I wish to be granted space on your network to comment on the above-titled news item attributed to the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. In one breath the president asserts that “government has not been able to admit to the full capacity of the training colleges because government does not have enough money to pay the teacher trainee allowances.” In another breath, he pointed out that, “If we upgrade the colleges of education and we say they are tertiary institutions and can award university degrees, why would you pay one group [of] teacher trainee allowance and not pay the other allowance.”
Indeed, “something terrible has gone wrong! What is yet to come unfathomable,” as a youth organization, Anlo Youth Council, posted on its wall. These are the questions: who is advising the president on education? Are those assertions the president’s personal views? If not, does he think differently from his advisers? How did he arrive at the decision to withdraw allowances meant for teacher trainees? Is it a matter of just being inexperienced with regard to matters concerning teacher education?
For the record, the president should understand that the fact that teacher training colleges across Ghana have been upgraded to tertiary institutions does not necessarily equate them to Ghanaian universities, where teacher education programmes are run with degrees awarded. To the best of my knowledge, teacher training colleges have been upgraded to offer programme s leading to the award of what we in Ghana call “diploma,” an equivalent of an associate degree in the United States.
Clearly, the entry requirements into these colleges of education are definitely different from the entry requirements to Ghanaian universities where teacher education programmes are run. We cannot, therefore, argue that because teacher training colleges have been upgraded to diploma awarding institutions, they must be treated just like all Ghanaian universities where teacher education programmes leading to the award of bachelor’s degrees are run. When even these universities admit students to diploma teacher education programmes, their entry requirements are not the same as those of the teacher education colleges.
Beyond these differences, the President must understand that there are unwritten professional philosophies that guide the professional life of individuals trained in Ghanaian institutions. While these unwritten philosophiesmay be erroneous, they have a life of their own. In fact, teachers from our teacher training colleges, now colleges of education, have for a long time been the fulcrum of primary education in Ghana. You find products from these colleges in every nook and cranny of Ghana, especially in remote areas where individuals including those trained in the main universities would hardly accept to be posted to. The understanding for a long time has been that, individuals who benefit from the allowances that are now being withdrawn give back to the various communities by accepting to be posted to these remote areas. It is by these same unwritten professional philosophies that some districts in Ghana even take the initiative to recruit individuals from their enclaves and locales and sponsor them directly to some of the education colleges in the hope that they return to serve those locales. In some of these cases, entry requirements are even waived to ensure they are admitted. This is simply because graduates from the universities will simply not accept to be posted to such deprived communities.
It is, therefore, neither here nor there for the president to assert that the up-grading of teacher training colleges to education colleges implies that students from these up-graded education colleges must be treated just like their counterparts in the main universities or any tertiary institution. There are nuanced and contextual issues that define these institutions in their specificities and lumping them together is simply disingenuous and a policy definitely in the wrong direction.
It is very interesting that just three days ago, the mouthpiece and the professional organization of teachers, Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), indicated that over 33,000 teachers have abandoned their posts in recent years to either join other professions or leave the country altogether. But we do not see the connection between existing policies with regard to the way teachers are trained and managed and the unreasonable high attrition rates in their ranks.
When I went to the training college in 1991, it was the only option I had. There was an allowance from which I could pay my tuition fees, my boarding fees, and also cater for other exigencies. In fact, I was part of the first batch of students to benefit from the policy to remit teacher trainees on monthly basis. Without it, there was no way I could have sustained myself in those heady days and eventually move up the educational ladder. The part of the country I come from, you go to school or perish. So when educational opportunities become priced commodities beyond the poor, the effects are felt mostly in these areas of the country. President John DramaniMahama’s own backyard is no exception.
I am glad that Anlo Youth Council has observed the effects this policy is going to have on its youth whose only path has been through some of these institutions, where they become financially empowered to fend for themselves through school and also contribute their quota to national development. Are we gradually heading to the situation where students with aggregate 8 are denied admission by the medical schools in Ghana and their places offered to individuals with double such aggregates with the financial wherewithal? Similar logic undergirded that policy. But what that policy has done is to deprive individuals like Olivia Agbekenyeke and others like her a place in the medical school because they cannot afford the expenses associated with medical education in Ghana (her story available at: http://graphic.com.gh/General-News/olivia-the-glitter-in-the-agbogbloshie-slum.html ).
If President Mahama thinks that by withdrawing allowances for teacher trainees and injecting financial equity into the logic of financial resources made available to this crop of students is the way to increase the number of students admitted to these institutions, we only have to wait for a few years for this policy to run its gestation for us to appreciate the harm that would have been done to primary education in the rural areas.
It is fascinating that just about six months ago we had money to offer free laptops, cars, and virtually anything that could entice some segments of society to vote for us. When it is now time for us to deliver on the promises we have made to the Ghanaian populace, we are now looking for every opportunity to squeeze the lifeblood out of the majority for the greed and the patronage of the very few. We have moved from taxing condoms to withdrawing allowances for teacher trainees. Where do we head next?