Managing the Current Educational Crisis at the Basic Level

Sun, 3 Jun 2012 Source: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku

– Katakyie’s Perspective

There is no doubt that quality formal education has a direct correlation with human empowerment and socio-economic development of a nation, hence the seriousness on the part of any government to educate its citizenry. Ghana’s educational structure is made up of three distinct levels namely the basic, the secondary, and the tertiary. The basic education comprises the kindergarten, primary, and junior high schools. The secondary level is made up of the senior high, technical, or vocational education. The tertiary education has the universities, the polytechnics, colleges of education (formerly teacher training colleges), among others. In Ghana and in many other countries, basic education arguably provides the foundation for higher levels of education. However, for those who do not continue to higher education it provides the basis for work-related skills.

It is an undeniable fact that successive governments have committed substantial part of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards education, especially at the basic level with the view to increasing access and improving quality. For instance, the Kufuor-led NPP administration put up 5,164 kindergarten blocks, 1,331 primary school blocks, and 1334 junior high school blocks to beef up the infrastructure at the basic level of education. In addition, the government introduced the capitation grant (fee-free policy), the school feeding programme, the metro mass transit, the “Baah-Wiredu One Laptop per Child”, free textbooks, and other teaching/learning materials to improve education at the basic level. The upgrading of the 38 public teacher training colleges into Diploma Awarding Institutions, the Distance Education programme for teachers, the introduction of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in 19 out of the 38 colleges of education, and the single spine salary structure were all meant to improve not only the professional competency of teachers, but also to improve their conditions of service.

However, in spite of the financial resources and numerous interventions put up by successive governments, the challenges confronting basic education seem far from over. Evidence from the media recently reveals that 64% of pupils at the basic level cannot read and write. It has also been reported by the Ghana Education Service (GES) that Ghana has a 60,000 teacher deficit at the basic level with over 80,000 as pupil teachers filling the classrooms. Whilst 38 public colleges of education have the capacity to produce only 9,000 teachers on annual basis, 18,000 practicing teachers apply for study leave annually though only 5,000 of such applications are authorized by the GES. It is also estimated that at least 20% of the 9,000 teachers who come out from the colleges of education fail to take up their appointments because educational institutions face a stiff competition from the banking and private sectors.

According to the ruling party, over 4,000 pupils still study under trees and efforts are being made to eliminate these trees with better structures. As to how many years it will take the NDC to accomplish this task, nobody knows. Class sizes are still large with an average of 50 pupils per class and this is attributable to inadequate classrooms and teachers. With over 80% of basic schools without access to the internet, one would assume that ICT should not be an examinable subject for all pupils but surprisingly that is not the case. Whilst in-service training for teachers is not forthcoming due to financial constraints, instructional hours are frequently misused by our teachers because proper supervision is negligible. Teacher demonstrations and strike actions have become the order of the day because of poor conditions of service and low wages. And with the introduction of the single spine salary structure, it was expected that teacher agitations and spraying of hot water on our noble teachers would be a thing of the past. However, the Ghanaian teacher is very upset because his salary is far below the police officer whose training lasted for only 6 months. The least said about the curriculum, the better because our educational system is geared towards the training of the cognitive domain of the child (too scholastic/academic).

In addition to the above challenges, it is apparent that most teachers do not vary their teaching methods and as a result teaching and learning have been centred on the teacher at the expense of the learner. Too much emphasis has been placed on examinations to the detriment of our children. With the curriculum being overloaded with nine (9) subjects, it would be only ideal that relevant textbooks would be forthcoming but this is not case in our basic schools. Little attention is given to science, technical and vocational subjects because specialized teachers in these subjects are not adequate. Parental control at home is absent and most families find it difficult to provide the educational needs of their wards due to high poverty levels. There is still gender inequality and the concept of inclusive education is given little attention. The pupils themselves do not take their studies seriously because guidance and counseling at the basic level is very weak. The Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and School Management Committees (SMCs) have turned into revenue collection agents, exploiting parents instead of providing effective collaboration or partnerships with schools to improve academic standards.

A combination of the above factors has resulted in the low standards of education at the basic level and therefore the failure of over 180,000 pupils at the 2011 BECE should not have come as a surprise. Interestingly, when given the opportunity to address people on the benefits of education, major players in the education sector, especially policy makers would rattle; “Education is the route to economic prosperity; it is the key to scientific and technological advancement, the means to combat unemployment, the foundation for social equity, the spread of political socialization, and cultural vitality, among others”. This has been the rhetoric of politicians, educationists, technocrats, and professionals, yet little action has been seen from their rhetorics. The question that comes to mind is; does the government lack the financial resources, the intellect, or the political will to deal with the above-stated problems once and for all? Admittedly, whilst progress has been made in increasing the number of children enrolled in basic schools in Ghana, there are still many more who are not enrolled and who do not complete due largely to poverty. Though increasing access could be a means of reducing illiteracy level in the country, it does not necessary translate into quality education that we all yearn for.

