Since coming into office, President Kuffour has devoted much of his efforts to finding a solution to our chaotic economic condition and to at least return it to the path of growth. It’ll be disingenuous at the moment for anyone to say that the result so far is satisfactory. But, given the mess that his administration inherited from its predecessor, we need to exercise patient and give him time to get the job done. One important issue though that needs immediate attention in Ghana today is EDUCATION reform. Sometimes I refer to our current school system, as a failed system because it has definitely not lived up to expectation. Since the last reforms in the late 1980s, when the JSS and SSS (Junior & Senior Secondary Schools) system supplanted the old British system, our education has gone downhill rather than improve. That has contradicted the purpose of the whole exercise and rendered any cost or time saving benefit meaningless and simply irrelevant. Of course, it’s a valid argument to say that the old system cost the government too much money to maintain and also the number of years spent in school by the average student was too long. But, the important fact is that the overall quality was unparalleled. After independence, the Nkrumah administration introduced free education in the country and earmarked about one-third of Ghana’s annual revenue to vigorously promote that policy. That campaign enabled many Ghanaian children from both the rich and poor families to attend school. In fact, parents who didn’t appreciate the essence of educating their children were prodded through variety of incentives to do so. The result was a tremendous educational success in Ghana’s history for almost three decades. That achievement enabled Ghana to export teachers and professionals to many African countries, which were in need of assistance in every area of their development. An example is Nigeria. After their civil war, when the country needed outside help to rebuild its shattered infrastructures, Ghanaian teachers, artisans, professionals, engineers, doctors, skilled workers, etc, were all enticed to migrate to assist in that effort. Additionally, when our own economy tumbled in the 1970s, many Ghanaians with parallel skills left our shores to join their countrymen for jobs in Nigeria. Among some of the teachers that were enticed to migrate was my own brother Professor Stephen O. Agyei-Mensah of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, who taught for years at Ife before proceeding to take over an entire secondary school system in the Cameroon. The quality of our education also made it possible for many Ghanaians who didn’t attend college in Ghana to excel at colleges and universities in foreign countries. There’s absolutely no argument that that is attributable to the excellent curriculum pursued by our secondary schools system back then. At the moment, we need to critically examine our current school system and to determine what changes if necessary is needed to fix the problems. The old system encouraged the use of the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) for admission into our secondary schools. That requirement forced the preparatory institutions to teach the students comprehensive English with emphasis in reading, writing and speaking and elementary mathematics in algebra, proportion, fractions, etc before they take the test. As a result, these students retain complete understanding of the course matter before they enrolled for their secondary education. Moreover, the five-year secondary school system provided bedrock of education and requires the student to take the GCE (General Certificate of Education) examination before proceeding to the Sixth Form for the advanced certificate. The Sixth Form education provided the platform for the students to acquire pre-college preparatory education and a post-secondary experience. That did not only benefited the student in his future endeavor but also the country as a whole in terms of filtering out the number of students able to enter into our limited-capacity universities. Besides, it generated a group of well-educated student body for the essential National Service program. The current JSS and SSS system has eliminated all of the above-mentioned benefits, and beyond that, the critical ingredient of our education is missing: which is QUALITY. Without the common entrance examination that prepares the students for the secondary education, students from the primary schools enter into the JSS program with little ability to read, speak, and write proper English. Three years in the JSS program cannot be said to be enough to prepare the students for SSS courses. And another three years of SSS curriculum undercuts the experience gained at pursuing a five-year secondary education and additional two-year sixth form program. I don’t consider the JSS as a secondary education because it’s a quasi-secondary program with many deficiencies. The whole education system in Ghana has been turned upside down somewhat with even reports of some teachers organizing their own summer classes to teach regular semester syllabus in an effort to make extra money to supplement their meager salaries. This practice does not only leaves students who cannot afford to pay to attend behind, but it violates universal education principles and must be banned by the government forthwith. Furthermore, without the Sixth Form education, many graduate SSS students are forced to wait for years before enrolling into our universities due to limited space. The report of twelve students sharing one room at Cape Coast University was horrible if not heartbreaking. And amid the crumbling facilities, students are expected to