41
Opinions Sun, 7 Jul 2013

Don't piss on the back of Cape Coast

& its districts and say it is raining!

‘Abeku went on to score an aggregate of 8 in his final BECE exam!...His first choice was Mfantsipim SHS. Mfantsipim SHS is less than seven km. from Amanful…‘From 1954 to 1957, [Kofi] Annan attended the elite Mfantsipim school, a Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast founded in the 1870s.’

On November 17 2011, Ama Benyiwa Doe, indefatigable Central Regional Minister, vowed on City News that she will fight for the 30% BECE Placement System in, Cape Coast, the Central Regional capital. Although she is no more the Regional Minister, it is my opinion that Ama Benyiwa Doe's stance was commendable.

The 30% BECE Placement System is an excellent policy. It has a long-term certainty to regenerate educational and cultural development in regional communities across Ghana. In so doing, it will ultimately encourage the localisation or retention of intellectual, vocational and entrepreneurial labour. This has an added advantage of speeding up Decentralisation and regional independence with all its attendant values. A National Development Programme must localise small to medium-scale industries in the regional districts and hinterlands.

The main reason Ama Benyiwa Doe gave for taking her combative stance is clear, unambiguous and progressive. She argued that the point of the system is to stimulate the development of districts in Ghana. Consequently it should be encouraged and not dismissed.

To start with, what is the meaning of the BECE Placement System? BECE is the acronym for, Basic Certificate Examination (BECE). The Placement System is a national computerised system, that automatically selects qualified Basic School Certificate Examination (BECE) candidates into Senior High School (SHS) or a technical institute.

Owing to the new government policy, 19,000 Basic School Certificate Examination (BECE) candidates have recently applied for the 30% quota for placement under the Computerised Schools Selection and Placement System (CSSPS).

In an earlier State of the Nation address, the late Pres. Mills had stated that the policy will select 30 per cent of successful BECE candidates for year one in Senior High School (SHS), within 10 miles of their communities. The President's rational was:

"Because the government had noted with concern the rate at which the computerised placement mechanism was blocking access to second-cycle education for pupils from basic schools in their catchment areas". (Source: Daily Graphic, posted on Myjoyonline.com, Education, Fri, 07 Oct 2011, http://www.modernghana.com/news/354797/1/19000-bece-candidates-apply-for-30-quota.html).

Ama Benyiwa Doe's stand interest's me intensely because I had questioned the efficacy of the old selection process on many occasions in the past. Perhaps the best way to explain myself is to give an experiential (anecdotal) account of my own battles to help develop community education in Ghana, starting with Cape Coast.

POVERTY AND EDUCATIONAL BACKWARDNESS On one of my regular vacation visits to Ghana a few years back, I experienced an Eureka moment that caused me to form an educational charity. It became obvious to me that people of Fetu - the seafront communities of Jajano, Amisa Akyir, Ayiden and Amanful in Cape Coast - experience serious social, cultural and educational under-development on a daily basis.

I saw twelve year old girls with babies. Youths roamed about aimlessly neither working nor schooling. Boys and girls disenfranchised themselves from the government's Free School scheme. There was a lot of street drama. Everything seems within reach and I myself was posited in the drama. Children danced carelessly and animatedly to laud, combinative popular music that cross-fired from remote sources. This went on till daybreak. The drama continues now.

Amidst the commotion, women with children on their backs carry weighty cooked dinners - anything from kokonte (face-the-wall) and palm soup, Fantsi Fantsi, kyenam, bread, cheese 'Blue Band' margarine and Amosima and Amanful dokun. Indistinct crowds of youth mass to-and-fro to nowhere. Suddenly the throng of people becomes an obstacle course for dangerous speeding bicycles that can only be braked by an instant display of circus acrobatics. The bicycle riders acrobatically curve their pair of feet backwards to throttle the back wheels to avert head-long crash!

EDUCATIONAL CHARITY My response to these surreal social phenomena was to organise informal classes, starting with eight children outside my family home. I later transformed this study idea into a registered educational charity: Resources for Education For African Development (READ). We studied under a powerful street light. Soon other children from unknown, disparate homes joined in. They were instructed to bring their math and English school textbooks, exercise books, pens and pencils to our ramshackle classroom. Grouped into ability streams, we revised specific topics which they needed explaining.

The star of this group was a boy called Abeku (real name withheld). Abeku went on to score an aggregate of 8 in his final BECE exam! (only 2 marks from the perfect score of 6) His first choice was Mfantsipim SHS. Mfantsipim SHS is less than seven km. from Amanful: ‘From 1954 to 1957, [Kofi] Annan attended the elite Mfantsipim school, a Methodist boarding school in Cape Coast founded in the 1870s. It seemed obvious to everyone that he was guaranteed a place in Ghana's premier SHS for boys.

