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Curriculum Reform of Secondary Education in Ghana – Way Forward from 2013 – Part 4
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
13th April 2012
Current Structure of Junior High School Curriculum
The Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) examines students in 10 subject areas namely: Mathematics, English, Social Studies, Integrated Science, Agriculture, a Ghanaian Language, Religious and Moral Education, French, ICT and Pre-technical (comprising Basic Design, Home Economics, Visual Arts, Pre-technical). This is a load of subjects for children aged between 12 and 15 years. I remember when we were in school up to 1966, we used to have the following subjects: English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Bible Knowledge, PE, Music, Civics, Art, Craft, Hygiene and Nature Study. However, we were not externally examined in all of them. The Middle School Leaving Certificate Examinations examined only in the subjects English, Mathematics, History and Geography. Thus, our kids these days have an uphill task passing the BECE. The last MSLC examination was held in 1990 and the JSS started in 1987, so the first BECE was also held in 1990.
Recommendations on JHS
I will recommend that the subject Entrepreneurship be added to the BECE syllabus because we want graduates who create employment and not those who want to be employed. I will also recommend that Music be added to their subjects. However, if it is possible, the kids should be given the choice to focus on writing examinations in a minimum of 8 subjects, so that only those who are more capable can opt to write in all 10 subjects. After all, in the former O Levels, tertiary institutions required credits in 6 subjects, including English, Mathematics and a Science subject. It is unfair for our present crop of students to be examined in a myriad of subjects. The ratio of internal and external assessment should also be reviewed downwards to have it balanced, because some teachers cook the books in the internal assessment grades.
Current Structure of SHS (Senior High School)
Science - Biology, Physics, Chemistry
Mathematics - Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus I, Calculus II
English, Physical Education, Social Studies
Electives: General Arts I (Economics, Geography, French)
General Arts II (Literature, History, French, Trigonometry, Pre-
Agriculture (Chemistry, Physics, Agricultural Science, Calculus I and II
Business (Accounts, Business Management, Calculus I and II)
Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Calculus I and II)
Recommendations on SHS
I will recommend massive changes to the SHS curricula. Having spent 42 years in the teaching profession, and having been exposed to a wide variety of global trends, I think I have a say in this matter, which is very dear to my heart. Our SHS curricula as it stands now, will still make our students bookish and unemployable. We should endeavour to make our SHS programme self-contained, practical, sharply focused and to some extent, terminal. After completing SHS, some students should be able to go straight to either industry to practise or they should be able to set up their own start-ups, after earning a high school diploma, which will be internationally recognised. To this end, some of the courses have to be affiliated to and accredited to some external professional institutions. In this regard, the SHS system should be operated for 4 years instead of 3 years. The first year should be a foundational course in Ethics, Theory of Knowledge, Ghanaian Studies, General Paper, Mathematics, and a Ghanaian Language, with English for Communication. The remaining 3 years of the SHS should comprise subjects picked from 6 groups outlined below:-
Group A (Languages) Group B (Mathematics)
- English Literature Fante - Statistics
- French Twi - Higher Mathematics/Further Mathematics
- Spanish Ewe - Additional Mathematics
- Chinese Ga
- Swahili Nzema
- Arabic Dagbani
Group C (Business) Group D (Humanities)
- Economics - History
- Accounting - Geography
- ICT - Sociology -Law
- Business Management - Government
- Tourism - Development Studies
- Events Management
- Business Communications
Group E (Natural Sciences) Group F (Vocational & Creative Arts)
- Physics - Drama
- Chemistry - Fine Arts
- Biology - Sports Management
- Food Science/Home Economics - Design
- Agriculture - Horticulture
- Beauty Care
- Interior Design
- Technical Drawing
Group G ( Compulsory)
- Business Plan/Extended Essay
- Community Service
- Industrial Attachment
My proposal is premised on the Pestalozzi principle of education touching the heads, hands and hearts of students. Our educational system should be fashioned to make our students engage in critical thinking about the decisions they make, which must be informed by taking courses in Ethics, Theory of Knowledge and Moral Education. They should be able to draw inferences through inductive and deductive logic, and be able to examine the validity of statements made. They should be taught to think outside the box and be problem-solvers. They should also be creative and useful with their hands in practical subjects such as agriculture, music, design, fine arts, horticulture, sports, among others. We should also educate our children to have passion for aesthetics such as literature, drama, poetry, music, dance and sports. It will be very encouraging to have our students learn a lot about Ghanaian cultures, heritage, history and values through Ghanaian Studies. The students should be encouraged to pick at least a subject each from the six groups which I have outlined above, in order to offer them a broad-based education which is holistic and comprehensive. Each student could have a focus on one of the first six groups and pick electives from the focal group. Group G is project work which should be compulsory for all graduating students. If they make bankable business plans or proposals, then school authorities and outside agents should assist the students to access soft loans for them to live their dreams. In Group G, the students will be encouraged to undertake some form of corporate social responsibility by undertaking projects in their communities to earn some community service hours. They could be taught how to fund raise for implementing projects. Also, students will be encouraged to undertake industrial attachment in organisations to gain some hands-on experience before they graduate in their various disciplines. Students in their final year should write a minimum of 8 and maximum of 10 subjects.
