‘Beyond the return’ can we rethink education at our public SHS?

Tue, 7 Jan 2020 Source: Kojo Darko Sakyi-Gyinae

For a lot of Ghanaians home and abroad, there was no better time to be truly proud as Ghanaian than in the year 2019. This was because of the ‘year of return’, a government initiative to invite many people of African descent living in the Diaspora to return home and reconnect with their roots 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in the United States.

The initiative enjoyed massive global attention and coverage on some the world’s renowned media platforms culminating in people of different color visiting our country. The economic benefits coupled with it general success is what has triggered president Nana Akufo-Addo to launch ‘Beyond the return’ another initiative to buildup on the successes of ‘year of return’.

As we continue to showcase Ghana to the world even ‘beyond the return’, would we be proud enough to showcase our education especially public senior high school education to the rest of the world?

In a recent attempt to showcase our education to the world, winners of the 2018 edition of the National Science and Maths Quiz, made a trip to Portugal to compete with other science students and they clearly showed their theoretical advantage over their Portuguese colleagues but were hugely exposed in practicals.

On their arrival the three contestants from St. Peters SHS, Oteng Kwadwo Frimpong, Fenny Benjamin and Kissi Annoh Kwaku, made a passionate appeal to President Nana Akufo-Addo, to as a matter of urgency, provide resources to the country’s science-focused secondary schools to make teaching of sciences more practical than it current theoretical nature.

‘They are the best and the brightest, and yet something is wrong with their education because they’re not able to translate all those theories, wonderful ideas and foundation into useful outcomes,” Quiz mistress Dr. Effah Kaufmann also lamented when she appeared as a guest on the KSM Show.

Along the indelible emotional effect of slavery also came the introduction of formal education in our country. Many of Ghana’s best public senior high schools like Mfantsipim, St Augustine’s Colloge, Wesley Girls, Holy child, Adisadel and the rest are all mission schools built during the colonial era. These school over the years have provided excellent and quality education to meet the human resource of this country. Many of our successful citizenry are products of these intuitions.

With the introduction of free SHS, Ghana just like Latin America, have made huge improvements in access to education but quality and performance still lags. In other jurisdictions where high-equity and successful education systems have been created, 15 years old young people are performing at a high standard with smaller gaps in the differences in performance of higher income and lower income students.

Elsewhere, Instructional systems have been designed to provide young people with high level skills which make them a good fit for their first good job. We cannot say same of our public senior high school education system. It’s time our educational leaders radically rethink our educational goals which also means rethinking strategies for achieving those goals. How can we build a highly effective and coherent system to meet the labor market changes that have been occurring due to technological change and globalization? How can we build an education system that is not stand still and very oriented towards continued evolution? How can we get products of our public SHS performing at high standards?

Last year, two viral videos of final year SHS and JHS students pouring libation and incarnations ahead of their WASSCE and BECE exams surfaced on social media. In both videos, the students were seen asking for help from the ‘gods’ to pass their final exams especially science.

In the videos, the students questioned the relevance of the many difficult scientific theories and equations taught at school. Playfully they asked ‘are we learning all these because we want to be gainfully employed after school’? As funny as the videos were, it indirectly questioned the ‘relevance’ of our education.

This is the 21st century, full of inventions, innovation and a globalized world. In 1901 traffic in New York was horse-based, then cars took over in the 90’s and 2000’s .Now, it’s predicted that by 2030, self-driven cars will dominate. That is how fast the world keeps evolving every day. In Ghana we have seen how technology has transformed the transportation sector with the influx transports apps such as Uber, Yango, Bolt etc.

This is a new world where we are at the mercy of inventions and innovations and this won’t go away, at least for the next 20 years. It is therefore difficult to look students in the eye and tell them, they must learn particular equations and definitions by heart, when it patently bears little relationship to the algorithms running their world.

There are a range of new knowledge domains that many people today see as relevant, but which only peripherally appear in our schools. Think about IT (not distributing laptops and computers) - coding, software development, creative thinking and entrepreneurship, social media and digital marketing etc.

Look at how the NPP government is digitizing our economy. Learning needs to be re-oriented to take in more of these disciplines relevant to the 21st century even if that involves setting aside some other parts of knowledge taught at our senior high schools for years. While students want relevance, there are many other stakeholders with reason to resist change. Parents, confused, refer to their own experience and demand more of they already know.

Policymakers are hesitant, having been burned many times by attempted system overhauls that have not delivered as promised. And teachers are often conservative about curriculum change, facing enough challenges already in delivering on existing standards. We must study features of other Jurisdictions with high-excellence, high-equity systems and figure out what problems our educational system must solve and in consultation with stakeholders embark on a curriculum redesign aligned with our needs and build an instructional system and pedagogies which will produce high performing students.

According to Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, preparing students for a changed economy is not the only goal of education. At a 2016 Global Education Leaders? Partnership Symposium, the American pointed out that students must know the importance of citizenship and moral goals. Students need to gain the knowledge and experiences to understand that freedom and liberty are precious and fragile.

They need to understand what it has taken to develop liberty, and be able to debate what it takes to protect it. Alongside this, students need to develop respect for and the ability to be rational actors: to separate real evidence from emotion and foolishness and have capacity to analyze all evidence in front of them. They need the opportunities to develop a strong moral compass: to ‘know the difference between good and evil.’ They need, meanwhile, to remain empathetic, informed about diverse viewpoints, and tolerant.

Columnist: Kojo Darko Sakyi-Gyinae
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