Given the state of education at the basic level as enumerated above, the government should as a matter of urgency, take steps to address two issues that negatively affect basic education. These are teacher welfare and the educational curriculum. A critical observation of the basic school curriculum shows that enough opportunities have not been created to identify, harness and more importantly maximize the talents and potentials of individual children for national development. In his recent lecture on the “State of Ghana’s Economy”, Dr. Bawumia had this to say; “We have to build a country in which none will be denied the opportunities for maximising his/her God-given potential”. Dr. Bawumia’s assertion was in support of the fact that, over reliance on external examination, in this sense, the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) should not determine the destiny of millions of our pupils. It is completely wrong for Ghana’s education system to continue to thrive on the traditional view of intelligence; where the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) has been used by our teachers as a measure of aptitude for academic achievement. This is totally unacceptable because it has resulted in the total neglect of children whose IQ are below average. The system has portrayed intelligence as a single entity and I see this as a major defect in Ghana’s educational system. Why should pupils who cannot cope with such IQ tests get dismissed, or repeated in class, and end up as school drop-outs? Are we saying those children are deficient in other areas, or they don’t matter at all as humans?

If the answer to the above question is no, then it is imperative for the government to make reforms in the education sector to make it more relevant. Ghana needs solutions to her poor sanitation, unemployment, food and energy crises. The country needs to develop its rich human resource to fight corruption, minimize social vices, embark on massive industrialization, and add value to its products. This could be done by widening the professional net to encompass others who make huge contributions to the country’s economy - the designers, footballers, athletes, traders, businessmen, farmers, cobblers, among others. It must be noted that in real life situations, it is impossible for everybody’s aspirations to be met. It is not everybody who could aspire to be a lawyer, or an engineer irrespective of the opportunity that might be at his or her disposal. Fashioning out an educational policy to cater for drivers, painters, traders, musicians, comedians etc, by expanding the traditional notion based on IQ testing to account for a broader range of human potential, that is, the affective and psychomotor domains of the individual could address the unemployment problem of the youth.

Regrettably, in this 21st century our educational system has not taken advantage of educational theories propounded by educational psychologists such as Gardner, Sternberg, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Rousseau; though some of these theories reflect on individual differences - ways of thinking, behaviour, capabilities and abilities. For instance, Gardner (1993), argues that every individual possesses at least one of the following intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinaesthetic, Musical-Rhythmetic, Visual/Spatial, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Naturalist intelligence. In many developed countries, including the UK, Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been incorporated in their educational systems and the results are there for all to see. China, Korea, Brazil, Japan etc have maximized Gardner’s linguistic intelligence by maintaining their native language as the official language. Sadly in Ghana, none of the over 46 spoken languages has been considered to be used as the official language all because of inferiority complex and tribalism. English Language is still the medium of instruction in our educational institutions and the havoc caused by this particular policy to many pupils cannot be recounted. Why should a child’s inability to speak or write a foreign language be a barrier to his/her education? Why should a foreign language determine my child’s future, if I may ask?

For Ghana to join the ranks of developed nations, it would be ideal for the nation make use of Gardner’s logical-mathematical intelligence by identifying the exceptionally gifted pupils in schools, train them in such areas as science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other science-related subjects. In this way we can have more scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and other technocrats to manufacture some of our imported commodities. Although people esteem the highly articulate or logical individual in the Ghanaian culture, there is a need to give equal attention to individuals who show gifts in other intelligences, such as the footballers, the athletes, designers, and dancers who enrich the world. This is the development of the psychomotor domain of the child and Gardner refers to this talent as bodily-kinesthetic. Teachers can engage the services of resource persons in our various communities in the teaching of traditional subjects such ‘kente’ weaving, drawing, painting, and wood carving. Why can’t we fish out pupils who exhibit sports potentials – volleyball, basketball, athletics, football, gymnastics, boxing, and develop their talents by providing with modern sports facilities and equipment? Why should my daughter, a very good singer, be denied higher education because she is not academically brilliant? Will this not amount to a waste of human resource in the country?

From the foregoing, it is evident that the development of pupils’ Multiple Intelligences could be a panacea to the country’s basic developmental problems. We also need to make some transformation in the assessment of pupils in the classroom. The external examination should give way to the building up of a profile through teacher observation, project, and portfolio work. The continuous assessment is not yielding the maximum results because it has failed to take the child’s abilities, efforts, and achievements into consideration. Teachers should therefore be trained to present their lessons/tasks in a variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, fieldtrips, demonstrations, and inner reflections to make teaching and learning meaningful to the child. The Ministries of Education, Science, and Finance should team up with the Teacher Unions, Association of Ghana Industries, and other stakeholders and come out with educational reform that has the capacity to improve quality, increase access, maximize every child’s God-given talent, and also meet Ghana’s developmental needs. The proposal to make the senior high school not only free, but also the first point of exit for JHS pupils should be pursued to its logical conclusion by all Ghanaians.

God bless Ghana! God bless Ghanaian Children!! God bless Kufuor!!!

Katakyie Kwame Opoku Agyemang, Hull. UK. (MEd in Education)

A native of Asante Bekwai-Asakyiri

An NPP Activist

Official blog (www.katakyie.com) katakyienpp@yahoo.co.uk 07577626433

“Vision, coupled with persistency, results in true success”

Columnist: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku