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Opinions of Sunday, 1 December 2013

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

The Reality Is Different, Mr. Mahama

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

At the 18th Congregation - or graduation - ceremony of Winneba's University of Education (UEW), President John Dramani Mahama was reported to have said that the plethora of challenges confronting today's world, necessitates the production of a "caliber of graduates who are critical thinkers," in order to effectively tackle most of these challenges (see "President Calls for Critical-Thinking Graduates" Ghana News Agency (GNA)/ 11/24/13).

There is no gainsaying the fact that Mr. Mahama is dead-accurate in his rhetorical assessment of the problem. The frenzy with which he and his deceased predecessor and former boss, the retired University of Ghana tax-law professor, Dr. John Evans Atta-Mills,went about trying to establish science-oriented tertiary academies in the Brong-Ahafo and Volta regions attests positively to this fact. But the reality on the ground is quite another matter altogether.

To-date, all the major public tertiary academies significantly lag behind in the provision of the requisite physical plant and pedagogical resources necessary for the production of the first-rate thinkers and innovators that he is talking about. And the very performance of Mr. Mahama, himself a graduate of the country's flagship academy, the University of Ghana, Legon, has not encouraged many Ghanaians, including those who voted to retain him at the helm of our affairs last December, to take his words with all the seriousness that they ordinarily would attract.

In other words, Mr. Mahama needs to promptly put his mouth where his proverbial money is, if the country's quality of education is to become culturally relevant, meaningful and reputable abroad. It is all well and good to target the establishment of universities in every one of the country's ten regions and municipalities. However, even more important is the remarkable improvement and upgrading of the facilities that we already have to the enviable status of globally reputed academies. The latter process, it goes without saying, would also, perforce, imply the hiring of distinguished, diligent and heavy-lifting academicians at internationally competitive salaries, roughly about the same salaries as those offered our parliamentarians and members of the executive branch of government.

Then also, research and publication funding would have to be made generously and readily available. This will necessitate the creation of endowed chairs in virtually every department of our major tertiary academies. You see, when our universities achieve global reputations, the best and the brightest students and scholars from all regions and corners of the world would be eager to come to Ghana to study and teach, in much the same way that such major American research academies as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Temple and Stanford universities have attracted scholars and students in their prime and among the vanguard ranks of their peers and professional tracks.

I was recently amused to hear former President Jerry John Rawlings, while being conferred with an honorary doctorate, admonish administrators at the Tamale-based University of Development Studies (UDS) to start charging significantly higher tuition fees for foreign students who opt for studies there. Maybe the aging former strongman was thinking about the education of his own children at European and American universities. Anyway, my mind kept wandering and wondering where such students were likely to come from, if not largely from other equally poorly managed and thus cash-strapped West African countries.

The admittedly noble idea was that, somehow, the extra revenue exacted from these non-Ghanaian knowledge-seekers could then be used to improve infrastructural and pedagogical facilities at the UDS. Well, somebody had better inform Strongman Rawlings that it will take much more than foreign-student tuition fees to improve upon the physical plant and other amenities of the UDS, as well as underwrite administrative expenditures at any of our major tertiary academies.

To successfully achieve the preceding goals, for example, our professors have to be extra-murally engaged in industrial and other consultancy services with the great potentiality of contractually inspiring big-time business-world moguls to symbiotically and heavily invest in our tertiary academies. In the end, though, the caliber of the graduates that are churned out of our universities and colleges very much depends on the quality of the curricula and the kind of teaching that goes on in our elementary and secondary educational institutions. And so far, the corner-cutting educational policies of the National Democratic Congress, in general, do not convince me that President Mahama is quite ready to synch rhetoric with action.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
Nov. 28, 2013