Sadly, Abeku was informed by Mfanstipim SHS that he had not been accepted. With tears in her eyes his mother, who was struggling to raise four other children by herself, begged me to mentor Abeku - to resolve the matter at Mfantsipim SHS on her behalf. Abeku was her first and only son. His father was terminally ill indoors.

At Mfantsipim we checked the Admissions Notice Board. Abeku's name was not on the science list - his subject of choice. After over three hours we finally saw the Headteacher. He explained that year's intake of science students had been the highest. So they had to reject even students with grade 6. He added that Abeku could have been admitted if he had chosen arts subjects.

My late grandfather, Nana Tutu Dadzie 11, King of Amanful, had informed me of a previous undertaking made by Headteachers of Cape Coast SHSs to the Houses of Chiefs. They had promised to reserve a quota of admissions to talented local pupils. I reminded the Headteacher about this. He fudged his explanation. I argued for special consideration for Abeku's circumstances. He was from a very poor background I said, and had achieved grade 8 by studying under a street light, sometimes without food.

Although sympathetic, the Headteacher did not budge. He took my contact details and advised Abuku to accept his second choice, University of Cape Coast SHS (UCSHS). He said soothingly that Abeku reminded him of his own poor background in Axim. He was blessed to have gained admission to Mfantsipim as a boy; that UCSHS is a good school because he had taught there as a practicing teacher in the past. However, he promised to readmit Abeku to Mfantsipim if he topped his class at UCSHS. Of course Abeku was skeptical. He profusely complained all the way home. His complaints depressed me for two weeks!

The Abeku incident I believe occurred in the third year of Kufuor's NPP government. Starting from the list of names on Mfantsipim's Admissions Notice Board, I discerned a clear ethnocentric bias in favour of Asante-based candidates. If my skeptical observation is only marginally correct, there was a good chance the admissions bias was replicated in other top Cape Coast schools: Wesley Girls High, Holy Child, Ghana National, Adisadel College, St. Augustines, etc. This scenario was most devastating to both Abeku and myself.

The town centre of Cape Coast, Kotokuraba Market, is a town planner's nightmare. It looks drab, chaotic, dirty and congested. It is no better than a village market. Approaching it from the West (if one can gain access at all), a bus terminal flanked the right and top of the market. Behind the bus terminal goats, sheep and cows bleat and moo in cacophonous competition with vehicle horns. Kotokoraba's disparity in scenic beauty, compared to Roman Hill in Kumasi or the Ghana Theatre area of Accra, is glaringly depressing.

There are many other examples of bias in regional development that defy understanding. After three years the fishing industry in the coastal areas of Ghana is still awaiting the NDC government to accomplish its election promise to build landing sites. Economist, Sydney Casely-Hayford informs us this started under the NPP government, "It started with the NPP Government and we have re-budgeted for it three years in a row from 2009". (Looking Forward to a Forward Looking Budget, By Sydney Casely-Hayford, Posted by Business in Ghana, November 14, 2011). Sydney's explanation only confirms successive NDC and NPP governments have failed Cape Coast and Ghana's other regional capitals and districts.

UNFINISHED CAPITAL PROJECTS So what are the facts? Since the ouster of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah from power in 1966, successive governments have routinely proposed positive capital projects in the Central Region. Unfortunately they have not honoured their many promises (see: Development Projects Dot Cape Coast, General News of Monday, 18 April 2011, GNA, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=207147; Cape Coast ICT Park project gears up for take off, http://www.ghanabizmedia.com/ghanabizmedia/january-2011-ict/187-cape-coast-ict-park-project-gears-up-for-take-off.html), etc.

I say, therefore, that successive governments have been toying around with the development of the both the Central Regional capital, Cape Coast and it key district centre; that political ideologues must not piss on the back of Cape Coast and its districts and say it is raining!

Examples abound to justify my assertion above. All major regional capitals, except Cape Coast, have new sports stadiums for the January 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations: ‘The proposed renovation of the Cape Coast Stadium is still left hanging despite being captured in the 2010 budget. The Robert Mensah Stadium was originally planned as part of the massive football infrastructural development ahead of Ghana’s hosting of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations’ (Works on Cape Coast Stadium stalls for three years, Ghana Web,http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/SportsArchive/artikel.php?ID=223426).

