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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Columnist: Sylvanus Akorsu

University of Ghana proceed to reform or lag behind


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Recently, during the 70th anniversary of the University of Ghana, one of its alumnus Senyo Hosi made comments that trended in the traditional media and social media. The comments were to the effect that the lecturers were not thinking. Unfortunately, the context within which the not thinking comments were made was not shown to the public and this put the gentleman in a bad light. But are there challenges at the premier university?

I am a proud product of the University of Ghana and there are things I love and hate about the university and to the extent that those things are still there unresolved, I will feel that my university is not doing much to address the problem.

Legon as we call it is casually known for building the confidence of students. We are trained to critique things before accepting it and also speak with scientific data. The first lecture of every course is known as the introductory lecture. Basically, students get to know the lecturer who will be taking them in that course. By policy, all lecturers are to tell the students to challenge them if they disagree with any assertion made by a lecturer but in a respectful manner, giving reasons and backing it up with scientific evidence. The reason was that it is an academic environment and members are free to agree and disagree. This makes academic discussions very lively and some lecturers confessed they have learnt a few things from students.

In Business school, Takyi Asiedu (Asiedu Quanti) taught Business Mathematics and Quantitative Methods, he will explain each topic and how it is applied in business decision making. It ranges from Human resource compensation, production, cost minimisation/profit maximization to predicting peoples purchasing behaviour, especially with complementary goods and services.

Assignments were given to build our presentation capacity and to think alternative solutions to challenges, (I cannot tell if things are still that way) though things were not so rosy at the business school.

In my final year at the great Commonwealth Hall, I had three level 200 students as my roommates. These guys were all studying Mathematics, Physics and Computer. They were to drop one and carry on with 2 at level 300. One day after attending a lecture, they returned to the room with a down casted face, upon interrogation, they complained that the mathematics topics they were learning were so abstract that they could not understand what and how that was applicable in real life. They had the option to drop either computer or physics but not maths, and this is their problem. They wished they were in business school because according to them it was only about reading.

I told them we also do maths, and proceeded to mention a few of the topics treated. They shouted in unison eeeeeiiiiiiii and asked me what that level of maths got to do with business. I took my time and explained to them each topic and its application in business decisions. At the time, they were struggling with Series (Time Series). After my explanation, they were relieved and could now relate with a few examples that we did.

Now my challenge is why couldn’t the lecturer use practical situations in which the things that were being taught could be applied for easy assimilation by the students? Does the University of Ghana check these things? How practically experienced are the lecturers?

Should raw PhD without adequate practical experience be enough to qualify someone as a lecturer?

Should one’s ability to conduct research be enough to be qualified to teach?

Is teaching at the university all about research?

There is a practice at Legon, where students who did their national service on campus easily gained admission to do MPhil and then to PhD. How prepared are these greenhorns whose only practical experience was probably national service? Yes, they may engage in one project or the other in the course of their MPhil/PhD but this is usually research.

Should a person who teaches petroleum engineering not have at least 5years working experience in the petroleum sector as a chemical engineer so that when he is teaching students, he would not just open books and explain theories he himself have not practiced before but impart personal updated experience to students?

Why is it that the university will not employ a medical doctor who has not practiced before but have a PhD and yet the same will employ someone like that from a social science background?

The University of Ghana should consider these challenges and reform! We are the trailblazers and we cannot afford to let down the great tower of learning which inspired both the young and the old in the past but is becoming a pale shadow of its glorious past.

A few years ago I read a program at Walden University in Maryland USA, the lecturers were (still are) referred to as “Teacher Practitioners” meaning that every lecturer of the university is a practitioner of his trade in the field he is teaching and so you’re not being taught with some old outdated lecture pamphlet that was prepared when I was in JSS. Discussions were so rich and you’re pushed to think and be creative. This is how I want to see my Legon. The situation is not a terrible one but we are not far from that and so we can’t afford to be complacent.

Senyo Hosi mentioned Artificial Intelligence (AI) and I agree with him on that point (not the not thinking). It is amazing that Ghana does not have a single supercomputer in any of the universities, how are we going to run IT/AI programs? How are we going to do program simulations? The cost of Super Computer ranges between $100 and $250 million USD and an average yearly energy cost of 1 to 2 million dollars. I know the universities don’t have that kind of money but they should be able to convince government to invest in it, for the benefits are enormous. The university management can also lobby Google and other tech giants to partner government to build it.

May we proceed in truth and integrity to make our nation proud.

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