Dedicated to the disadvantage children in our land
As a person who knows poverty by experience, I am gratified by attempts by government to reduce the pervasive and marauding effects of poverty in our society. I am an avowed believer that education is the bedrock of tackling the incessant problem of poverty. I denote not just financial poverty, but poverty of processing ideas, poverty of making informed choices and poverty of democracy.
Before then, let me in a paragraph avail to you what I went through as a young determined child in the village of Sankana in the Nadowli District in the Upper West Region which I refer to as “poverty by experience”.
I started school in Accra just for 3 years and continued in Sankana where I completed my primary school. Thereafter, I enrolled at Kaleo Junior Secondary [not the Rawlings’ JSS but Acheampongs’ experimental JSS] School as there was no JSS in Sankana at the time, so I had to trek five miles to school and five miles back to Sankana everyday on foot in my tattered uniform. I had to do my studies using the blessings of nature [moon light], as I could not afford paraffin [kerosene] for my lantern in the night. - This is no fiction. I sat the same BECE exams conducted by WAEC with students who had all the opportunities for enhanced learning; I sat exams with people who did have to walk ten miles a day, I sat exams with people who never experienced hunger, while I had to scramble for fruits with reptiles to survive.
The interesting aspect is that, society expected me to perform very well in my exams despite the deplorable and debilitating circumstances of my environment. The height of poverty compelled me to do my studies on “installment” basis. That is, work on the farm for some time, make money and go to school. Stop school, work at some stage to earn money to pay fees and continue school. By divine providence, I made the requisite grades to earn me admission into secondary school and sixth form and that order.
In order that this except of my life does not dry your desire to read further my article, I have elected to excuse you any anguish but to maintain that there are people in Ghana today whose lifestyle is worst than what I went through. Let us collectively pray for them, but will prayers alone do? The question remain, what at all has made people in one part of the same country have all it takes to study while others are denied their share? Is it slavery or colonialism? But after the abolition of slavery and colonialism, do we as a people committed to the anachronistic and sacrosanct battle against poverty and its concomitants have any excuse to allow that trend to continue? I am ably informed that the answer is a fat NO, but for the bad leadership that has betrayed the blood, toil and sweat of the first generation of leaders and the big dream and lofty agenda they had for prosperous Ghana and Africa ours would have been a world of fairness and justice for all.
Good news was it to me when in the 2005 budget statement and economic plan, the minister of finance, Hon Kwadwo Baah Wiredu on behalf of the President stated that government was on course to absorb schools at the basic level. Despite the fact that this decision by government did not satisfy the constitutional requirement of free basic education as captured in article 25 (a) and meeting the directive principle of state policy, I sincerely thought “half a loaf is better than no bread”. Yes a hungry man does not no the difference between an ascorbic mango and ripe mango, in fact he will swallow anything to fill his belly. But hey, what if the half loaf is a rotten and maggot infested bread? The inevitable consequence is that feeding on it would only add fuel to an escalating inferno. I hope I have not lost you but the analogy is the characterization of the capitation grant as currently practice. Let me justify.
The NPP started stewardship of Ghana from January 2001 and had blue print of programmes and policies it wanted to implement to make Ghana a better place than they inherited. Almost five years later, they introduce a capitation grant that has the obvious reward of increased enrolment in our basics schools. This policy, inter-liar is aimed at encouraging economically disadvantaged parents to send their wards to school and improve the quality and quantity of education in Ghana and therefore attempts to close the yawning income gap. What could be a better relief than this? Just as good the intention of the mass educational reforms by JJ Rawlings, so has this policy been with their implementation suffering from lack of appropriate planning. Remember the good paper intentions of the 1988 educational reforms aimed at turning out pupils at basic level with technical and vocational competencies and capabilities? Remember how the paper description could not be translated as witnessed by the lack of qualified staff, requisite implements and tools, inappropriate textbooks and a whole salad of logistical and administrative quagmires?
The capitation grant, we are told has as expected, increased enrolment by about 40% across Ghana. But then surfaced the hydra-headed quandaries. As enrolment of pupil accentuated, the number of teachers to cater for these new numbers remained as before or even decreased. Government has obviously added more burden to the already over worked teacher without a commensurate reward or incentive. This scenario has the unalloyed implication of robbing quality education in place of making political meal.
