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18.10.2020 Opinion

Voice From The Classroom

By Edward Nuotaba || St. Thomas Senior High School, Asamankese,E/R.
Voice From The Classroom
LISTEN OCT 18, 2020

Brian Tracy, a Canadian-American motivational public speaker and self-development author in one of his books: The power of self discipline, says "The most successful people are long term thinkers, they look into the future as far as they can to determine the kind of people they want to become and the goals they want to achieve, they then come back to the present and determine the things that they will have to do or not do to achieve their desired futures."

I want to believe that the people who are seeking to lead us are avid readers. Our country has witnessed several leaders but one may ask whether the leaders who have come after Dr. Kwame Nkrumah are long term thinkers like him and the Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.

According to a journal published on 2nd July 2018 by Jon S.T. Quah,

Public Administration and Policy: An Asia-Pacific Journal,

highlighted five secrets of Singapore’s success story hinged on

policy context from 1959 to 2016;

1.The pragmatic leadership of the late Lee Kuan Yew and his successors.

2. Effective public bureaucracy.

3.Effective control of corruption.

4. Reliance on the “best and brightest” citizens through investment in Education and competitive compensation.

5. learning from other countries.

The above in my view, are the replica pillars that Ghana needs to be able to rock shoulders with other sovereign nations in this 21st century. Singapore had independence in August 1965, 8years after Ghana's independence but can Ghana ever compare herself to Singapore?

In Singapore, we are told that it will be extremely difficult to distinguish day from night. 63 years after independence, do we have to still blame our western colonial masters for our predicaments? A situation I prefer to call self-inflicted. Sadly, the famous expression, "the black man is capable of managing his own affairs" has been thrown to the dogs!

Ghana's perspective

Among the five pillars raised as being the secret of Singapore's success story, it is evident that Education is sine-qua-non to executing them. Indeed, Education has a commanding importance in the development of every nation which is why successive leaders after the visionary Nkrumah have done their best, little though, to improve on Education in the country to which many have questioned whether our products are competitive in the global job market. Junior Secondary School (JSS,) Senior Secondary school (SSS,) junior High school (JHS,) and Senior High School (SHS) have been introduced to meet the job market demand of the 21st century. Several policies and programmes thereof have also been introduced to complement and consolidate what has been laid; GETFund, FCUBE, Capitation grants, and now free SHS. Undoubtedly, Education is a ground leveller and a game-changer, it gives equal opportunities to all regardless of background; tribe, religion, colour, origin, sex etc.

Among all the policies introduced in the Education sector post-independence, I will focus on the most widely commented policy, Free SHS. Stakeholders who interact with Senior High school students on daily basis will agree with me that a significant number of students who are enjoying this policy would have been at home if not for the introduction of free SHS.

Upon it being free, It is worrying to note that some parents still have difficulties in giving remittance(chopmoney) to their wards.Your guess could be good as mine as to what would have happened without this life-changing policy.

I'm a proud beneficiary of Nkrumah's Free Education for the then two Regions of the north; Upper Region and Northern Region and It is high time we distinguished the differences between the current "universal" Free SHS and the then Free Senior Secondary School (SSS)Education in the North.

Nkrumah's free Education for the northern folks had a component of an admission fee paying whilst with the birth of Akufo Addo's free SHS, that admission fee window has been quashed! No parent has and will pay a dime as fees for Secondary Education in Ghana. Many international observers and our development partners have argued that this is the true definition of free! and that, this policy has raked in more hands into the world of work.

Many idle hands can now raise heads above water to keep body and soul together. Teachers, nurses, cooks, drivers, carpenters mansions, electricians, etc have their portions of the national cake with the introduction of free SHS. Cases of school drop out have reduced significantly if not eliminated. It is therefore not surprising to see statistics on crime rate declined sharply in the last 3 years.

When this policy was broached, our airwaves were poisoned with views of cynics inspired by sheer propaganda and absent-mindedness. They tagged it as "All lie be lie" suggestive that it was a lie and could not be executed by any president in the fourth Republic. The cynics said free SHS was not feasible at the time and could not be feasible in the next 30 years. Wack argument! Here we are today with free SHS and the group that early on said it was not possible in the next three decades now say they will extend it to cover private schools. What have they now seen? have their eyes now been opened?

This is a group of people who didn't believe in the possibility of free Education yet they want to come back. In the entire record of history, I have not read or heard about any group that has opposed vigorously an implementation of an Education policy. This is a policy that has come to stay and Ghanaians must jealously protect it from the hands of the Pharisees.

Besides the aforementioned, it is high time we said the truth on some ill happenings that are taking away the shine of the policy. I draw my inspiration from the President's inaugural speech where he admonished us (Ghanaians) to be citizens but not spectators and speak out when we see wrong.

For this free SHS policy to yield its intended results, the following are sine qua- non to its success;

1.There must be a cut-off point at the point of entry. E.g aggregate 6-30 or a raw score of 150 marks and above.

2. There must be repetition/ withdrawal of students for unsatisfactory academic output.

3. Double track should be eliminated immediately.

4.Establishment of Technical and Vocational institutions.

