Education and Learning: The paradigm shift needed for development

Minister For Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh File Photo: Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Minister of Education

Wed, 12 Aug 2020 Source: Michael A. Horlorku

Change is constant and a natural process of life. Almost everything around us changes, including, climate, technology, economy, political systems, demography, people, cultures, infrastructure, etc. The challenge is to make change progressive and make us better. For change to benefit us it must begin with our Education and Learning system.

The glaring systemic failures in advanced nations in the face of Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that we, developing countries, can no longer rely on developed foreign nations to shape the course of our development.

It is said that change is driven by one or all of the following catalysts - when people hurt so much they need to change, when they learn enough they are able to change and when they mature enough and outgrow their size they have to change (just as the wise serpent that occasionally sheds its old skin for a new one as it grows in size).

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented many opportunities for reflection on crucial development and sustainability of our nation. One such opportunity is education and learning.

Every aspect of development, be it human, economic, social, cultural, political, civic, technological, infrastructural, starts with education and learning. This may not necessarily be the education and learning that take place in the classroom or educational institutions, though they are crucial, but may come from informal setups, such as, learning from the experience of our own or other people’s decisions, actions or inactions, failures, mistakes, fears, false education and hurts. As almost all kinds of development, superstition, insecurity, social ill, greed, misappropriation, inadequacy all have their origin in the minds of humans, education and learning must aim at conditioning the minds of humans.

The formal education and learning system, however, has acquired the standard by which a nation and her citizens are measured and assessed through our academic institutions. As such, to a large extent, it is the role of our academic institutions to help mould the minds of the citizenry through imparting relevant knowledge. The key, therefore, is the relevance of material being delivered. What goes in is what comes out! Academic disciplines must aim to develop the power to think clearly, critically, logically, analytically, synthetically and scientifically.

When a famous and accomplished University of Ghana Alumni publicly declared that he would not employ a graduate from the same institution that awarded him three degrees, then it was high time we started questioning the very basis of our education system. It is certainly no longer feasible to have our academic institutions churn out graduates on theoretical and foreign concepts, devoid of the power of thinking required for our unique society, environments, cultures, belief systems and competitiveness at the world stage in our own rights. It is definitely time to change.

There are a number of reasons and benefits to ensure this change happens, some of which are:

1, Most of our academic institutions simply follow decades-long programmed education systems fashioned by our colonialists (Britain, France) and neo-colonialists (USA) on their models. These are not necessarily tailored to our own unique needs and circumstances.

2, Some of our education systems are designed in a way as to promote subservience to our colonial masters. For instance, some academic programmes run by the University of Ghana, Legon, require that students’ degree exam papers be certified and approved by some lecturer from a foreign University, described as, ‘External Examiner’ to become recognised as graduates. Some of these external examiners may probably not have the in-depth or expert knowledge of the unique Ghanaian and African contexts. An education system tailored to address the unique challenges of Ghana and Africa will probably eliminate the need for this process. Moreover, it costs our institutions time and money to temporarily import these ‘specialised’ external examiners to Ghana to read papers and authenticate degrees. That is not sustainable.

3, Moreover, the current education systems fail to prepare our students and graduates for the unique African challenges. Many of the graduates produced by our academic institutions become unemployed, waiting for someone or business to employ them, because the education programmes have not equipped them sufficiently with the creative and innovative thinking skills to stand on their own feet. Around the world, some of today’s inventors whose works we consume daily did not even complete university (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, WhatsApp were founded by students or university dropouts).

4, Appropriately tailored Afro-centric or Ghana-centric education could help stop the perpetual brain drain of Africa’s talents. Such graduates are more likely to remain in Africa and employ their knowledge for the benefit of Africa’s development. Currently, some of our talented graduates feel more suited to and comfortable with practising their knowledge abroad (Europe, USA, Canada), simply because they have been programmed in such a way that their knowledge is probably best-suited for these foreign developed countries than for our own African countries.

5, Meanwhile, millions USA dollars or British Pound Sterling get consistently spent on some talented Ghanaians on graduate studies abroad at the taxpayer’s expense. Some return to Ghana and find themselves unable to apply their acquired knowledge to the practical situations on the ground. Out of frustration, some choose to remain or return abroad where their expertise could be put to better use and better appreciated. Being a Harvard or Oxford University-trained lawyer only makes you a specialist in USA law or British law, respectively, strictly speaking.

6, Furthermore, developing and tailoring education system that is Afrocentric could also help eliminate situations of inferiority/superiority complexes and unhealthy competition between foreign and home educated graduates. The foreign-trained graduate would have no advantage over a home-grown graduate (except speaking ‘big’ and polished English or French”).

7, Last, but not least, the current system creates a tendency of corruption. It recently came to light that the GET Fund that was established to benefit deserving, but financially incapacitated students, ended up benefitting already overqualified and privileged personalities on programmes abroad, costing the nation as much as £70,000.00 per year, per beneficiary, in some cases. No evaluation has yet been published on the actual benefits of these participants’ acquired knowledge from abroad brought to Ghana.

The time has come for Ghana to undertake a serious review of the entire education system that prepares Ghanaians for Ghanaian needs and circumstances. This is especially crucial in the face of the current Covid-19 pandemic which has forced nations around the world to look inwards for creativity and innovation to tackle some aspects of the pandemic, and where most of the developed countries we aim to emulate have failed abysmally.

Of course, change doesn’t always happen smoothly. There are going to be those who, for some selfish reasons, such as, pride, status, personal benefits and corruption, would like to have the status quo maintained. Some powerful personalities may already have their children and family members lined up to take advantage of the corrupt and ineffective culture they have inherited, and which has given them prestige and claims to superiority and fame over their peers. I call them the dinosaurs. Even they too shall eventually perish in the face of purposeful progress!

Columnist: Michael A. Horlorku