The Challenges of Ghana’s Educational System – Some Reflections

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The Challenges of Ghana’s Educational System – Some Reflections

Category:Highlights

By Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Ghana, as a nation, has come far on the educational ladder, right from the ECM (English Church Mission) and SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) church schools in the castles, which were ran by Rev Thomas Thompson and Philip Quarcoo. Then came Akropong Akwapim Training College in 1848 founded by the Presbyterian Church, Mfantsipim (formerly Richmond College in 1876 founded by Kwaa Botwe), and Achimota College in 1919 founded by Governor Gordon Guggisberg. Before those, we had Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Education is the process of exposure to superior and quality knowledge, as well as empowering educatees with valid knowledge so that they have critical thinking skills and faculties to make informed, better and quality decisions which will add value to the quality of their own lives, and lives of others, and in the end, help resolve socio-techno-politico-economic (PEST), and national problems.

Can we vouch that in the light of the aforementioned definition and inferred objectives of education, these noble objectives of education are being attained by the current products of our pre-tertiary educational institutions in Ghana?

A.N. Whitehead, the renowned English philosopher and educationist, once wrote that, ‘Education is the purgation of the crudities of the mind.’ Thus, from this quote, we infer that education is a process of refinement of the brain such that base and crude ideas are rid of through expungement, annihilation, extirpation, and banishing of darkness, socially, mentally, physically, and morally by imprinting on what John Locke referred to as the ‘tabula rasa’ or the analogical blank sheet or uninformed mind of the child.

It is a never-ending and continuous process of enlightenment to know and uncover the truth. Is our current educational system in Ghana achieving those goals set by Whitehead in his definition, and are we imprinting the right things on the ‘tabula rasa’ of the children? Confucius once said that the future of a country depends on the quality of education its citizens receive, and the quality of leadership of a country is as bad as its citizenry or a reflection of it.

The Pestalozzi principle of education aims at training the head, heart, and hands of our tutees so that they can think rationally, become passionate about noble and national causes, and become creative with their heads and hands in adding value to the GDP. Can we say that our current educational system in Ghana is achieving those noble goals set by Pestalozzi more than 300 years ago? As a nation, what are the educational goals that we set for ourselves, as defined by the ruling party’s manifesto and policies, and by the public interest?

It is, however, gratifying to note that the World Bank from 2014 to 2019 has set aside 156 million dollars towards the Secondary Education Improvement Programme in Ghana. This is in partnership with the government, and it is in recognition of the falling standards of education in Ghana which Brig General Nunoo-Mensah recently referred to severally and generically when he said that, ‘the country of Ghana was rapidly going downhill in all spheres of life’. An American documentary on Ghana which was made in 1994 ran a commentary pertaining to the falling standards of education in Ghana. I could not better concur with these views.

The OECD recently published a report of a survey taken of 15 year olds from 76 countries, and Ghana happened to fall at the tail end of the league table which was compiled by them. What a sad story to befall our beloved country! The World Bank amount of 156 million dollars which is to be spent between 2014 and 2019 is targeted at 23 selected Senior High Schools in Ghana, to help them improve on quality delivery of educational services.

What kind of education are we giving our children in Ghana these days? Are we giving the right dose of holistic education which will make our students and pupils self-reliant, tolerant, honest, patriotic, innovative, inquisitive, diligent, globally competitive, technologically-savvy and au-fait, and above all, selfless or altruistic?

Is our educational system inspiring confidence in our students to appreciate their self-worth, become appreciative of beauty in nature, beauty in their surroundings, and kindle in them high appreciation for aesthetic beauty in art works, music, sculpture, crafts, dance, poetry, folklore, scholarship, temperance? Are they being properly prepared to become cautiously futuristic, optimistic, and humane in all their noble endeavours?

If we examine the levels of crimes and moral turpitude prevailing in all spheres of life in Ghana today, we will be wont to conclude that the quality of education being delivered now has gone down from the previous high standards. It will be highly subjective to measure such criterion but then the evidence of frequent and rampant telling of lies, soaring levels of corruption and cheating in our nation are barometric indicators which are there for all to see, and there is no need to develop metrics to measure such an elusive phenomenon.