The aggregate effect of the covert processes that has undermined Cape Coast's development has had devastating social and economic impact. Although trumpeted as the tourism capital of Ghana, the impression tourists will ultimately take home with them is a picture of abject poverty.

Cape Coast's communities lack social, cultural and educational centres. The negativedy social scenario I painted earlier is because community residents lack basic amenities that could dissipate their physical energies and also challenge their cognitive (intellectual) abilities.

ANALYSIS In a seminal article title, David Amoah and the Security Services, Prosper Yao Tsikata, exposes what he calls an "ethnic balance or quota" phenomenon in employment recruitment. He convincingly criticises this subterranean phenomenon in Ghanaian employment culture and argues sardonically,

"Ethnic balance or quota in the armed forces is one of such despicable measures exploited to its fullest by an administration with no shame whatsoever with regard to its effects on an occupation heavily dependent on comradeship and trust. If there could be ethnic balance in the armed forces, why not all sectors of the economy including even our educational institutions, so people do not have to work that hard, their ethnicity alone should be enough to guarantee them a good life". (Prosper Yao Tsikata, Feature Article of Tuesday, 5 November 2011, The Tragedies of African Democracies - XIV, The Unemployment Crisis: David Amoah and the Security Services, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=222911).

Tsikata's expose irrefutably draws a parallel between the under-employments of labeled ethnic groups, with long-time regional discrimination by 'ethnic-cleansing' political ideologues in Central government in Accra. Ultimately regional capitals particularly: Cape Coast, Koforidua, Sunyani, Tamale, Bolgatanga and Navrongo experience terminal underdevelopment. Accra and Kumasi retain their status as Regional fat-cats.

SOLUTION But the above regional injustices must change. The central pillar upon which economic and industrial development can begin in earnest in our periphery regions is Decentralisation. Beyond developing regional capitals, it is far more important for our economic planners to factor rural development into an expansive or far-reaching National Development Programme.

This comprehensive National Development Programme must localise (place industries in areas that abound or are conducive to increased production of specific commodities or items) small and medium-scale cooperative micro-industries in the hinterlands – crop farming, fish-pond fishing, poultry farming, snail and mushroom farming, sheanut cosmetic micro-industry, oven-baked brick making, handicraft making such as pottery, mat and basket making, blacksmithry, goldsmithry, palm and coconut oil extraction plants.

Commenting on the national budget at the time of going to press, Sydney Casely-Hayford offered practical solutions to the problem of poverty, out-migration from the rural areas to our regional capitals and regional underdevelopment. Also, his solution is Decentralisation. This he suggests will create jobs in regions and districts

"This translates into a decentralized policy, which we have legislated but not completely implemented since 1993. If the purposes of the budget is development and bring help to those who need it the most, each region and district in the country needs its own development. This is nothing new, except this time Government must create incentives to actually move the process on".

He suggests an innovative system of "Incentives" that can reward both entrepreneurial individuals and firms that stimulate districts:

"Incentives can reward individuals and companies alike and promote a reverse migration. Switzerland has six million people and is divided into twenty “cantons”, another name for development districts. The result is a fairly even distribution of the population and industry and no tendency towards the formation of excessive concentrations". (2012 Budget Missed The Point, by Sydney Casely-Hayford, Posted by Business in Ghana on November 20, 2011, http://thenewghanaian.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/2012-budget-missed-the-point/).

HIGH BECE FAILURE RATES Meanwhile the BECE selection system poses teething problems. Ghana Business News (GBN) reports that more than half of candidates failed to gain places in SHSs, "176,128 candidates, representing 46.93 per cent of the 375,280 candidates who sat for the 2011 BECE, met the criteria for selection and placement into SHSs and TIs. This implies that 53.07 per cent of the candidates failed to meet the criteria for placement" (GBN, Tuesday, September 27, 2011, http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2011/09/27/more-than-half-not-qualified-in-the-placement-of-bece-candidates/).

Critics of the BECE Placement Scheme will lick their lips over the high failure rates. They will be emboldened to insist on academic excellence over "politically correctness". Predictably a former Minister in the Kufuor administration, Dr. Kwaku Afriyie has been critical: "The 30% BECE Placement System discriminates against persons from other districts.’ He added, ‘admissions to Senior High Schools should be on an equal basis for all prospective candidates to access. Dr. Afriyie told Citi News that the system did not undergo serious analysis before implementation’ (http://news.peacefmonline.com/education/201111/79300.php).

But there are clear historical reasons for the massive 50% failure rate. Centralisation affects resources and location of teacher skills. The best teachers gravitate towards the regional capitals. Traditionally while Cape Coast has a historical head-start in having the most academically high-achieving SHS's, its BECE education under-achieves paradoxically. Many reasons can be posed. Some have argued that Cape Coast-based BECEs are notorious grounds for inexperienced teachers from University of Cape Coast, Ghana's premier teaching university, to cut their teeth.