These subject groupings will offer a wide variety of both vocational and academic courses to students to select from. It will also meet the labour market needs as well as global demand for all-round students. Each student should pick one foreign language. The groupings will also ensure that when students graduate, they already know their job fields and therefore many may opt to go to work, instead of rushing to university. Many may opt to go to polytechnics to top up so that later, they can undertake online or distance-learning degree programmes. This will greatly relieve pressure on the universities. It is hoped that my humble proposals will add value to our ailing secondary school educational system. I will suggest that our SHS schools should form networks and synergies by sharing resources. For example, where a particular course has no teacher, arrangements could be made to transport students to nearby schools where there is a teacher or the teacher could be encouraged to offer part time lectures. By the students undertaking coursework or a mini business plan, they will be adding another dimension to their practical skills, as they will help identify problems and assist in offering solutions. We should aim at making our secondary school education interesting, challenging, practical, flexible, broad, market-oriented and with a national focus and flavour. We should make the system flexible, accommodative, inclusive and results-oriented. Our educational system should not waste human resources through unnecessary attrition, as no one should be left behind in our nation building effort. Gone are the days when we thought a person was clever or smart if he or she swotted and passed written exams.
Local and Global Perspectives
According to statistics obtained from websites, in 1984/85, 7900 students in Ghana were enrolled in the universities. In the first 6 grades of the education system, 45% were girls. At the secondary school level, girls formed 33%, and in the polytechnics, they constituted 27%, while in the universities they were 19%. I think this gender imbalance is vigorously being closed up through interventions by our government and some NGOs who thankfully are providing support to girls to stay on in school. Before the JSS was introduced in Ghana in 1987, it was observed that it took the average Ghanaian 20 years to complete his education up to the university level. Statistics available online indicate that by 2007, Ghana had 12,630 primary schools, 5,450 JSS and 503 SSS. There were 38 teacher training colleges or colleges of education and 18 technical institutions, including the polytechnics. I think we need to establish not les than 50 additional colleges of education in the country to produce enough teachers for our teeming numbers in the second cycle institutions. We need to break the jinx of the ‘cyto’ or cyborg schools which are churning out vast numbers of students who can hardly read or write. Of enrolment, there were 1.3 million pupils in primary schools, 107,600 children in JHS, 48,900 in SHS, and 21,280 students in the technical schools. There were 11,300 teacher trainees and 5,600 in the universities.
It is on record that the last Advanced Level examinations were held in 1996, and the last Ordinary Level exams were in 1994. In the 1990-91 academic year, there were 1.8 million pupils in 9,300 primary schools throughout Ghana, with 609,000 students in 5,200 JSS schools, and 200,000 students in 250 senior secondary schools. A year earlier in the 1989-90 academic year, there were 26 polytechnics with 11,500 students. Down memory lane, in 1960, of the 145,400 pupils who completed middle school, 14,000 of them sought secondary education, a percentage of 9.7. Ten years later in 1970, there were 424,500 who completed middle school, and only 9300 went on to secondary school, representing 2.2%. In the 1984-85 academic year, of the 1.8million who completed middle school, only 125,600 continued to secondary school, a paltry percentage of 7%. A further 20,000 pupils entered vocational and technical institutions. These statistics clearly showed that the human attrition rates were high as our second cycle institutions could not cope with demands for placement. Hence, the introduction of the JSS and SSS in 1987. Our current JHS and SHS system is dubbed 6-3-4-4, meaning 6 years primary education, 3 years junior secondary, 4 years senior secondary and 4 years undergraduate (university). I will propose that we abridge this to a 6-3-4-3 system, by ensuring that we strengthen the SHS level by having top quality education delivery. It is estimated that currently (2010), over 280,000 students take the BECE exam in 9 or 10 students, out of which about 70,000 or 25% can be admitted to the 503 SHS schools. The website of the US Embassy in Ghana reports that the top schools in Ghana which get their students admitted to Ivy League universities in the United States are Mfantsipim, Achimota, Wesley Girls High School, Holy Child, St Augustine, Prempeh College and Presbyterian Boys High School. The leading private schools which also get their students into top US universities are Ghana International School (GIS) which offers A Levels, Lincoln Community School (IB programme), Tema International School and SOS Herman Gmeiner International College.
The Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) was offered from 1990 up to 2005, when it was replaced by the West African Secondary School Certificate of Education (WASSCE) in 2006. It is observed that fewer than 3% grades are As and 40% of those who sit WASSCE, fail the exams. Assuming 70,000 sit the WASSCE exams, it means 42,000 pass to the tertiary institutions. What happens to the 28,000 students who do not pass? Even the 42,000 who pass the exams, it is doubtful whether our existing 7 public universities and 21 private universities have capacity to absorb all of them. This is why I am making the proposal to change the curriculum to make it terminal, self-contained and practical. The minimum grade in the WASSCE exam to enter university is C, though passes range from A to E. An A is 80% or above. Of course, there are 10 HND polytechnics in Ghana which can absorb some of the WASSCE graduates. It is estimated that currently there are about 100,000 students in the universities.
• Establish more colleges of education to produce adequate numbers of teachers, and to provide avenues for SHS graduates who do not gain admission to universities.
• Tighten up the supervision and inspectorate division of the Ministry of Education to ensure that quality standards are adhered to in terms of infrastructure, laboratory equipment, teacher-pupil ratios, among others.
• Encourage opening of night schools and Academic Production Units (APUs) to extend secondary education to those who cannot attend the mainstream full-time programmes.
• In view of the massification of secondary education, we can use ICT interventions to obviate and circumvent the shortage of teachers and textbooks.
• Encourage more Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives to actively involve the business communities and other non-profit organizations in education service delivery country-wide.
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