the purpose of pre school education?’. I saw in many schools teachers teaching some silly historical dates and geographical facts to 3 year olds and 4 year olds. These little ones were being taught to memorize these facts in addition to some Biblical verses on religious education that always took a chunk of the school time !!! I questioned myself What for? Is this what pre school is about? Memorization of some stupid facts that won’t help the child in anyway and which he/she may not even understand?

Pre school education is supposed to lay the foundation for reading and writing, and also counting. It is a bonus if kids are able to add and subtract before they leave pre school but is not even a place to teach that. More importantly, pre school education is supposed to teach kids human relations. The importance of living together, working together, playing together, giving and sharing, loving themselves and loving others. In other words, the importance of life, how precious it is and the need not to harm, kick nor hit anyone. Elsewhere children are taught how to show appreciation to their parents, teachers, friends, and how and when to say sorry if they offend their friends, parents, and teachers. The basic life skills that define human society, bind us together, enable society to work in cohesion so that we can enjoy our God given life in peace.

At such an early age the emphasis should not be on competition at all. Less individual work and more cooperative effort. It should be on cooperating to do things together. Children should be put in pairs and groups to cooperate to solve simple tasks. This helps to develop the spirit of cooperation and helping each other. More outdoor activities for the kids will help them build that skill quickly instead of confining them to the classroom for long hours. In our adult society, we treasure being each other’s keeper, the foundation should be laid here, the need to help each other especially the weak. Pre school education should also help kids to use their hands in making things, art and craft thus unearthing and developing their hidden talents. Kids should be taught to write simple notes like “Thank you note” to Mama and Daddy, and also capture their impression of certain things like visits to educational places of interest in pictures they draw. It is like a picture report of a visit to for example a Zoo. This is laying the foundation for writing reports which is a fundamental skill they will need in latter years.

It is supposed to teach very important skills like hand washing to prevent diseases, teeth brushing after meals to prevent tooth decay and developing cavities, and also cleanliness in general because it promotes healthy life. This is supposed to be done in a fun and interactive way through story telling, reading books, and also through videos and drama and skit put together by the kids with their teachers guidance. In many of the schools I visited, there were no hand washing facilities for the kids, and none (not even a single school had) teeth brushing after lunch as part of their activities. It goes without saying that before a facility is accepted to open as school, it must have safe toilet facilities, hand washing facilities, a library, and if children take lunch at school they must bring tooth brush to school to brush their teeth after lunch. Time must be allotted for that activity after lunch with a video to show how to properly brush one’s teeth and also wash one’s hands. Somebody may say all these all the duty of parents to teach their kids. Sure, it is but parents, teachers, and society in general must complement each other in a child’s education. It is an African proverb that states that it takes a village to raise a child. Our pre schools plus the Ministry of Education must rise up to meet the new challenges to refocus the aims and objectives of pre school education. As it is now, teaching kids some useless geographical and historical facts has the aims turned upside down.

The sad reality is that Ghana lacks teachers who specialized in pre school or early childhood education. None of our universities offer a course in pre school education or early childhood education and no training college in Ghana does. So in effect there are no real professionals in that area, what we have been doing over the years is just trial and error. Our universities must start offering courses in pre school or early childhood education. It is a very important branch of education that requires specialized skills. And to forestall shortage of teachers in our schools it is time we sent university graduates to teach in our primary schools and JSS. Everywhere in the world with a possible exception of Africa, all teachers in elementary schools and junior high schools are university graduates. Of course to do that in Ghana, conditions of service for a university graduate teaching in an elementary school must be the same as one teaching in a JSS and SSS or in a Training College.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah.
Tokyo, Japan.
The author is a political and social analyst and policy strategist based in Tokyo, Japan. He welcomes your comments.

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