For purposes of this short write-up, I shall narrow education down to basic education received up to senior high school level. This write-up will also examine why we have mediocrity in Ghana today, explore the genesis of vices such as corruption, greed and avarice, examination leakages, political kerfuffle and disquiet, media obfuscation, and in general, national malaise and social atrophy in the Ghanaian body polity.

It seems that we have two main types of parallel education in Ghana today, leading to education apartheid or separateness. On the one hand, we have some modicum of quality education found in the so-called (in Ghanaian terminology), elite private international schools at the primary and Junior Secondary school levels, where educational standards are relatively quite high, and fees are astronomical, beyond the reach of most average Ghanaians. (Of course, we have the high or upper end of the market world-class international schools for expatriates and the super-rich.

This market has schools such as the Ghana International School, Lincoln International School, S.O.S Herman School in Tema, among others. These are in the international circuit and they are not meant for majority of us on account of their steep charges which are denominated in foreign currency. These schools have international curricula which they follow such as IB, Cambridge A Levels, IGCSE, and the American schools’ syllabus).

On the other hand are the mass ‘cyto’ or public primary and junior secondary schools where in most cases, school buildings are dilapidated, school furniture is hardly found, teachers are inadequate, overworked, and relatively poorly remunerated. Instructional materials are scarcely supplied, and teachers in some cases, for most times, are doing sinecure jobs. Some school pupils in rural areas learn under trees. Some of their dilapidated buildings have their roofs blown off during heavy tropical storms. This is the typical scenario for most poverty-stricken families in poor rural communities, and even in the old towns which have experienced declining economic fortunes.

Pupils are mostly deployed to work on farms, or they do some communal labour such as weeding or construction work to help raise some funds for the school kitty. In such schools and environment, academic learning is relegated to a secondary status as the aim is to be seen to be going through the motions of delivering some kind of education, with no regard for quality. When we talk about quality education, we mean total, comprehensive, and holistic education that touches the head, heart, and hands of educatees and tutees.

Run-down school infrastructure is normally found in the remote areas of Ghana where school inspection and supervision are hardly existent. Educational institutions in the public primary and junior secondary categories in Ghana have become havens and incubators for ‘sakawa’ or internet fraudsters, breeding grounds for loafers, rabble-rousers, armed robbers, a place to grow up, and in general, the sans cullotte repository.

This is so because students and tutees are not academically engaged and challenged by their instructors, teachers, and tutors. Sometimes, students become disenchanted, with bleak prospects facing them in the job market, and so they lose momentum for learning. The plight of these half-baked and potentially dangerous drop-outs reminds one of the poetry of Alexander Pope who intoned;

A little learning is a dangerous thing,
Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Springs
Where shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking deep sobers the mind once again
~ Alexander Pope

Boys and girls in these cyto public schools can hardly speak good English as some resort to the easy way out – what is usually termed Pidgin English or patois. They hardly can spell simple English words correctly. Many cannot construct nor write simple grammatically-correct plain words of good English. I always bow down my head in shame whenever some of these Ghanaians are interviewed in the international media on TV or on air, and they stutter and fumble a lot with the way they express themselves in the English Language, creating a sorry sight for themselves, and cutting a poor image for our country.

We are not saying that we want to train students for educational grammar or scholarship, but then for them to be functionally literate and employable or effective as entrepreneurs in the global village, they need to be well-rounded and well-grounded in basic literacy and numeracy, reading skills, good writing skills, logic, rhetoric, eloquence, interpersonal and communication skills, among other areas of epistemology and pedagogy.

Ghana used to be a role model for other colonial African countries in terms of our high levels of education. Our judges and magistrates used to be deployed to superintendent work in some of the neighbouring countries, working for UAC, and the colonial judicature and civil service. Our soldiers in the colonial West African Frontier Force distinguished themselves in various fields of endeavour during the World Wars in Camerouns, Abbysinia, Burma, among others. Those included people like Lt Gen Emmanuel Ankrah, Major Anthony, Lawyer Aduamuah, Sgt Mike Adjavon, Sgt Adjetey, among others of blessed memory.

The list at the beginning of this write-up informs and refers. Of those listed there, some were international diplomats of repute with UN agencies, Commonwealth Secretariat, distinguished academics and researchers, scientists currently at NASA, among others. They are products from the old school. But now we have lost it, and we are far flung at the bottom of the global league table of academic ranking. Of course, our universities are still of great standing in Africa. Whether we like it or not, English has become the international or universal language (lingua franca), and a vehicle for communication and instruction in the world of commerce and industry, in the on-going process of globalisation.

