The age-long mantra, “Education is the key to success”, has always been the memory verse of the lot whenever the word “education” comes up. But nobody puts this in a better perspective than the great Nelson Mandela when he pointed out in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom that: “Education is the great engine of personal development.
It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation.
It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another”. It is noteworthy that “A sound education structure leads to an enlightened society and manpower development, which is able to lead a crusade for social transformation and economic progress” (Asare, 2011, p. 43).
Aside from the benefit of education to society, the undeniable fact that the individual at the heart of education also gets to be massively imparted and impacted by it was also emphasised in Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom when it highlighted that: “Only mass education…. would free my people…. an educated man could not be oppressed because he could think for himself."
This means that education lays the foundation for the development of the human resource of every nation. A well-educated human resource is a skilled and competent human capital; a skilled and competent human capital is productive, and a productive human capital is the spine of every country's economy. It is a known fact that every country's progress is tied to its economy. A healthy economy is a prerequisite for the much sought after total liberation.
Like, all other things, education which, actually, per Merriam Webster Dictionary’s definition, means “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction” has to be good and/or bad. So, if there is a good and bad education, then, what actually constitutes a good or bad education? I think to tout anything as good or bad will have to do with, to a larger extent, its rate of success or failure.
In this case, a good education is one which is able to achieve its purpose, otherwise it is bad. What is the purpose of education in our (the Ghanaian) context? The Education Act (2008), Act 778 speaks clearly to this by stating that: “to provide for an educational system intended to produce well-balanced individuals with requisite knowledge, skills, values, aptitudes, and attitudes to become functional and productive citizens for the total development and the democratic advancement of the nation and for related matters.”
And since Ghana is a member of the United Nations (UN), she automatically subscribes to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG 4:“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Clearly, our goal for education is spelt out in no uncertain terms.
However, it is admissible that setting a clear goal alone cannot pass for a demonstration of the fact that our education system is providing any better education. Education can be said to be taking place if children are learning in schools and thereby acquiring the “requisite knowledge, skills, values, aptitudes and attitudes” accordingly. When this happens, we will have “functional and productive citizens” to spearhead the country's “total development and democratic advancement” agenda.
Mind you, the focus of the international education community has shifted in recent years from measuring input-based statistics surrounding schooling to evaluate education systems, understanding that ‘schooling’ and ‘learning’ are no longer interchangeable terms.
This was put in proper perspective by the World Bank 2018 when they noted that “being present in schools does not mean students are present inside classrooms, and being present in classrooms does not mean learning is taking place. In addition, although there are still improvements to be made in the measurement of learning outcomes, data show children’s learning attainment is often much lower than the age-defined grade that they are placed in”.
Though it is conceivable that we have made some progress by increasing access, with Gross Enrolment Rates (GERs) at the KG and Primary levels reaching over 100 per cent and gender parity achieved at all levels of pre-tertiary education, that alone is no proof of achievement of the purpose of education as enshrined in Act 778 (Education Act, 2008) of our supreme law by the President and Parliament of Ghana.
The World Bank (GALOP PID) 2019 reported that “out of the average years of schooling in Ghana (11.6), the number of quality-adjusted learning years is just 5.7 – children are in school but not learning for nearly six years. Ghana’s HCI at 0.44 means that a child born in Ghana today will be 44 percent as productive when she grows up as she could be if she had complete education and full health.
In other words, 56 percent of productivity is lost for a child born in Ghana today”. If this revelation is not worrying enough, what of the tertiary completion rate of 17% reported by WENR 2019? Even if poverty is one of the contributing factors to this low stat., the woeful WASSCE performances of candidates from Ghana are still telling enough of a poor system. Take the 2020 WASSCE results, for instance, only about thirty percent (30%) of candidates qualified for entry into our tertiary institutions.
These reports do not paint the picture that all is well with our educational system. Do not forget that in our context, career-specific skills are imbibed in our students at the tertiary education level. What then happens to the remaining seventy percent (70%) who did not meet the tertiary entry requirement? Will many of them live healthy and productive lives and be contributors to national development? Juxtapose this situation with the purpose of our education per the provisions of our Education Act, Act 778, and you will concede that there is a learning crisis in Ghana.
Again, EGRA-EGMA 2015 finding that “only a very small minority of pupils in Ghana (2% on average) have achieved the goal of literacy instruction” is quite damning. “The picture resulting from the EGRA is clear: Most P2 pupils in Ghana’s public schools are not learning to read in any language. Literacy instruction, in its current state, is ineffective at providing pupils with the foundation needed to acquire this crucial skill, upon which so much subsequent learning depends.
EGMA in Ghana has shown that pupils are unable to apply their memorized knowledge and hence they are not well prepared to learn more complex and important Mathematics in the higher grades.”-EGRA-EGMA 2015. The point made by the EGRA-EGMA 2015 report is duly corroborated by World Bank 2018.
It reported that: “schooling is not the same as learning. Children learn very little in many education systems around the world: even after several years in school, millions of students lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. In recent assessments in Ghana and Malawi, more than four-fifths of students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read a single familiar word such as the cat.
”The results of the 2016 NEA also showed clearly that the performance of P4 and P6 pupils were generally low. There had been no significant or substantive change in pupil performance since the 2013 NEA. The report concluded that: “The contrast in performance of pupils attending schools in the deprived versus non-deprived districts also reinforces the finding that, rural settings are plagued with very real barriers to learning.”Evidence from available data is emphatically conclusive in the fact that there exists a learning crisis in the country which requires urgent attention.
For those unbelievers of research and data who hold strong convictions that data from research do not paint the actual picture on the ground, let me challenge you further with a simple assignment. For as many days as your time may permit you, simply sample any ten (10) students returning from school each day, one after the other, and find out from each of them what they learnt for that day. Repeat this with the same learners for three or four consecutive days. All of them may tell you something on the first day but trust me, subsequently, most of them will not tell you anything different from what they told you on the first day. Believe you me; learning is certainly not happening in our schools.
This begs the question: what actually accounts for this “no learning” situation in which we find ourselves? A lot! But, genetic factors and environmental factors play dual roles. At times, our children may arrive in the learning environment unprepared/unready for learning due to brain development issues arising from feeding quality and/or health caused by poverty. And, World Bank 2018 confirms this.
Education providers have also failed learners by always failing to set up or create the ideal or perfect learning environment to facilitate the kind of resourceful teaching that makes learning seamless. Teachers often lack the quality or motivation to make learning happen as teaching and learning is an art that requires dedication and much effort to fully activate. Parents have failed to provide (for), decide (for) or guide their children effectively or appropriately to enable them to learn.
All the key stakeholders (government/proprietors, parents, teachers, and learners) have contributed massively in one way or the other to our dire situation of “no learning” which is proving to be an albatross around our necks.
Is there no way we can get around this challenge? There certainly is a way. Nothing is impossible under the sun since the word ‘impossible’ contains its solution: I’m possible. Therefore, government/proprietors must demonstrate commitment to ending the learning crisis by introducing and providing policies, programmes, systems, resources, and curriculum that will enhance teacher standards and motivate them to function efficiently.
Parents need to pay attention to their children's feeding and health during early childhood (from birth through age 8) when the brain undergoes rapid development, and also learn to be more supportive of the children while they increase collaboration with teachers to make children learn. If these conditions ever found their way into our domain and prevailed, learning would be inevitable and dry bones would rise again!