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Opinions of Thursday, 16 March 2006

Columnist: Agboka, Godwin Yaw

Towards A Solution-Oriented University Education

The University of Ghana once again held its congregation last Saturday at which many students received various degrees and diplomas. Such occasions witness large numbers of people, who represent diverse discourse communities, celebrating the long years of academic hard work by their wards, employees, students, relatives, and friends. This is not the first and it will surely not be the last since it forms part of the definition of academia. What many forget though is the fate of the over four thousand graduates who will soon be knocking at the doors of the few companies in the country. Indeed, even if we want to produce a mush fake level of honesty, we have to say that this is only but one of the tertiary institutions whose graduates will be going to the job market. Of course, every graduate expects to be economically useful to their families irrespective of the kind of education they got. Yes, they have every right to have such levels of unbridled hope. They have been through two, three, or four years of tertiary education.

An educational system must have the capacity to solve its nation?s problems. If this is the contrary, then, that nation stands on the brink of economic starvation. What this means is that the curriculum of the institutions must be geared towards churning products who will be able to address the deficits within the economy if not make them employable, not to talk about making them self-sufficient. For what will be the essence of a university education if it only succeeds in passing the test of gaining into the academy and mastering the grandeur of academic language without situating its products in the economic community in which their impacts should be felt? It is unfortunate however, that while there is so much brouhaha about levels of enrolment of countless number of students very little noise is made about the marketability of these products.

How do you produce a thousand philosophers if their services will not be needed within a particular year of their coming out? And do we produce 1,500 archeologists if we will need only two hundred of them? Thousands of students graduate with degrees and diplomas in Philosophy, Psychology, Classical history and Civilization, or even History among others only to have their degrees to show for. What is in a name if it cannot empower its bearer to perform the functions it?s required to undertake? Several graduates are greeted with disappointment and frustration in their efforts to secure job opportunities. Indeed, many have indicated they need to pursue further courses in addition to their ?logies and ?sophies at the universities. Why can?t their degrees make them self-sufficient? Why should they be good enough to meet market demands? A good tertiary programme should be able to project how many of its products will graduate with what degrees and how many of them the economy can absorb. A Chinese proverb says that ?if you are planning for a year sow rice; if you are planning for a decade plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people;? but I believe we should not educate people for education sake. Education must help its beneficiaries become self-sufficient; it must solve problems. If education adds to the myriad of problems the nations already has then did we go or did we come? I don?t subscribe to the argument that undergraduate education, for instance should be the stepping stone for future educational engagements. I don?t believe anyone should need a Master?s degree to get a job. Such a view beats logic! We make nonsense of secondary education if we perpetuate such a view. As far as I am concerned that argument falls flat. If everyone needs to get a Master?s degree to secure a job opportunity then we have failed our teeming graduates of our tertiary institutions. How does anyone then explain the reason for unemployment among our Master?s students?

What our institutions have succeeded in doing is to produce students who are good at arguing about theories but very much deficient in applying whatever practice is needed on the job market. Tertiary students are good at talking the talk and not walking the walk. Only last year a manager friend at one of the Banks in Ghana interviewed some university students for a vacant position and I could not believe the (she claimed) answers they gave to some of the prompts they were given during the interviewing process. What use will a graduate be if s/he knows how to commit theory to memory but cannot apply it in a given situation? Last week, Professor J. Anamuah-Mensah, Vice Chancellor, University of Education, Winneba indicated that the current educational system does not respond to the country's needs, as it encourages and produces rote memorization and recall.

In Germany and even other native English speaking settings practice takes prominence over theory but in Ghana a professor spends man hours highlighting grammatical concerns at the expense of practical issues in education. What we have is an educational system that emphasizes and produces orators, grammarians, debaters, when even developed countries and native speakers of the grammar we emphasize said good bye to such practices long ago. One wonders the purpose for our basic education. What is even worse is that only few university students see the computer keyboard or the mouse before they leave school and I wonder how competitive our graduates will be on the job market. And what about research? While students elsewhere begin research in Junior or high school, the Ghanaian student begins extensive research only when s/he begins his Master?s program.

One of the emphasis in the struggle that spearheaded the establishment of the University College of the Gold Coast ( now University of Ghana) in 1948 was to among other functions produce graduates who would assist the colonial government in the administration of the colonies and the protectorates; thus emphasis on education was directed towards theory, to produce the manpower who could write and speak good English but in a technology age when nations would have to be competitive to meet the growing demands of globalization, or exploit education to solve their teething economic problems theory has little place in the economy.

Sadly, most of the technical schools and the polytechnics have received little attention. Today, the student of the technical school is the most worried of all. Very few of the graduates of the polytechnics gain employment while a lot of them, many a time divert attention to secondary education where they believe they can make some progress. What then is the future of such students? The only avenue now is for graduates to join the bandwagon and use every means, possible to travel abroad where they throw their pride into the gutters. Many of those who cannot join the exodus train become disgruntled, while some glorify crime.

Like the lover who promises heaven only to desert his partner on the wedding day many students commence their tertiary education with heightened hope only to have their hopes dashed on completion. Congregation ceremonies should not only witness a reunion, let alone a platform for flaunting pedantic language but a time for reflection and self-appraisal. Thus, have we (the universities, especially) been able to solve the problems of the economy? Our universities should not fail us!

Godwin Yaw Agboka
Illinois State University USA

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