Saving The Sinking Educational System In Ghana

Most Ghanaians were keyed up when President John Dramani Mahama pledged to continue with the 7 Year Development plan of Dr Kwame Nkrumah which was re-designed as “Vision 2020” by former Presidents Rawlings and Mills.

The vision 2020 document focuses on education, agriculture and rural development by reducing poverty by the year 2020.

Additionally, under Target 2.A of the Millennium Development Goals in Ghana, it is expected that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. Although government is making education accessible to most people, it is also an established fact that Ghana is still far from achieving the objective of making education accessible to all, and giving everyone quality education as demanded by the 1992 Constitution.

Public knowledge abounds that Ghana’s educational system lacks the needed quality and performance monitoring mechanisms. Apart from the poor performance of students in recent times, there are also the issues of derisory teacher motivation, low remuneration and poor conditions of service that weigh down our teachers from delivering quality service.

Captivatingly, Zimbabwe, a country that abandoned its own currency in 2009 and, as at 2013, still had no national currency because inflation rose to 6.5 sextillion percent in mid-November 2008 has more than 14 secondary schools on the list of “Top 100 Private and Government schools in Africa”, according to the latest ranking by African Economist Magazine.

Zimbabwe’s literacy rate now stands at 90.9 percent and it is the only country in Africa with a literacy rate of over 90 percent. Whiles this is the case in Zimbabwe, in Ghana however, it is estimated that over one million children are out-of-school, due primarily to lack of teachers and classrooms.

Not too long ago, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) released the provisional results of candidates who wrote the May/June 2014 (WASSCE) Examinations. We are told that out of the 242,162 candidates who wrote the exams, 68,062 of them, representing 28.1%, made grades A1 to C6 in at least six subjects, including English Language and Mathematics (Core), and are, therefore, qualified for admission to tertiary institutions.

Meanwhile, a total of 1,447 representing 0.59% of the candidates who registered, did not write the exams. I listened to the Principal Public Affairs Officer of WAEC, Mrs Agnes Teye-Cudjoe on some media outlets, and I was traumatized when she said the 28.10% pass is even an improvement over last year’s pass rate of 19.15%. My question is must we glorify failure? I was stunned to the marrow when I heard the Minister of Education, Prof. Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman attributing the poor performance of the WASSCE results to overcrowded curriculum. But whose responsibility is it to ensure that our curriculum is not overcrowded?

What is even nerve-racking is the verdict often pronounced by NDC and NPP politicians when they say “under our administration the students got better results than they are getting today”. The truth really is that, SHS results from 2006 to 2014 have shown nothing that we should be proud of as a people. Rather, the plummeting performance of students at the Senior High School level is something that demands the attention of all.

The breakdown of the results in the last eight years show that in 2006, the pass rate was 12.51%,
10.58% in 2007,
12.95% in 2008,
14.58% in 2009,
26.00% in 2011,
31.19% in 2012,
19.15% in 2013 and in 2014 which is the most recent one, 28.10%.

At a glance one might assume that there is an increase but the question really is, at what rate? How can the two political parties (NDC and NPP) be proud of such abysmal failure which on average has been 19.38% in the last 8years? Is this what NDC and NPP want Ghanaians to clap for them?

Most people expect that after investing over 20% of our national budget in education, it will naturally translate into impressive results. Alas, this can best be described as a Chinese arithmetic. Basic Education Certificate Examination (B.E.C.E) results have equally been disappointing with the number of failures increasing every year.

Over the past decade, a total of 1,562,270 students failed their BECE examinations out of a total number of 3,669,138 representing almost 50%. Some few months ago, GES announced that over 182,000 pupils who failed one or more core subjects in this year’s BECE were not placed in any senior high school by the computerized school selection system and as a result, the Ghana Education Service was giving a second chance to pupils who could not get placement into second cycle institutions.

Why is it taking so long for GES to recognize this makeshift? Must the problem compound before we find a solution?

According to the General Resume of the WAEC Chief Examiners reports on the standard of papers for the April 2012 BECE examinations, in Integrated Science, some candidates’ inability to apply scientific knowledge to physical phenomenon was evident. Similarly, some candidates could not answer questions on spreadsheet satisfactorily in Information and Communication Technology. But we all know that most of our public schools lack computer laboratories and the requisite ICT infrastructure.

