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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Columnist: Amankwah, Kasadiimu Gyekye

@ Y50, Manpower Development

50 years ago someone saw the need to educate the youth of Ghana to take up positions that were created by the absence of the colonial masters after independence. At the dawn of the new era, more engineers, doctors and other relevant professionals were needed. The academic curriculum and structure of our Universities were modeled on these assumptions, projections or if you may, perceived need.

50 years later, the curriculum, the structure and all the nine yards are still producing quality professionals who have no positions to fill. Most people have to either resort to teaching or park themselves at the Ministries and since their hearts are not in these jobs, the entire country suffers. We will be addressing the civil service issue or the ministries issue in later discussions but I’m sure you all know where I am coming from. For the benefit of those who don’t know I’m sure “the coat or hanging jacket” terminology would drive home my point-(People hang their jackets on the chairs to show they are at work but leave to do other things). Others leave the country in search of the so called greener pastures in what is popularly known as “Brain Drain”.

It is worthy of mention that there has been the opening up of more Universities and colleges because it at least affords many students the opportunity to gain higher education where the National Universities could not help them. The question that keeps haunting me is “ Are these newer institutions going to be proactive towards growing and sustainable practical trends or they are being set up as money churning machines to enrich the sponsors and therefore continue to perpetuate the production of many unemployable college graduates.

The irony is that the areas where professionals are needed are not being increased. Take for instance the KNUST, about 50%( I stand to be corrected) of the student population are trained as engineers but only about a third of these people(to be generous) end up working in their trained fields. Majority of our college graduates have to seek further education before becoming employable and not just that our engineers end up competing with the business students for positions in the banking and business sector which has less use for their engineering training. Please don’t get me wrong, there are some engineers required by the banks in areas such as project valuation etc but what I am referring to is the type of engineers pursuing regular banking that has nothing to do with their field of training. If we do realize that this is the trend then let us restructure our universities to admit less engineering students for instance and use the extra facilities to help us increase our intake of medical students who are pretty much needed after majority of them leave for greener pasture.

The people are seeking greener pastures and we can regulate it to the benefit of all. I can tell you stories of many doctors and other professionals who have left Ghana on their own to start in other countries as laborers until they can get the requisite documentation to practice their trained profession. These people will be elated with the idea of regulated exchange service programs that will utilize their skills while offering them the opportunity to earn more. They will then be able to contribute towards the foreign remittances, which is a major source of foreign exchange for the country. Foreign remittances have been a top foreign exchange earner for our country the past two fiscal years. If we can even put a figure on the remittances that do not go through the formal sector, I could bet my last cedi that these remittances would be the number one foreign exchange earner for Ghana.

I know that the argument will be that it costs more to educate a medical doctor than an engineer, granted, this is true but medical doctors are in high demand in a lot of areas even outside Ghana where the government could arrange with these governments to export medical doctors and nurses for foreign exchange. Look at it this way. If we realize that it costs for instance $70,000 to educate a medical doctor, we can negotiate a program where the doctors can work say 3-5 years based on the salary and get reduced salary while the difference is paid to the government to defray their cost of training. They can then be on their own after that but will still be earning decent salaries in these foreign lands.

The People are leaving after training anyway, we might as well benefit from training them. According to a report in the US by Human resource for health, in 2002, of the 5334 Medical doctors from Sub Saharan Africa practicing in the US, 86% were from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Source: http://www.human-resources-health.com/content/2/1/17 Whether we like it or not they are leaving, and they are going to continue to leave after training, we just have to be smart and get them help while we benefit from it.

It is about time the government got creative and started exporting services instead of relying too heavily on commodities export. Liberia for instance is in dire need of doctors and we can lock in a decent deal now until they get back on their feet in terms of training doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals. We can export services to Africa and the rest of the world if we do it right.

Our educational system should be well structured to pave way for practical education where people actually pursue careers that are of interest to them and are therefore willing to pursue it both on and off school. This way even when they cannot find jobs in the mainstream they can create their own niche in the field of training. Counselors should be on the high list of priorities of our educational system because many times a lot of the students pursue courses because of prestige associated with it and not because there is demand for it or that they are interested in.

In Line with this I would like to propose a joint venture relationship between the School of Engineering at the KNUST for instance and the “Kumasi Magazine” where less academically trained engineers are doing wonders when it comes to their trade. This will not only provide practical training for the students and make them readily employable but would unearth entrepreneurial potential in most of the students. The other benefit to the society would be enhanced quality in terms of the products of these tradesmen and make them serious competitors in the market.

I know the powers that be are listening so we will keep the conversation going and as the bible says, we will keep knocking and believe that the doors would be opened.

Kasadiimu Gyekye Amankwah Ghana Institute For Human Development. December 12, 2007

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