I am tempted to ask, since when did our government harbour the good intention of this capitation grant? was it in 2001, 2002, 2003 or 2004? If this formed part of the overall goal of the NPP, how come they did not make arrangements to ensure that by the date of implementation, enough teachers would have been trained to accompany the expected increase in enrolment? The Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition [GNECC] has said that currently Ghana requires seventy five thousand [75,000] teachers to be able to meet a teacher/pupil ratio of 1:35; unfortunately the system has only nineteen thousand teachers [19,000]. The apparent deficit is unacceptable and especially so when government deliberately put in place a policy geared towards boosting enrolment. There is now the palpable reality that the quality of education that was intended is suffering because teachers are not available to contain the influx of pupil into our schools. What kind of planning is this?
I am informed by some heads of schools that the administrative bottlenecks associated with accessing the capitation grant for their various schools is unbelievably cumbersome hence some have decided not to access it. After all it better to allow sleeping dogs to lie. A teacher quizzed that this “take or leave it’ policy by government is better left than for me to succumb to unnecessary blood pressure. This fury epitomizes the level of frustration amongst school authority vis-à-vis the capitation grant.
Now that the problem of shoddy planning and policy evolution stare us gleefully, the minister of education has suggested that to stop gap the discrepancy, the following measures would be taken amongst others:
1. That retired teachers will be employed on contract basis, which decision is been carried by some District directors of education [Nkoranza] as carried by www.ghanaweb.com of August 30, 2006 and 2. That students’ from second circle institutions who could not make it to higher level of education will be recruited to fill the vacancies at the basic level. It is welcoming to note that government acknowledges that it did a bad job by the desperate measures it is adapting to arrest the situation. There is however much danger inherent in the distressed antidotes as above. Universally, it is norm that when one is on retirement he/she is tired of working and thus has very scanty energy to enable him/her to continue to work, hence should be spared the agony of engaging in active activity. If that axiom holds, then reinstating retired teachers is tantamount to introducing laxity in education. I hope the logic holds?
One is even at pain when governments’ proposed solution to this sticky situation is that “dropouts” be recruited to impart knowledge to a new generation of students. What in the first place caused the inability of these people to gain admission into higher institutions including the Teacher Training Colleges, yet they are qualified to become “role models” and source of education to pupils? It is abundantly clear that we shall only succeed in only ensuring that large numbers of Ghanaians go through the classroom without the classroom going through them.
What happen to a pupil who enjoys capitation grant and upon completion of his/her basic level education has not made the appropriate grades to pursue further education? I ask this because at that age, by our laws; such a person is considered a minor hence incapable of going into lawful employment. The systems have no infrastructure for basic school dropout, probably the conclusion is that all of them will qualify and have placement in the next stage of education. If so, hurray, but the opposite occurs as only 40% percent of those who sit the BECE barely go to the next stage. Where do we put the 60%? It should be of concern to us if we do not intend a bleak future there. The system should put in place a ‘re-sit of papers” as it does for the secondary school students who fail in some papers and especially for students who might have been found in similar or worst conditions than I did as remember in the genesis of this paper.
Frankly, we are by the reckless decisions we make as a nation towards policy formulation, implementation and monitoring, retarding progress in national advancement, injuring the future of a generation and undermining confidence in the economy. As it stands now, capitation grant has not been able to fulfill its natural promise of enhancing quality education; indeed it has succeeded in adding higher numbers to the already deplorable state of education in Ghana.
Let me re-iterate a point I made in April [see www.ghanaweb.com of Tuesday, 11 April, 2006 captioned ‘Gov’t asked to address problems of Capitation Grant’] that there is no substitute for education and that for us to be considered serious in our quest to educate our people, we must spend between 5-7% of our GDP on education. This will be in line with the views of the association of African universities and World Bank position on quality education. It is interesting to note that Burkina Faso spends 7% of her GDP on education, Togo 8%, Namibia 8%, South Africa 7%, and Botswana 15% whilst Ghana spends a paltry 3.1%. I am further looking forward to the eventual translation of the capitation grant into free compulsory universal basic education as contained in our constitution.
Let us adopt long lasting and enduring policies and not resort to transient solution to our problems, for the costs of those solutions are devastating. For me it is better to have no bread than have bread that is rotten and maggot infested. The cost of seeking medical care after all will definitely surpass the cost of the hunger. Somebody responsible must act responsibly.
[Wa, Upper West Region-Ghana, P.O.Box 562,]
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