Whole sale entry into the SHS in my opinion is a complete disaster! The absence of proper evaluation to seive students before they get access to higher Education is a bumpy and dangerous path to take. Let me demonstrate: In a science class of 39 students, the best aggregate is 16 and the worse is 49, aggregate 49 in a science class? This is a mockery of the system, isn't it? If this is what we have in a science class, the least talked about the other non science related courses, the better! This is not to render the other courses inferior! If that had been the era of Nkrumah's free SSS, there would not have been space in the science class for an aggregate 16 student not to even talk of 49. Those days, we were made to believe that the science class was for the sharp brains, has that changed? A school of thought may argue that an aggregate 49 student from a deprived school can offer science. Yes I agree but in this case, most of these big grades are coming from the big towns and cities. It is public knowledge that students with aggregate 52 are in secondary school. Yes 52, two digits away to the ceiling of 54. In time past, even with aggregate 30 and above, you were most likely to rot at home. In this era of whole sale entry, students at the basic school have no compelling reason(s) to learn and therefore, parents should not be surprise to hear their wards say: whether I learn or not, I will go to SHS. Clear distinction must be made that Nkrumah's free Education in the north had a cut off point. It was not free for non-serious students, students were either repeated or withdrawn on grounds of poor academic output. In this era, I welcome you to the policy of "push my people to go!"

In addition, free SHS has rendered end of term exams impotent, toothless and irrelevant. End of term exams is no more a tool use to evaluate and determine the progress or otherwise of a student.There is no promotion exams, no repetition, no withdrawal, just mass promotion! What do we seek to achieve, quality or quantity? Can these products think and solve problems in the society? If end of term exam is not a preparatory tool for students, why should teachers spend the night marking over 200 scripts? Perhaps the night could be better used....... (only for my ears.)

The much talked-about double track which others have described as a traffic light system of Education is a stop gab measure but a "killer". According to government, it is a temporary measure taken to address the teething problems of FSHS Education following its implementation in 2017. It is an undeniable fact that government is expanding existing facilities, building more class rooms and dormitories to absorb all students into the traditional main stream, this many will agree that government is being proactive. The continuous existence of double track will be likened to picking meat that has fallen on the floor, clean it up and place it back on the ground. No stakeholder in Education is confortable with this double track; teachers, students, parents/guardians, none is comfortable with it. At the time students are familiar and comfortable with the environment and ready to learn, the green light shows for them to move for yet another group. What serious learning can take place in such an environment to cause a relatively permanent change in behavior?

The compelling factors; promotion exams, repetition, probation and withdrawal that make students sit and learn, all unfortunately are missing from the policy. Indiscipline is on the rise and authorities are becoming speechless and helpless. A significant percentage of this FSHS beneficiaries will spend three years in school but return home with nothing, they will later resort to either technical, vocational or trading after 3 years of wasted efforts; precious time , money and energy. This sounds prophetic but not a prophecy of doom. As part of the free SHS policy, government should establish more technical and vocational institutions to cater for the interest of the technical and vocational oriented students.

The E-blocks built by the erstwhile administration could be converted to serve this purpose after all public funds were used to build them and they must not be allowed to gather dust for political reasons. There are so many students wasting their potentials and talents in the secondary schools, such students can be redirected early to the right places where their talents will be best managed.

It is also worrying to note that the less endowed schools have become a heaping ground for "big" grades i.e Category C,D&E schools, it is a sad narrative. Such crop of students can't be heaped on schools that have made their name, not even those that are relying on past glory. I do not think Presec, Legon, St. Peter's, St. Augustine's , Adisadel, St. Francis Xavier have accommodation for aggregate 52 students.If this practice continues, the smaller schools will never grow and will continue to serve as spill over reservoirs for "bad" students.

What is worrying is the fact that, the few good students in these category C, D& E schools are being short changed by the system or polluted by the misplaced majority. Why do we want to protect some schools over others? They must be even distribution of students.

It is true that government has absorbed the motivation and extra classes fees but the questions on the lips of many are;

1. Where is the "Teacher first" policy?

2.Why should government shoulder all the burden when parents can help in some areas.

3.Can't we draw inspiration from the short wise saying: cut your coat according to your cloth?

This free SHS policy reminds me of a short wise saying in Dagaree: "when you dare hold on the leg of an elephant in wrestling, in few minutes, you will realize that you have staged a fight that you shouldn't have, you can't wrestle it to the ground neither can you run away from it, if you attempt to run away, it will devour you" with this scenario, you have two options in mind, you either continue to wallow in your struggle or run and be devoured.

Francophone system of Education

With the Francophone(African) system of Education, special exam is organized in class 3, Brevet d'Etude du premier cycle (BEPC.) You are required to pass this exam before you proceed to le Collège(JHS.) Your entry into Lycée(SHS) heavily depends on your performance at le Collège.

At lycée, you have two exams to write.One in la première, Bac1 (form two), and the other in la terminal, Bac2 (form 3). You must pass Bac1 to progress to Bac2. This means that you have two external exams to write in the lycée before you can move into the University, the citadel of learning. University Education in the francophone countries can best be described as the survival of the fittest. If you register for 9 courses for a semester and you fail in any of them, you have to register for all the 9 again but not only the one you were unsuccessful!

What do we have in Ghana? No promotion exams and end of term exams have become a mere formality if not a tradition. Our old system should be infused into this free SHS to add dignity to our secondary Education.

Another school of thought may argue that yes I have raised important issues, however, in any form or shape;

1.Free SHS is better than free pads.

2. It is better to study under double track than to rot at home

3. It better to have access to Education than being denied Education.

4.It is better to spend money on Education than on guinea fowls.

I'm a participant of the 21st century and I can't love any country apart from my country Ghana, I'm a citizen, not a spectator.

Edward Nuotaba,

St. Thomas Senior High School, Asamankese,E/R.

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