Of course, it is cardinal and imperative for us to get our kids first to value and appreciate our rich heritage and lore in the local languages and culture, and then extend the knowledge gained therefrom in mastering the English Language. After all, it is often said that charity begins at home. Some Ghanaian critics parochially view mastering of the English Language as part of cultural imperialism. Need this be the case? What about the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others who are falling over themselves and making every effort to learn English in order to drive their businesses in the global milieu?

The thesis of this write-up is that we do not have to crowd the timetables of our beginning students with so many subjects as to make them functionally illiterate in the basics of reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Do we believe in more is better than less or is it a way of keeping the masses at the bottom so that the few monetised and ruling classes will continue dominating and keeping the status quo ante?

These elite can afford to hire part-time teachers for their children, and also provide them with a conducive environment for their wards to excel academically in the BECE and WASSCE examinations. Even though there is a policy of Free Compulsory Universal Education in Ghana, outcomes of education are not commensurate with what one will expect in a Middle Income country like Ghana.

The table below from WAEC shows the increasing numbers of candidates who write the Senior High School exams from about 500 SHS public and 288 private secondary schools in Ghana. It is reckoned that an average of 21% candidates manage to obtain grades between A1 and C6 to go on to tertiary institutions. In 2014, there were 422,946 candidates from all the 10 regions who wrote the exam, comprising 223,765 male and 199,181 female;

WASSCE PASS RATES
2014 2013 2012 2011 2009 2008 2007 2006 YR
28.10 19.15 31.19 26.00 14.58 12.95 10.58 12.51 %

Number of Candidates for WASSCE
YR 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Number 395637 350899 372826 376859 391079 422946
Source: WAEC

Why are we toying with, and treating education in Ghana to Cinderella looks? Are we practising factional elitism in order to create a wedge between the well-educated minority elite on the one hand, and on the other hand, the functionally illiterate majority? Why do we rush to build many schools where trained teachers cannot be found, and where we do not have the wherewithal to procure instructional materials for use by pupils?

The statistics enclosed here below indicates that Ghana is among the global front-runners in terms of allocation of GDP to education. Denmark, Iceland, Finland and most Scandinavian countries are global leaders in education, healthcare and general welfare of their citizens. It is commendable that the figures below show a rising trend of educational budget allocations for Ghana, being above the UN recommended minimum of 4% of GDP to be allocated to education. However, it seems the problem lies in the utilisation of funds for planned and intended purposes, and other lapses in the system such as poor budget oversight. Arthur Okun refers to the fungibility of donor funds and likens it to a leaking bucket.

Expenditures on Education in Ghana as Per cent of GDP
YEAR 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
%GDP Exp 8.1 5.5 5.3 5.8 5.5 5.3 7.4
Source: World Development Indicators Sept 2014

Is quality not better than quantity? Is it not better to use the little resources to improve the quality of existing infrastructure than to dissipate the resources in providing more schools which become like empty shells? In some communities that I know of, new schools were built but no pupils could be found in the catchment areas which are populated by very old people, whose grown-up children and grandchildren have domestically migrated to the cocoa-growing and heavily forested areas. These migrants periodically come back home during Gomoa Two Weeks Festival or during other festivals.

Timetables of junior secondary school students are crowded and populated with 10 fanciful subject areas such as ICT, Basic Design and Technology, Religious and Moral Education, Social Studies, Integrated Science, Mathematics, among others. At the end of their programmes, some of them will not have physically seen a computer or a chisel in their lives or even a test tube, beaker or flat-bottomed flask, or electric cooker/oven, and yet they are supposed to take BECE and WASSCE examinations in ICT, Science, Basic Design and Technology, among other subjects.

I had occasion to read some of the textbooks of my daughter who wrote her BECE in 2013, and I was shocked to realise that their ICT textbooks were 20 years behind time. Many of their textbooks are poorly written with factual errors and they are poorly articulated. Most authors were just rushing to press to make money and not to deliver quality. Their English textbook was equally poorly written and not well articulated or illustrated.

