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Opinions Mon, 5 Aug 2013

We are failing as a nation

We are failing (trying to be polite but reality is we have failed) as a nation in terms of education. We are probably failing in all aspects of our development as a nation. Has anyone read the 2011 TIMSS report? (TIMSS is the Trend in International Mathematics and Science Study) Don't bother if you haven't because the "value is the same". We were last in science again!! Yawe p)t))!!! Ok, we weren't really last during the last assessment. We were last but one. We were last this time because the country that came last in the previous assessment decided not to present their students for assessment at the grade level they did during the previous assessment. So Ghana had no option but to be last thanks to our 'fabulous' educational system. ( We probably should have followed our last but one friends to their new grade level). Not that every other country stayed at their previous position during this assessment. Nope!! Tunisia and other countries showed marked improvement as compared to their previous performance.

The funny side of the whole issue is that Ghanaian teachers indicated that they were confident in teaching; they asked questions during teaching and responded to students' question in appropriate manner- all the things expected of a 'good' teacher- yet our students couldn't compete with students from countries whose teachers were not so confident in their teaching. Were the Ghanaians not truthful in their self-assessment? Could be so but I am not interested in that. I am interested in our teacher preparation techniques since I am part of the teacher educators. First, most of the countries we competed with had teachers with bachelors degree teaching at the basic level. Finland has more than 90% of its basic school teachers having a postgraduate degree. In Ghana, converting the Colleges of Education into degree awarding institutions have turned into boxing. We are never serious!!! Yes, just a change of qualification will not bring any impact if we continue to do the same old stuff. There should be a concise and exhaustive revamp of the Colleges of Education. Tutors should have the right qualification to teach ( and their remuneration should also improve). Courses should be re-structured and most importantly the right calibre of students should be admitted. Talking about students that go into the Colleges of Education, one should not just look at the grades although it's very important, but students with the right aptitudes for teaching. During the interview for my masters degree, one panel member asked me what aptitude do I have that makes me think I can do the masters degree and ultimately become a teacher? It was interesting but important question. Teaching is a profession that demands passion and affection for the job. The teacher is a very critical component of our society whose errors may take a long time to be corrected. Yes, their errors may not be instantaneously fatal but it's a slow poison. Just try to correct your little sibling or son on something the teacher told him and you will hear 'but my teacher said it is so'. Therefore we can't leave the future of our children in the hands of people who are not well informed in their knowledge area. We need to make teaching attractive so as to attract brilliant students into the profession. It is an undeniable fact that 98% of students who qualify for the universities and can afford it will not go to the training college. There should be some systematic attempt to change this.

There should be a change of focus and philosophy in the way we educate preservice teachers. Why do we still teach students how to teach through 'discussion' method through lecture approach? Why do we still teach them the 'advantages and disadvantages' of these methods instead of allowing them to use it in a mock teaching session? Why are we still teaching students theories of curriculum instead of how to interpret and translate our curriculum in the classroom? Why can't we have exemplar teaching episodes to show to our would-be students? Why can't we allow our students to select topics they find difficult to understand from the syllabus and we demonstrate to them how they can teach it? At UCC, most education students will have their first teaching experience during on-campus teaching practice and I wonder why we leave it that late. The dumbfounding thing is that UCC has struck out educational technology from its teacher education program? B.Ed students now find it difficult to even prepare common chart not to talk about use the overhead projector to teach whilst their counterparts else where are using interactive whiteboards in their classrooms.

Are we training teachers for tomorrow? It seems there are more questions than answers and until we are able to solve these questions, we will continue to be last...well we can try and convince the country who was last in the previous year to come back. We need quality teachers if we are really serious about the future of our nation.

Columnist: Teacher Kofi