Opinions Sun, 1 Oct 2017

In defense of the old time religion

Whenever there is a hint of a debate regarding the best education system for Ghana, you are likely to see Kwame Sefa Kai springing to the defense of the hitherto General Certificate Examination, Ordinary and Advanced Levels (GCE O/A Levels) . The Chairman General of the airwaves remains an unrepentant disciple of the Old system. His argument is simply this: "I am what I am ,thanks to the education I received".

In trying to appreciate the regularity of this debate and the passion it generates one needs to realize that there was and there is. We had the old O/A levels constituting the secondary school sector of our educational system. Then, for whatever reason, it was supplanted with the WASCE system in the early 90s. In fact, the first batch of the WASCE students wrote the exam in 1995. I wrote my O/level exam in 1994. So, at least I was in the mix during the transition from the O/A levels to the WASCE.

What I understand by the Chairman General statement is that, if you take an average GCE/O level graduate and compare him with a WASCE graduate, the O/ level graduate would come out top. That is not to say that, there are no brilliant WASCE graduates around. Indeed, the debate is not about the quality of the SHS graduate, but the SHS system vis-a-vis the O/A levels.

Indeed, if the WASCE system was that effective, the graduates of this system would do wonders. Why is it that, a brilliant JHS graduate ends up being an average university graduate? I would confess that, there is no way I can compare myself to Adwoa Anafoah Wadie age to age. I sometimes marvel at the kind of knowledge at her disposal.

At basic school 1, she is able to read quite fluently and do arithmetic. She is at the moment learning twi and it is marvelous the way she is learning the dw, tw, nw etc thing in spite of my impatience when I teach her. So what would make a brilliant JHS Adwoa an average SHS Adwoa? It is certainly the SHS system which remains the weakest link in our educational structure.

Without mincing words, I would state that there are some very salient ingredients of the old system that are completely missing in the new system. First, the duration of the SHS system is seriously inadequate. It is 3 or 4 years depending on who is doing the tinkering. Given the same resources and equally same instructors, it would be foolhardy to expect the product of a 4 year education to exhibit the same quality of 7 years education. I had the opportunity to study government for seven years at the secondary level. The old system allowed us to have time to read novels at our own pleasure. After all, we had 5 years to prepare for the final examination. It is clear that whilst we were having time to read for pleasure, our SHS counterparts were under intense pressure to prepare for exam. They could not even play football like we were doing let alone progress to coach a team like I did at Amenfiman.

No wonder most of my SHS graduate friends would find this writeup too lengthy to read. The SHS system simply stifled the enthusiasm to read and it shows. Don't forget we still had the 2 years A/level waiting. Sweet lower! I read every single edition of the Daily Graphic, Ghanaian Times, Chronicle etc at that time. I bet if any SHS student would have that luxury of time to read.

Second, the structure of the SHS system is too straight jacketed to the extent that it opens that door of education too wide open or completely shut. How on earth do we allow students this one door opening to enter University?

With that old system, your performance at the O/level would determine whether you do your A/ level with the hope of going to the Uni. If you managed to go to they A/level bytes default, you would be found wanting at that level and straighthened up. Unfortunately, the new system does not possess the mechanism to sieve students to ensure that those that get to Uni are there on merit.

In the old system, examination questions were designed to develop the intellectual ability of students. Whilst there was the "describe, explain, state etc" at the O/level, there was the "discuss, critically analyze, do you agree?" types of questions at the A/level.

So you go to Uni with an already critical mind to debate issues raised by a topic. Unfortunately with the SHS, and attempt is being made to water down an already insipid questions.

In geography, I have seen questions like "1a) list five agents of erosion. 1b) mention four landforms produced by wind erosion. 1c) explain how two of the landsforms mentioned in 1b created." Clearly, the attempt is to train students to just recall. Maybe, marking of scripts is an issue now! Third. Indescipline! When I went home after my first term at Secondary School, myself parents detected a change in me; at least my hair was neatly cut. Even though mine was an O/ level school, you could not joke with discipline. The Snr was Snr!

On my first day at school as a day student, I was subjected to a beating by Snr Kwaah for no apparent reason. Then as a boarder, you dare not wake up after 5am. We did the weeding, scrubbing etc on our own. The Head and the rest of the teachers were only at Assembly on Mondays. Otherwise, all the teachers did was to teach. I have been saying that at the Secondary School, you gained independent at form 3 and republic at form four.

With the SHS, one gets to form one knowing next to nothing about cleaning. Then with the blink of an eye he Diaso independent. At year three he gains republic. How can this third year worthy supervise his juniors. "Okoto rewia, neba rewia,hwan na obegye ne nwonko tataa"? Eventually, these products take over as teachers and you cringe as you imagine how its end would be.

Not that I expect any immediate improvement in our educational fortunes- what with all this nonsense about 3 years 4 years debate and the rather ridiculous name changing going on- I hope pieces like this one would inspire some of you to do your best when you find yourself in any position within the educational structure. It could get worse!
Columnist: Paul Kwabena Wadie