In 1986, the current junior and senior secondary school systems came into being to replace the old 6-4/5-2-3 system which comprised 6 years primary education, 4 years middle school, 5 years secondary school, 2 years sixth form, and three years university. The author went through that old system of 6-4/5-2-3. The current system is 2-6-3-3-4, comprising 2 years kindergarten, 6 years primary school, 3 years junior secondary, 3 years senior secondary, and 4 years university.

Under the current system, most students do not complete studying their secondary syllabus, and then they are rushed to write final exams because the time duration is short, syllabus content is dense and bulky, some teachers are not committed, among other hurdles. Students are forced to learn and regurgitate stock answers because the BECE and WASSCE exams are structured in a way, requiring specific stock answers, and students are not awarded credit for critical thinking nor allowed the freedom to think outside the box when answering questions in the exam. Could this be one reason why there is an upsurge in exam malpractices in Ghana, and also decay in moral standards?

It seems to me that the whole aim of the current system of education is to first frustrate as many students as possible to drop out or fail the exams, or to produce programmed robotic students who can pass exams through producing stock answers. Is this quality learning? Are we producing critical thinkers who can be creative and problem-solvers? Are our students going to be successful when they meet their counterparts from other parts of the world? Will this type of stock learning of programmed answers produce quality national leaders?

What do you expect from such a flawed educational system? There is high incidence of functional illiteracy of most pupils, prevalence of rote-learning, institutionalisation of dichotomised education, rampant cheating, persistent corruption, among other vices and negative consequences. Prior to the exam period, students are gripped with panic and there is pandemonium, and bedlam preceding exams.

Head teachers and teachers become desperate to record high pass rates for their schools, parents want their children to have certificates at all cost, pupils become anxious and restless to obtain good credits so as to gain admission into tertiary institutions, school proprietors want to attract more custom, and they may resort to buying question papers, among other motives and underhand methods.

Our current state of Ghana reflects this dysfunctional educational system, as shortcuts become the norm because of lack of proper moral foundations.

Politicians who emerge from such a system see nothing wrong bribing the electorate to gain power because power is the ultimate prize which must be attained at any price in this world of survival of the fittest, and Hobbesian state of nature of Leviathan. The contractor sees nothing wrong using inferior materials in construction. The building inspector who should know better is easily fobbed off by bribes in brown envelopes. The pastor will willy-nilly give false prophecy so as to scare the hell out of his congregation so that he can fleece and milk them. Goro boys and leeches emerge at passport and visa offices, expecting their cuts from frustrated and prospective applicants and candidates.

Judges swing the pendulum of justice in the direction where their bread is heavily buttered. Law enforcement officers play to the gallery and free culprits who can grease their palms. Male lecturers award high marks to beautiful but undeserving female students who will pander to their lust. Town planners turn a blind eye to bribes when prospective builders entice them to overrule professional advice for them to build in unpermitted areas. The upshot is a nation of disorder, greed, gross disrespect for time-honoured conventions and standards, and a mad rush for short term gratification.

The list of vices goes on ad infinitum. All these vices stem from our flawed educational system. Perhaps, I am claiming high moral ground here, and in this bleak scenario of doom and gloom, there could be a few people out there who have still not lowered their guard, and are still playing by the book. I doff off my hat to them and urge them to be the standard bearers of hope and recovery for our dear nation. We salute such staunch adherents and sticklers for rectitude. Yes, charity begins at home, so we need our educational system to inculcate high moral lessons in our tutees. There needs to be a tsunamic revolution in education to get out the dross and rot from the system, or else we are doomed as a nation forever.

Some of the problems bedevilling our educational system include poor teaching methodologies and lack of commitment by teachers and pupils, the inadequacy of instructional materials, lack of support from PTAs and communities, late release of Government Capitation Grants to schools, inoperability, collapse, and lack of vision of most politicised District Assemblies/Local Government structures and their dereliction, among others.

All these mean that our students and their teachers will resort to finding shortcuts such as mass examination question leakages, mass cheating in exams, influencing the issuance of exam results, forged exam results and certificates, among other vices. Do we have to blame the policy of Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education enacted in 1996, and the Educational Reforms of 2002?

Why can’t we simplify basic education to include just a few salient subjects, and incorporate the 3Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic as the building blocks and foundational material for future advancement? Better still, to remain globally competitive; let us give our junior and senior high secondary students STEM education with emphasis on the Sciences, Technology, English, and Mathematics as it is done in Scotland, Ireland and other countries which have quality education. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Netherlands are successful economically, socially, and politically because of their high quality educational standards.