The Chief Examiners for Mathematics and Integrated Science observed that some candidates were unable to write figures in standard form. Others were also unable to write and balance chemical equations and found construction of perpendicular bisectors of lines difficult. Many candidates demonstrated poor knowledge of grammar as evidenced in the wrong construction, incorrect spelling, poor punctuation, etc., reported by the Chief Examiners for English Language, Religious & Moral Education, and Information & Communication Technology.

Poor comprehension skills affected candidates adversely in the BDT (Home Economics) paper. This poor performance is a demonstration of how we have failed to set our priorities right as a country.

With the kind of results we are getting, the GES must explore all avenues to ensure that we do not continue to record such inharmoniously poor examination performance in our schools. The corridors of power must crack the whip to correct the situation of having too many chiefs and not enough Indians at the Ghana Education Service.

Government should be concerned in the causes of the poor performance of students. It would be recalled that the Education Act of 1961 declared primary education to be compulsory and a parent, not sending a child to school, was liable to a fine. Today, the compulsory aspect of education has disappeared. The Act delineated the responsibilities of central and local governments regarding the financing of education. Central government was to be responsible for teachers’ salaries. The building, equipment and maintenance of all public primary and middle schools were made the responsibility of the local authorities. This decision made parents responsible in the management of the community schools.

Even though there is an increase in the number of children in schools, there is a concern about the quality of the output of the education sector. As far back as 1970, UNESCO published a report on education in Ghana and said:

“Generally Ghana’s education service is not producing the kinds of quality manpower needed by the country. The educational system is not providing an adequate base in English and Mathematics and offers little exposure to practical work. The first problem is the poor quality of basic education in primary and middle schools, especially in the main educational language, English,…”(UNESCO 1970, p. 21 & 34).

Surprisingly, the awful situation which existed in 1970 is not too different from what we are experiencing today. The rapid expansion of enrollment in a very short period of time is, to some extent, at the cost of the quality of education. Quality has been compromised because there is inadequate supply of critical inputs to support the increase in enrollments.

The supply of trained teachers, for example, cannot keep up with the expansion in enrollments and schools – worsened by IMF conditionality which has proscribed recruitment of teachers. It is therefore not surprising that in the last decade, over 1.5million innocent Ghanaian children failed the BECE. My own investigations reveal that in most less-endowed schools, JHS and SHS final students cannot even compete with pupils in class 5 in some of the private schools in the urban areas. But how can these students compete auspiciously when most of the schools have not received text books from both the Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Education for over 8 years now.

It is sad that teachers have to find their own means to procure basic teaching and learning materials to enable them carry out academic work.

How can teachers deliver quality education when after working for over 18 months government fails to pay their salaries? Not to mention those who have worked for over 20 years and are receiving less than Ghc 700.00 a month. Now working under such conditions, not to mention the lack of adequate classrooms, lack of Science laboratories, equipments, erratic payment of capitation grants, etc., how do we expect the attainment of better output from our teachers and better results from the students?

To strengthen the capacity of teachers and keep them in the classrooms, government must upgrade the Colleges of Education into four-year Teacher’s University for those who wish to teach in basic schools. There is the need to resource the Colleges of Education so that when they become University for Teachers, they will serve as real places of choice that can compete with other higher learning institutions for the best students.

It is worrying that both private and public employers have complained about the mismatch between employers expectations and skills obtained by graduates of universities, vocational training centers and technical schools (ILO 2011.P2). Quite too often, employers have to re-train graduates from the tertiary institutions to equip them with analytical and communication skills but not all employers are willing to invest in the retraining of the youth after their recruitment. Although we have found oil in Ghana, we cannot benefit from petrochemicals, a knowledge-based and technology-based industry-with such a contemptible educational profile.

The Progressive People’s Party’s (PPP) education policy clearly recognizes what must be done:
“Provide Quality Education for Every Ghanaian Child. Standardize school facilities from kindergarten to Senior High School with libraries, toilets, classrooms, kitchen, housing for teachers, playground, etc: and ensure free, compulsory, universal and continuous quality education in public schools from kindergarten to Senior High School (including computer training). We will deploy an “Education Police” to enforce the compulsory aspect of our policy.

An integral part of this objective will be an objective to significantly increase vocational training so that all school leavers can gain employable skills. This will include a comprehensive sports programme to instill discipline and promote better health.”

It has often been said that Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents, as well as a committed government with high expectations. Let us all wake up Ghana and save our sinking educational system.

Paa Kow Ackon
[email protected]