By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
August 2, 2014
In the wake of the deadlock between the Mahama government and tertiary institution lecturers and professors over payment of textbook and research allowances, it comes as absolutely no surprise to learn that more than half of our elementary schoolteachers instruct their pupils without any prepared notes or lesson plans (See "Fifty-Percent of Teachers Do Not Prepare Lesson Notes" Ghana News Agency / Ghanaweb.com 7/30/14).
In all likelihood, the problem stems from the dire lack of teaching supplies. For me, however, it needs to be equally highlighted that a sizeable percentage of these teachers have not been paid their salaries for months. If, as the GNA news report also notes, there is an unacceptably high level of teacher absenteeism, this is primarily due to the necessity for these generally under-appreciated teachers to find other means of economic survival until such time as the lethargic political principals of the Education Ministry come to a basic recognition of their need to be paid their overdue and outstanding salary arrears.
Interestingly, these cabinet appointees can afford to be nonchalant because they are also among the first public servants to be paid their undeservedly fat paychecks at the beginning of every salary settlement cycle. Then also, Dr. George Afeti, the director of the National Inspectorate Board of the Ministry of Education, tells us - concerned Ghanaians - that textbooks and other learning materials already purchased by the government for distribution were not reaching many of our elementary schools, particularly those located in the rural areas, because of highly unmotorable roads.
And even where they have been supplied, these books, for fear of theft, are kept under lock and key by the principals and headteachers of these schools for safekeeping. What the latter obviously means is that pupils are being sent home at the end of every school day without the kinds of practice and/or take-home assignments that they need to enhance their formative intellectual and critical-thinking skills.
It also well appears that such safekeeping of textbooks is not helping their primary beneficiaries that much, for we are also given to understand by Dr. Afeti, the chief inspector of our public elementary schools, that in quite a remarkable percentage of instances "five pupils were sharing four textbooks, instead of a textbook to a pupil." It is almost certain that the ratio in a lot of instances is much higher than the official version provided by the GNA report.
Personally, I am curious to learn from Dr. Afeti about the frequency of in-service training offered these teachers per any two-year period, for example. And also precisely who offers these professional development sessions, and for what duration. I make these observations because I vividly remember that while growing up in Ghana in the late 1960s, my own pupil-teacher mother had to attend several teaching workshops, as well as have her Note-3 Teacher's Notebook inspected by her headteacher at least once a week. I was almost a toddler then, but I have absolutely no reason to doubt the accuracy of my recollection.
Several times on Sunday afternoons after church service, my younger sister and I would accompany our mother to the Akyem-Kankang (now Sekyere) Presbyterian Middle School, not far from the cemetery and the public pit-latrine, and sit by her or play with our toys while our mother prepared her lesson plans for the entire week.
Dr. Afeti also reports that some schools have not been visited by Education Officers - as they were called while I was growing up - in more than a year. In my pulpilage days, the practice was at least twice a year. Well, I don't know this thing called School Performance Approval Meetings (SPAMs), which we are told nearly 70-percent of our elementary schools are not currently observing, or holding, although such meetings are professionally and academically mandated. I suppose this has something to do with the annual evaluation and ranking of individual schools by a set of objective standards, in order to ensure that these public schools are performing up to par.
Whatever the exact nature of the details of the present state of basic education in the country, something appears to have gravely gone awry. And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether 50-percent of our teachers lack the requisite pedagogical preparation or not. The latter admittedly bleak situation may only be a symptom of a much bigger problem. And on the latter score, of course, I am thinking about the generally abjectly poor leadership in the country, and our seemingly grossly misplaced priorities when it comes to the preparation of the minds and souls of our proverbial leaders of tomorrow.