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Opinions Sun, 15 Dec 2013

Is President Mahama a Northerner

By Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

As a former student of President Mahama and an old student of Ghana Secondary School Tamale, I was very surprised to read Mr. Akilu Sayibu’s piece on 10 December 2013. The writer raised both subjective and policy issues, which I intend to comment on.

The first issue is the uninformed accusation that President Mahama, as an old student, has neglected Ghana Secondary School. Perhaps Mr Akilu Sayibu has not bothered to ask other old students what President Mahama has done for the school over the years.

As far I remember, President Mahama started his contribution to the school when he, along with other old students, came back to teach in the early 1980s. That was a time when secondary schools in northern Ghana experienced extreme difficulties with regard to recruiting capable/qualified teachers. During this time at Ghanasco, President Mahama and the other old students saved us from potential academic disaster. And he (Mahama) made a great contribution to teaching and other extra curricular activities such as coaching our debate team. I was the lead debater for Ghanasco at the time and I remember very well President Mahama and two other teachers, including Mr. Dawuda Alhassan taking time to coach us to win inter-school debating competitions. Our most formidable opponents from Tamasco included Dr. Mahamud Bawumia (NPP Vice presidential candidate, 2012) and I think Dr. Bawumia will remember those days as well.

Over the decades, several old students including the President have contributed educational materials and supported Ghanasco to protect and enhance its resources. More recently the President and the First Lady (both old students) presented computers and other educational materials to the school. These represent irrefutable evidence that the President is one of few old students who have been dedicated to raising the quality of learning in the school.

It is important to note that improving the quality of the roads in the school is purely the responsibility of the Ghana Government and not an old student who happens to be president. It is therefore quite strange that Mr. Akilu Sayibu expects President Mahama to repair the roads in the school as a sign that he cares about the school.

My Second point is about the policy decision relating to the scrapping of the Teacher Training College allowances. I want to observe here that the President, as the head of Government does not make unilateral policy decisions for the government, but listens to the informed propositions of all organs government. And this policy decision is based on sound advice.

My personal opinion is that the Teacher Training College allowances have outlived their usefulness. The main reason for instituting the allowances was to increase participation in teacher training at a time when schools in the entire country were unacceptably starved of qualified teachers. Over the years, the allowances have performed that role, but it is also clear that the policy has been abused. Many teacher trainees who have received those allowances usually leave the teaching field immediately after their training, thus defeating the Government’s purpose for instituting the allowances.

The tendency on the part of newly trained teachers to start looking for jobs outside of teaching even before they graduate, is supported by both anecdotal and research reports. I taught at the Teachers College in Tamale in the 1990s and I know this very well.

As an educational researcher who has thought about our education system, I believe that no government should fail to act when it is obvious that the teachers don't stay in the system, and the Ghana Education Service is still relying on pupil teachers to fill the vacancies created by the deserting teachers. Being aware that spending money in this way is outrageously stupid, the Mahama Government would have done Ghana a disservice if it failed to take this decisive action. Mr Akilu Sayibu should note that despite Ghana increasing educational spending to 10% of GDP, many areas of the education system are still starved of resources. As we can all see, this policy decision is not about poverty in northern Ghana. Rather, it is about making sound decisions about how best to spend taxpayers’ money on prospective teachers who are not willing to or are unlikely to support the drive towards quality education in Ghana. There is no doubt that in my mind that policies that equalise educational opportunity are important. And I believe that such policies are integral to the visions of a social democratic political party like the NDC. But in this case, we are not necessarily equalising opportunity when people abuse the system in such a massive way.

The third issue mentioned in the article is the failure of SADA. As a Ghanaian from the north, I am also not happy about SADA’s achievement so far, but it is out of place to accuse President Mahama of neglect. SADA is a project hinged on a vision of total national development and we need to remember that President Mahama is one the architects / champions of SADA. He will therefore be one of the last people to rejoice at SADA’s failure. Again I find it strange that Mr Akilu Sayibu blames President Mahama for not allocating more funds to SADA, without a deep assessment of the situation as hand.

There have been many reports recently about problems in SADA, but I personally believe that those at SADA have tried their best to implement useful projects. I also believe that despite all that has been said about SADA, those at the helm are frustrated by the failures of some of their well-intentioned projects such as the guinea fowl, tree planting, etc. In any case, what is obvious is that things have not panned out well. On the basis of these, it will be unwise for the Mahama Government to approve more money without a rethink of what strategies should be put in place to allow SADA to march more effectively towards achieving it goals. In essence, why blame the president, when it is obvious that no government will put more money into an entity unless it delivering prescribed outcomes. I wonder whether Mr. Akilu Sayibu has thought of this issue in this way.

I decided to write this article in order to divorce the policy issues outlined by Mr. Akilu Sayibu from the personal blame on President Mahama, which I see as purely politically motivated. Total national development can only occur when governments make sound decisions that enhance progress within a frame of judicious use of national resources and social justice. The policy decisions of the Mahama Government in respect of the two issues align with these principles and anyone who blames the government in this case has only refused to see the obvious.

Dr Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

(University of New England, Australia & CEVS-Ghana, Tamale)

Author: Re-thinking Values in Africa: For Collective Wellbeing, Amazon Books

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa