Since the beginning of the 2020 WASSCE Examination on the 3rd August 2020, we have witnessed a serious surge in unwarranted behavior of candidates across the length and breadth of this country and this calls for serious worry and attention. In as much as we all condemn such gratuitous conduct by our upcoming future leaders, we cannot entirely put the blame on their feet.
It is therefore important to assess the root causes and execute efficacious solutions to nip the problem in the bud. Before examining the causes of such indiscipline behavior of the students, retrospectively, students have equally behaved unacceptably in the past.
As such, indiscipline among secondary school students is not a new thing for that matter. But what is peculiar in the 2020 candidates is that, the behaviour is portrayed in manner that suggests that, students are hoping for easy passage in the exams through illegal means. Whereas students in the past misbehaved on the basis of the poor student-teacher relationship, poor management, and personal behavioral issues, the current situation is that students are asking for invigilators to teach them or to allow them to cheat in exam halls, calling for free marks, and threatening to vote against the President if he do not help them pass their WASSCE exam. It so sad and the earlier we take measures to curtail this behavioral trend the better for mother Ghana.
For starters, how did this come about? Truthfully, the politicians must be blamed first and foremost. Gone are days when our education, health and other critical institutions were completely free from political party politicking, and the managers of these institutions were politically neutral persons, the situation have changed. Politicians have dipped too much into these institutions such that any decision involving the appointment of headmasters, recruitment of staff, and curriculum issues are now politically motivated.
It became worst when the FREE SHS policy was fully introduced in 2017. Headmasters and teachers who are direct executors of educational policy were never given any attention and lip service were paid in that regard. Some headmasters were even sacked or transferred for taking bold decisions regarding the betterment of the FREE SHS students, but politicians saw their actions as a sabotage to the policy. This action by the government made the majority of headmasters and teachers to sit on the offense for fear of being apprehended should they try to take certain disciplinary measures.
The conduct of politicians in Ghana is so belittling. We have political leaders using vulgar language and mesmerizing one another with insults and uncourteous behavior in platforms that are accessible to these young children. And as the saying goes, children are the chips of the old blocks, then when the elderly lost their ethnic conscience, the young ones will have nothing to do with morality and uprightness.
The second and worst reason is the brand given to FREE SHS students. Politicians have used the FREE SHS students for political gains. First, FREE SHS students were treated differently from those that did not benefit when the policy was introduced. For instance, prior to FREE SHS policy in 2017, stubborn students could easily be punished, given suspension, or outright dismissal for criminal offences.
In terms of poor academic record, students were demoted or repeated to facilitate their improvement. But this was not applicable to FREE SHS students. The policy came of mass promotion. Therefore, garbage in garbage out became the norm is the system. As a result, students became more empowered to the disadvantage of the teacher. This resulted in most teachers remaining adamant while students do whatsoever, they please.
I still recollect a situation where in a staff meeting in a particular SHS teacher questioned headmaster about some of the directives given to them by government and the response came like this; “if your employer gives you a cutlass to cut a rock, your duty is only to cut the rock and collect your monthly pay. But do not tell the employer that the cutlass cannot break the rock”. Moreover, Politicians on several platforms continue to brag over how excellent the FREE SHS students will be when they complete.
Some political parties even use some SHSs as their conference and election venues. Again, when the politicians procured past questions for the candidates and instructed teachers and students to pay attention to the questions provided, it added up to the boiling water. Worst of all was when His Excellency the President addressed the candidates as “the Akuffo Addo Graduates”.
As a country, we have never had such branding for BECE OR SHS candidates, and so students see their failure or passing through the lenses of the teaching and learning. However, the brandings and politicization have given a huge impression on the students that since they are ‘special’ and ‘Akuffo Addo graduates’, they will have an easy passage in the exam. Realizing in the first exam paper, the normal strict invigilation and non-appearance of the past questions on the paper, they became frustrated and felt deceived by the politician and so started misbehaving.
Another factor that led to the unacceptable behavior of the 2020 candidates was the issue of quality. Seriously speaking, the placement and admission of students into SHS was not done to enhance quality, but just to promote access. Whereas the placement grade to SHS previously was 40, the FREE SHS students were admitted without serious consideration to their performance in the BECE.
The truth is, academically poor students who should have been offered other life opportunities in terms of skills training, were sent to SHS to study. Sadly, Students with grades 40 and above were placed in schools to offer Pure Sciences. Some of those students were aimless and will only promote unruliness since they have no way through the academics. In fact, no one is against any student going to SHS, but naturally, not every student needs to go to SHS.
Technical vocational education training is most suitable for such teenagers with bad grades. Instances where students cannot even write their own names let alone construct a simple sentence were placed to study science, arts or business. It also suggests that the quality at the basic level is compromised and so the secondary school teacher cannot do any magic. In furtherance of their plight, was the introduction of a semester system and later, double-track system which succeeded in reducing the quality of contact hours per year.
Other factors that worked against the student’s positivism was the lack of sufficient furniture, classrooms, dormitories and generally teaching and learning aids. The outbreak of COVID 19 which resulted in the closure of schools for three months also affected the student’s mentality.
The good thing is that, the form 1 and 2 students are still at home, and the impact of the candidate’s actions have little or no direct bearing except those that follow social media. Therefore, we have to immediately resolve some of these pertinent issue before schools are fully reopened. First, all politicians must stay far away from our basic and secondary schools. The schools and students are for Ghana and not any political party. Let no politician in the coming day brand a group of students as “so so and so graduates”.
The students are for Ghanaian parents and so they are Ghana graduates. Politicians must exercise great restrain by not politicizing the appointment of GES directors, headmasters and other staff but allowing the professional institutions to appoint their management heads through meritocratic procedures.
If possible, politicking should be prohibited in our schools because teachers have become politicians and some teachers use class periods to do petty politics instead of executing their academic and professional duties. Politicians should learn to be decent and decorous in both language and action when utilizing public platforms. Leaders should focus more action that will promote discipline in school and result in excellent education in the country.
Also, we need to remove all elements that culminate into and aggravates indiscipline behavior in our schools. Teachers must be given the power to enforce discipline once again. Correctional punishment in schools such as ground work, suspension, or outright dismissal must be enforced in our schools.
Headmasters should be given the opportunity to undertake actions that will promote quality teaching and learning without any bureaucratic procedures. Mass promotion leads to laziness and so Students should not be promoted when they fail three or more subjects, rather such students should be repeated or demoted. Unless it is a criminal behavour, dismissing students on the basis of poor academic record should not be supported.
Finally, leadership must focus greater attention on quality. Realistically, it’s far rewarding to produce few quality graduates than to waste tax payer’s money to chan out mass failures. Just producing students with SHS background should not be our objective as a nation. It is widely accepted that, most criminals in our society are products of school failures and frustrations.
Therefore, it is important to create opportunities in terms of skills training and livelihoods for even people who did not attend senior high schools. Additionally, the quality of contact hours in the class has been compromised due to the semester and double track systems. As such, it must be reversed to our termly system that gives the opportunity for the children to stay more in school than being at home.
Furniture, textbooks, TLMs and all other infrastructural needs of the schools contribute to excellent student performance and so leaders should pay urgent attention to ensure the provision of these things are adequate enough for better training of our future leaders.
Education and health should never be political propaganda, but a national priority. If for any reason, we run down our educational institutions through petty politics, then the future of Ghana will be doomed because we will not only be producing idiots, but we will be producing rebels for our motherland. The 2020 candidates’ behaviour have given us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and rewrite the wrong. And the earlier leaders of Ghana realize it the better. Let’s not wait and allow our pots to burn in our watch, rather let’s make hey while the sun shines.
Abu Ibrahim Azebre