To be globally competitive, we need to pay attention to quality teacher training and providing teachers with higher incentives. Our policy-makers in Government need to sit up and come up with better policies because our future prosperity as a nation lies in investment in human capital via quality education and quality health care delivery. These two sectors are a desideratum and sine qua non for rapid economic and social development.

Let us develop a new educational paradigm which will strategically position our educational system to meet our national needs as well as help our students and tutees come abreast with their counterparts in other parts of the world.

It is a pity that whilst many countries are getting their best students into Ivy League and Russell universities in the USA and UK respectively, to elite institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCLA, MIT, Imperial College, Caltech, Dartmouth, Sorbonne, among others, our students are only struggling to compete at sub-regional level for WASSCE dominance. How are our future leaders going to have clout and influence in rubbing shoulders with the graduates of such advanced, powerful and elite global institutions? They will have no powerful networks to enable them pull the stops and call the shots, especially when it comes to international negotiations.

It is a sad scenario to witness many of our school dropouts from our current dysfunctional educational system in Ghana becoming street vendors, foot soldiers and political party cadres or zombies, taxi drivers, Sakawas and internet fraudsters, prostitutes and pimps, Mediterranean boat migrants, among others. This is sheer waste and needless attrition of human capital, and also a waste of scarce resources. The factionalisation and dichotomisation of Ghana right now along political party lines, tribal affiliations, interest groups, and religious groupings, does not augur well for the future.

We are currently producing students who seemingly have breadth to their education, but there is no depth. We are having mass quantitative education rather than laying emphasis on quality. Our current students have become very aggressive in articulating issues but they lack substance, and I bet many cannot make it far on the knowledge ladder whereby they can produce books or contribute to academic discourses or become inventors like Apostle Kwadwo Safo, or become quality leaders in future. They have become the noise makers and serial callers of our time, forever on cell phones, and making incessant calls to our call-in radio shows where they talk shallow and offer no quality ideas.

The very fabric of our educational foundation has been eroded by political chicanery and poor policy articulation. We have, like the ostrich, buried our heads in the sand and become oblivious to the stupendous advancements taking place in the global village. We are busy building fanciful estates and infrastructure but paying little attention to the quality of education. In fact, for purposes of political expediency, our current politicians are obsessed and infatuated with the massification, fragmentation, and scatterisation of education, so much so that resources allocated to education become very thinly spread on the ground.

We pay lip service to making quality education accessible to all and with no child left behind. Do we put the money where our mouth is? Have we set our priorities right? If our students come out tops in regional WASSCE exams, is it any worthwhile achievement to celebrate? In other countries elsewhere, they are coming out tops in globally competitive exams such as IGCSE, SAT, GMAT, IELTS, and International Baccalaureate (IB), and yet they are not trumpeting their successes or politicising them.

In Ghana today with high rates of poverty and unemployment, many are the people whose children have no dream of accessing quality education due to poverty. Many are the people who cannot access quality health care due to the same reason. Is access to quality education a right or a privilege? Why do we have a parallel situation of one type of quality education for the minority rich and another type of inferior education for the majority poor? Such a scenario leads to perpetuation of class struggle, and a recipe for revolution.

Is it selective social marginalisation engineering or political malfeasance? What future does this scenario hold for our dear country Ghana? Where are the patriots? Where do we stand as a nation where every Tom, Dick, and Harry now believes that being dishonest, mischievous and Machiavellian is the norm because the end justifies the means, and not the other way round?

What values are our students acquiring from schools, and from the national psyche? What sort of education are our students receiving these days? What moral or immoral lessons are they taking from our leaders? What kind of leaders will they be when their time comes? Why is everybody in a mad rush for power, material wealth, and vainglory? Can we start teaching moral philosophy, psychology, mythology, literature, civic education, and religious tenets in our schools to halt the greedy, crazy, and avaricious trends?

Can we start taking measures and interventions to stop the rot and functional illiteracy in our schools? Can we stop dichotomisation and factionalism which are creeping their way imperceptibly into education? Don’t we need a unitary and functional educational system for national cohesion? These are the worries of a concerned citizen, and I hope thinking aloud, is thinking allowed.


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