BECEs are also victims of the effects of persistent Central Government bias that denies them needed educational resources. Lastly, the overall poverty level in Cape Coast must affect the study culture of its children. Other factors: drama of children dancing when they should be studying; studying under street light; poor children studying without three square meals, etc.

I am aware that it is not enough to simply advance plausible explanations for failure. I suggest the following. 1) The 30% BECE Placement Quota must be maintained. 2) The selection process must include the following variables: grade (values: 6-16 to the best schools; 17-30 plus interview to 2nd-choice schools); social background (value: the more extreme the poverty level, the lower the admission threshold - an aggregate 15 by a child that has studied under street light in a noisy neighbourhood, should be equivalent to say 7/8); quality of school (say 2 points must by allowed a child from a relatively poor school - an interview should address that child's potential to seize the opportunity of admission to excel at SHS); proximity (1-10 klm - 4 + aggregate points. 11-15 klm - 2); over-subscription (values: aggregate, age, poverty level, proximity, interview).

Dr K. Afriyie's criticism is predicated on discrimination. That is not a serious enough criticism when compared to the reasons Ama Benyiwa Doe advanced earlier, "The point of the system is to stimulate the development of districts in Ghana". Also Pres. Mills' reason is sounder, "Computerised placement mechanism was blocking access to second-cycle education for pupils from basic schools in their catchment areas".

The new BECE system stipulates only 30% BECE placement based on the above reasons. The lion's share of SHS places nationally (70%) is more than twice the 30%. Second the issue of discrimination will apply in all district communities. Therefore, there is no advantage or 'discrimination' in any one district over others.

Fourth any argument that Cape Coast schools are preponderantly better than others so they must be accessed 100% by all Ghanaians, is negative, stagnating and progressive. Schools are mere buildings. It is the quality of teachers that needs addressing. Ghana has had fifty four years to have addressed the question of the quality of nation-wide good-teacher distribution. Also there is no evidence to suggest ethnic advantages in teacher numbers there.

CONCLUSION The 30% BECE Placement Quota is very germane for regional and district intellectual, vocational and entrepreneurial regeneration. Ama Benyiwa Doe is correct in insisting on it. Instead of politicising or sulking over the supposed quality of Cape Coast SHSs over other SHSs in our regional capitals, teacher training institutes across Ghana must be funded to enhance their teaching of pedagogy and other teaching skills, knowledge and experience.

I will go further to suggest that the 30% BECE Placement Quota must not be the ultimate goal. Alongside it, the whole Mission Statement and philosophy of teaching must be reconfigured. "Teaching and Learning" should be the new buzz word.

Creativity and experimentation should take precedence over the old memory-based ("Chew-pure") forms of assessment. The government must increase the funding and resourcing of BECE and SHS education. BECE and SHS education must be imbedded with: placements/apprenticeships/visits to industries, farms, fishing harbours, airports, vehicle assembly plants, harbours, etc. Theory must be replaced by practice.

A comprehensive National Development Programme must be set up to localise small and medium-scale micro-industries in regional capitals and rural districts. This will help to retain labour in the districts and help de-congest Ghana's national and regional capitals. An incentive system must be introduced to reward individuals and firms that encourage decentralisation and district enterprises. The district localisation scheme must also be imbedded in the "Teaching and Learning" BECE and SHS education. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- BIO-DATA Kofi of Africa resides in Leeds, UK. He is currently a Director of, Resources for Education for African Development (READ), a UK-Ghana educational charity that offers accessible community education from primary to university level. He is a writer/educator who blogs avidly on Facebook and Blogspot. Mission statement: to examine and offer reasonable solutions to help address the poverty, ignorance and powerlessness of the Ghanaian/African poor.

He lectured, Media & Cultural Studies and Sociology (the University of Leeds, and Leeds Metropolitan University - 1992-07). He also worked variously as: Assistant Editor, Third World Book Review; freelance journalist (West Africa, Africa, Afrique Asie, etc), as Media Researcher (Campaign for Press Freedom); a Printer and Graphic Designer.

He was the 1985 Mohammed Maiga laureate in journalism for Africa (“Ghana’s Daughters in Lagos”, Feb.1985, Afrique Asie). He received the prize from the late, President Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Blog: brakofi.blogspot.com Mb phone: 0044 7943 969651 Email: kofi.of.africa@gmail.com

Columnist: Kofi of Africa