study hard and complete their education successfully. So my humble question is, where is the money saved so far from the school reform program forced on us by the IMF and the World Bank in the late 1980s? The sad commentary about education in Ghana today is that it’s no more affordable or free. In the United States of America, education is considered a NATIONAL SECURITY issue; therefore, it’s compulsory for every child to attend school. Parents that don’t send their children to school face prosecution and this is no laughing matter. The government provides the necessary facilities to make the compulsory education possible through busing, feeding, and variety of assistance and scholarships programs for the students. In Georgia for instance, the state government introduced the state lottery in order to generate revenue for school scholarship for students in the state and it’s dubbed “ The Hope Scholarship”. The practice is becoming widespread as other states emulate the Georgia success story. The government of Ghana needs to find creative ways to fund education in Ghana. The lottery, sales tax, property tax, business tax, poll tax, etc are some of the variables that must be considered when deciding the course of action to take. What our government must bear in mind as far as education is concern is that no country on the face of the earth has been able to develop its economy without a good education for its citizens. In one of my previous articles, I emphasized the importance of education to developing our economy. For the purpose of this article, I’ll like to, with the permission of my readers, to repeat certain paragraphs from one of those articles to reemphasize the point that I wish to convey to the government. A strong manufacturing economy requires an educated labor force that keeps pace with evolving technologies at their workplace and an equally strong EDUCATION system to sustain that level of commitment for many years. One may wonder how significant education is to an economy. Well, let’s consider this study that appeared in one of January’s edition of Wall Street Journal in 1994 about Ghana and Malaysia. Both countries attained their independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia utilized over one half of its inheritance from Britain to educate its citizens. Ghana did not. Malaysia also allotted a sizable portion of its annual revenue to sustain that policy for many years. By 1994, according to the study, Malaysia had achieved over 97 per cent literacy rate with a semi-developed economy while Ghana was just enjoying around 35 to 40 per cent with largely an agricultural market. Malaysia has invested heavily in Ghana today acquiring key corporations in the telecommunication and film industry. This is the essence of education.
Ghana must make education compulsory and affordable to all Ghanaians. There’s NO WAY that we can ever develop our economy with less than 80 per cent sustained literacy rate. Our government should work closely with the universities to come up with new ideas, innovations, and inventions to improve our daily lives and move the country forward. That can only happen however, if the government earmarks substantial amount of money annually to the universities for research and development (R&D) purposes.
Companies that operate in the country must be encouraged to cooperate with our universities to develop tools of operation. University graduates must be given jobs and be remunerated handsomely to keep them in the country. More public universities must be established and private ones encouraged to accommodate school graduates whom due to lack of space are forced to wait in line for almost three years before entering into college. More emphasis must also be placed on graduating advance degree holders in the master and doctorate categories to create experts in different fields of study in Ghana.
The Ghanaian government must also declare basic education (Primary and Secondary) free so all Ghanaian children will receive equal opportunity to education. We cannot afford to lose any child because the consequences of uneducated children are hardship, misery, poverty and crime.
Educated adults find innovative ways to live but illiterates often steal and kill to do so. Moreover, as Ghana aggressively seeks foreign investment, it needs an educated workforce to facilitate business operations. We must bear in mind that many foreign investors in most cases are reluctant to invest in a place where majorities of the people they are going to deal with are illiterate. The third largest foreign exchange earner for the country last year was remittance from Ghanaian citizens living in overseas. As new generation of Ghanaians travel out, the education they received in the country will enable them to get good jobs in foreign countries and improve upon what we are doing today. So regardless of how hopeless our economic situation presently is, I’ll still call on the government to make education a cornerstone of its domestic policy and also make it affordable for every Ghanaian child. To paraphrase the motto of the United Negro Fund, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Maybe this should also be our mantra. Finally, the pride of every Ghanaian in Lagos in the 1970s and the early 1980s was what our Nigerian brethren would sometimes say whenever they hear us speak the English language; “Omo Ghanaanian don sabi grammar”, or “Omo Ghanaanian grammar na wa”, or “Omo Ghanaanian una know grammar.” That was when Anglo West Africa really appreciated the quality of Ghana’s education. We must reform our current failing system now to restore the country to its past glory.
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