Opinions Thu, 21 Aug 2008

Our Eroding Educational Standard: An Improvement Strategy

Ghana’s eroding quality education is a major concern for many of its citizens. Late last year, Mr. Patrick G Awuah, President & Founder of Ashesi University, in a speech he delivered at the 58th Annual New Year school at the University of Ghana lamented that “..in the area of Quality, Ghana has lost ground..”. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Adow-Obeng, in his recent speech at the 44th Speech and Prize Giving Day of UCC Primary School, stated that the numerous educational reforms introduced in the country to improve quality education have failed.

Our students continue to perform poorly in standardized tests. The Minister of Education, Science and Sports, Prof. Dominic Fobih, recently said before Parliament that about 50% of students who sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in 2007 failed. Ironically, students are largely blamed when they fail standardized tests. Our education policy makers, head of institutions, teachers and others who developed the academic programs and the delivery processes share little or no blame. Parents are left with the impression that their wards did not study hard enough. In fact, a research conducted by a Stanford (in the US) University professor, Linda Darling-Hammond, shows that students who have three (3) bad teachers in a row will score as much as 50 percentage points lower on standardized tests than students who have three (3) effective teachers in a row. What is the odd of a student getting 3 bad teachers in a row? In Ghana, the chance is not slim at all.

Since independence our various governments have reformed our educational systems many times with the hope of making it better. Our leaders seem to think that reforming our educational systems, once in a while, is the only strategy that can build quality capacity into our education systems. The writers believe that continuous quality improvement strategies can produce better results than once in a while educational reforms. We urge the Ministry of Education and Head of Institutions to embrace continuous quality improvement principles and methodologies and incorporate them as an integral part of teaching and learning in our institutions. A key performance measure of quality education is the quality of knowledge students acquire after graduating from school and their ability to apply such knowledge to solve real-world problems. Ultimately, the knowledge, experience, skills, and the overall competence gained by students after graduation determine the quality of education their schools have provided. Our institutions are producing graduates, most of whom are not able to apply what they have learnt to support national development. The learning style where students mechanically reproduce text book contents [Chew-Pour-Pass-and-Forget] is commonplace in our academic institutions and it is seriously compromising our nation’s ability to innovate and advance technologically. The end results of our poor quality education systems is our continue dependant on foreign aids and technology to develop our nation.

In most cases, our governments’ investment in education has been largely applied to building physical infrastructures and increasing classroom enrollment. It is time to invest in the promotion, development and implementation of continuous quality improvement programs. In the development of quality improvements programs, it is important to know who the true customer is. Who are the true customers of our academic institutions? Are students the true customers? Some experts argue that students are raw materials when they enter into academic institutions; they become finished products after graduation. Employers, the government and the society as a whole are the ultimate customers. It is highly imperative that academic institutions focus on their true customers’ needs and expectations when they develop and deliver their programs.

Our leaders and policy makers depend heavily on standards and accreditations. However, in many developed countries and emerging economics, it has been realized that accreditation of academy programs alone is not enough. In fact many accreditation bodies, particularly in the USA and UK, advise their accredited institutions to use quality tools, concepts, methodologies and principles to design and continuously improve their academic programs. Due globalization, there is an urgent need to develop and apply world-class academic excellence models to improve our schools. A number of excellence models, such as the European Foundation for Quality Management, Australian Quality Award and the US Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award are available. We can modify one and use it to improve our eroding educational systems. Portugal and Singapore adapted and successfully modified and used the European Foundation for Quality Management Excellence Model to improve their educational systems. Let us become part of the Global Excellence Model (GEM) family. The writers suggest that we modify the US Malcolm Baldrige Education Criteria, to suit our unique cultural and social environment, and use it to improve our educational systems.

The first crucial step to achieve academic excellence is leadership commitment: Without leadership commitment we will not get anywhere. Our educational leaders and policy makers must dedicate and commit themselves to the achievement of academic excellence by instituting and sustaining quality management strategies and policies.

Authors: Kofi Akuoko & Dr. Fred A. Fening
The writers are senior members of Ghana Quality Organization (GQO). GQO is non-profit quality membership organization committed and dedicated to promoting, advancing and placing quality and its best practices at the heart of industries, organizations and institutions in Ghana and Africa. Visit GQO at www.ghanaquality.org or contact us by email at service@ghanaquality.org

Columnist: Kofi Akuoko & Dr. Fred A. Fening