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Opinions of Saturday, 29 September 2007

Columnist: Atuahene, Kwame

The NPP-Anamuah-JAK Educational Reform: The Lamentations

 “Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them” - Henry Steele Commager

The New Patriotic Party seems to have cashed in on the public resentment that followed the Jerry-Rawlings inspired 1987 reform during its embryonic stage. The party in opposition was a personification of the large dissent voices hence not very surprising that, their government has given birth to the new order in Ghana’s educational sector   This is not the first reform to characterize the educational sector and it will predictably not be the last as reforms like changes become eminent when the subsisting system appear to be unproductive in substance and form to the extent of our national aspiration. As Henry Steele, rightly puts it, education is essential to change for it creates new wants and the ability to satisfy it. I try to relate educational reforms to constitutional amendment and posit that, they have the overriding object of allowing for improvement and advancement. When they are applied and become obsolete and irrelevant to the contemporary needs of a people, change and reform becomes the obvious pill.   Reforms have however not always served this good intent, as they afford a group of insensitive representatives an easy opportunity to make history perhaps for the wrong reasons. Some say legacy which in my view must be impacting and not otherwise. When reforms are unguarded they push unnecessary cost and hardship to the people in the immediate sense and to the nation in the distant future. The question arising from this premise is whether the reform is necessary and whether it provides any key to identified ills in the existing system or whether it is a platform to leave an unnecessary and unguided legacy?   The three parties have played quite significant roles in my view to the birth of this regime. The NPP obviously is looking at it to succeed to claim credit as its author and to arguably justify the position taken by it in opposition and to fulfil aspects of its official or unendorsed political platform pronouncements. The choice of Jophus-Anamuah Mensah could not have been any better looking at his astuteness as an educationist, a Vice-Chancellor of an education-oriented university and his non-aligned political persona. He unlike some of his contemporaries has been more of a statesman than a political appendage. The president His Excellency John Agyekum Kuffour makes the final element for his initiative, vision, veto and obvious quest for a mention when he joins Jerry Rawlings on the sidelines.   The last educational reform was unveiled in 1987 with the unique features of a JSS and SSS an increased number of years at the university but collectively marked a reduction in the number of years spent in school. Twenty years is just opportune in my view to take stock of the 1987 reform and to assess its consistency with our national aspirations or problems and the growing global concern. It is in this light that, I grant support for the reform. Education is indisputably the engine of growth and development and will be laughable if it is inept and addresses no problems. Education should be such as to positively affect the individual and his society or country. Any form of education which solves not this concern is inert, still and must be discarded.   It is pitiful when many a misanthropists have laboured to rubbish this attempt as a review and not a reform. I respectfully view it as not only preposterous but also rebellious as reviews precede every reform. I construe review in its ordinary sense as evaluation that results into a reform which relates more to recommendations, reorganization and improvement. In any case, the Anamuah committee was tasked among others to review and reform the educational system and that attempts to rubbish the exercise should not be encouraged as it potentially will affect the popular support it requires to succeed. The cash and time invested into this national venture are vital considerations as to make it disparaging and unpatriotic to declare the exercise as unnecessary   The role of education in the life and progress of every country is the justification for this unsolicited commentary and importantly to disabuse the position taken by the few sceptics and pessimists who have chosen to place certain interests above the national agenda   I think patriotism is one virtue which has to be encouraged at all cost if any progress is to be made in our national aspiration and development agenda. That is why I would want to associate with the President’s call for optimism towards this national project. It does not however mean that it should be sacrificed for patchiness. It is in this light that, as patriots, like yours truly, we have a duty to commend the obvious goodies envisaged by the reforms and to note the reservations prescribing advice to foster its success.   The reforms have given birth to some incontestable ideals. Notable in my view is the incorporation of kindergarten education into the mainstream, new look science and technology; academia- industry partnership and the recognition to counselling units among others   SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL CONCEPT The President was quite early criticised and questioned for his decision to introduce the Senior High School and Junior High School concepts particularly, when the Anamuah committee was silent on those characterisation. The President might have exercised his veto quite, justifiably at the time.

Branding is one feature necessary to give any such reform or change a boost. At least it provides immediate indicators as to the alteration and the need to think alike. It provides for a proof of a new order and that should in my view not spark any confusion. It would be recalled that, previous reforms like the 1987 reforms had switched from the Secondary School to Senior Secondary School as the Middle School designated as Junior Secondary School with the similar and common intent to brand a new order. These concerns belong to the peripheral. The substance must be debated and not the form.

INCORPORATION OF KINDERGARTEN   The school has long been upheld as the next in line to the home so far as the socialization of the child is concerned. It is in this light that I find it more encouraging the decision to incorporate the kids’ welfare into the mainstream make-up. It is a major step and boost to doing the right thing. Foundation of every structure is extremely important if the structure is to serve any meaningful purpose. The formative years, but for a few private initiatives were more of a waste of the kids time and only successful at allowing for working parents to buy time. The neglect of the “shaping years has become history with the reform

This Incorporation will at least allow for the benefit that comes with a professional-induced training other than the untrained assistants who do no more than to spank and intimate them leaving them no more than with a low-self esteem and confidence when they are otherwise ready for class one or so. In other developed jurisdictions, such is the importance attached to this stage of training that, experienced professionals are attached to the kids. At that stage a savoir-faire appreciation of child psychology is required if the child is to benefit from the interaction. The tried and tested principles of Jean Piaget, the renowned child psychologist have proven to be effective, when efficiently applied to teaching and learning, which professionals are best to implement

As I laud the gesture and incorporation, I would encourage government and the Ministry of Education to take steps to ensure that, teachers recruited for that level are professionals and experienced enough as to grant meaning to the change   SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY One unique character of the just-phased out regime is the establishment of Science Resource Centres which until then was unknown to our educational try out. It was a policy from the blue but one with good intention which would have been highly successful but for infrastructural and logistical limitations. They were strategically located such as to serve the interest of schools congregated in the districts. That policy and the present arrangement underscore our overall admission of the fact that, science education is a necessary to nation building in the 21st century   It is with little doubt that, for science education to be effective it must be able to translate into technological inventions. The world economy has steadily moved away from the agricultural-based through industrialization and today, ICT epitomizes new order. Fifty years after independence, it is worrying that, decades after our nationhood and the establishment of the KNUST, we have recorded a paltry success in translating the theories imbibed in schools and science education into inventive importance.   We may not have taken full advantage of the opportunities inherent in technology as to inventions and how relevant they have become to developing economies. At least, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) of which Ghana is a member through its mechanisms and regulations for exploiting and protecting patents have a lot good for us but perhaps for our limitation in the area of Technology. The usual suspecting compares Singapore and Malaysia are ahead in this field but we can always catch up and lead the way in Africa if I am not mistaking at this point.     GUIDANCE AND COUNSELING One feature of the reform to have elicited a lot concern is the extension of our secondary education to four years by presumably parents who have an added year of expenses added to their kitty. I rather we take pains in finding out how many of the students go through the unpleasant and stressful exercise of re-writing all or some of the papers after school spending a year or two as remedial students.   The many remedial centres in our cities find support for this view. Not too long ago we were accustomed to the seven year pre-university (secondary and sixth-form) and when the 1987 reforms gave birth to the three-year SSS, the complains were not any different. Interestingly, the court of public opinion has not been unanimous against the introduction and that is encouraging   What I however find interesting from this arrangement which is a marked difference from the two previous modules of secondary education is the recognition handed to guidance and counselling units. The institutional make up allows for an effective use of the already existing counselling unit in each district and regional educational unit. Their impact has not been pronounced, particularly in most schools where they have been reduced to an accessory to church, where they have become more of chaplains than academic advisers

My organization recently organized a career seminar for pre-University students and intentional asked certain questions on the application form to guide our preparation for the event. I was traumatized with some of the responses to questions intentionally asked for guidance. The harmless questions were; 1. What is your current programme of study? 2. What is your career aspiration or your dream profession? 3. What is your dream tertiary institution? 4. And what course do you intend to read at that university?   A good dose of the participants, about 70 percent were misplaced as to their career interest and course placement, giving me reason to declare the counselling units as bogus, ineffective and a nation wrecking institution. Their inconsistent response provided something to brood about. You realize that, misguidedly or negligently many of these choices are made either by themselves or some uninformed superiors at the JSS or by the Senior Secondary School considering only the results of their BECE to the exclusion of their interests, which I find inadequate if the proper thing should be done.   I am content that, with the reforms, each student has the rare opportunity to spend time with a counsellor to decide the choice of a programme as to General Arts, Science, Visual, Technical or Vocational after a thorough assessment of their interests, capabilities and the likes. This innovation provides for a good reason to be joyful of the reform as it is endowed with an inventive step to addressing a major concern by my considered estimation, in our world of work.   A bulk of the inefficiencies in my view, in the Ghanaian world of work is traceable to people being trained and taking up appointments which run contrary to their interests and career aspirations. Undoubtedly, one’s interest is important to scholarship and productivity. So that if a course of study, contrary to your interest is handed onto you, it becomes very stressful to manage it, if one is not exceptional or a genius.

Motivation as recipe for productivity must not always be extrinsic but it has been proven that, intrinsic motivation or self-motivation is crucially required to succeed. This basic impetus has been absent in many a place of work due to the false start of many employees.   APPRENTICESHIP TRAINING& CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION

The opportunity to study on the job whiles in school or out of school should not be down played. It allows for a better partnership or collaboration between industry and institutions, a problem amplified over the years. Apart from preparing the youth for the job market in terms of developing in them, the appropriate job ethics, its potential to take most of our youth off the street, must not be discarded especially when government is committed to sharing cost.

Government should however be challenged to be resourceful as to find funding to cater for all of the cost and not a part of it, as the cost sharing approach may derail the good intention of the exercise. Technical, Vocational and Agricultural Education and Training we understand shall provide employable skills through formal and informal apprenticeship and this unquestionably should not be downplayed

Today in Ghana, there are not too many people you can positively and safely describe as compatriots and flag waving brethren. The introduction of citizenship education as a subject to the kids at upper primary should not be scorned. This subject has the overall object of producing competent, reflective, concerned and participatory citizens who will contribute to the development of their communities and country in the spirit of patriotism and democracy. It exposes the children to the challenges of human survival in our country and importantly the desired attitudes, values, and skills needed to solve our contemporary problems and I respectfully do not find this as a bad measure.  

ICT DYMYSTIFIED IN DEPRIVED GHANA

I am again elated to learn that, a giant step has been taken to make our future complaint to the growing global demands for an ICT-oriented citizenry. Many professionals even in the academia are today being schooled in ICT and that provides evidence of it becoming a necessity. We may be late in our quest to catch up but not entirely out of the craze as from lower primary or class one, the next generation will be introduced to this medium for communication and work in a variety of areas. The content, providing for a foundation for a further encounter and interaction should be encouraged at all cost; a secured foundation for our kids at that level is enough respite for a secured tomorrow.    IMPLEMENTATION Not too long ago, the Papa Owusu Ankomah led Ministry of Education, oversaw the implementation of the capitation grant and it was clear that the ministry was exposed and embarrassed for their lack of planning and contingency resolve mechanism. The anticipated rise in enrolment figures was ignored prior to the implementation of the policy such as to house pupils on stones and under trees when the figure escalated. The delay in the release of funds to headmasters almost made useless the bases of the non-fee paying relief. It is in this light that we cautiously remain optimistic to test the Prof Fobih and Samuel Bannerman Mensah capabilities and resolve at implementing ideas.   Genuinely, it would be reasonable to be worried if poor planning and take off informs our perception. We should however be encouraged for the fact that, the Reform is not a one-stop, one-day event as to raise hell and brimstone when syllabus and textbooks are not ready on the first day of implementation. This should not be construed as granting support for ill-preparations but rather as fuelling hope and not hopelessness when policies are fraught with teething challenges or concerns

The architect should not be left out. Teacher concerns should not be ignored. Consecutive regimes have had to deal unpleasantly with teacher-demands for better conditions of service. The success of this reform depends in my view to the push needed to make the profession attractive. Corporate Ghana must endeavour to treat the concern of the teacher with some promptness.

It is worthwhile to recognise the various opportunities made available to the teacher to improve academically. Government’s effort at phasing out the certificate “A” programme and replacing it with a three- year Diploma programme as the basic qualification required to join the teaching profession must be commended. That alone may not be enough and steps should be taken with immediate immediacy to getting their YES VOTE to settle nerves and offer hope for the future

I call on the sceptics and pessimists to ride on the philosophy that, what is worth doing is worth starting bad. The reform is more of a necessity than wastage and should be encouraged. The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. I do not think that, the intent of the 2007 reform is to scandalize previous experiments but to improve upon the gains of the former. It may not be entirely perfect, but enough to start with.



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