19.08.2003 Feature Article

Reframing the Purposes of in-school Education in Ghana

Reframing the Purposes of in-school Education in Ghana
19.08.2003 LISTEN

What are the purposes of national in-school education in Ghana? To most Ghanaians this is an irrelevant question, since the purposes or goals of in-school education in Ghana should be obvious to everybody without necessarily expressing them in words- to acquire English literacy, numeracy and employability skills and to eliminate ignorance. However, this paper argues that the purposes or goals of national in-school education in Ghana as spelled out by Ghana Ministry of Education are short-sighted. Because the goals of in-school education in Ghana are short-sighted, we do not know whether the direction the nation’s education system is heading is the one that will help us to build a viable nation. In addition, with the short-sighted goals of education we cannot determine whether our educational outcomes or actual performance has either fallen short of our goals or exceeded them. Owing to our short-sighted goals of education, we readily accept anything from Western countries that is nicely packaged as education, similar to the way we accept other packages such as freedom, market economy, and democracy. It should be noted that the purposes of education are different from the principles of education. While the principles of education are rules and standards that guide the education enterprise in achieving its goals, the purposes of education are a set of realistic objectives, short or long-term, that we want to achieve within the limit of our resources and over a specific period of time. For example, the Ghana Ministry of Education’s intention to make education accessible to girls, to establish distance education to facilitate the expansion of tertiary education, and to give all post-secondary institutions tertiary status are principles of education enterprise, not the goals or purposes of national in-school education in Ghana. Nevertheless, the ministry’s plan to put more emphasis on scientific and technological education could be construed as national goal or purpose of in-school education. As well, the purposes of in-school education should be rooted in the cultures of Ghana and linked to its economic, social and political development goals. For this reason, the attempt by the Ghana Ministry of Education to link the national purposes of in-school education to Vision 2020(The nation’s economic development plan that the NDC government drew) is an excellent one indeed. However, its failure to frame the purposes of our national in-school education to reflect our Ghanaian cultures (shared cultures) is very disappointing and sad indeed. It makes our post-colonial in-school education no different from the colonial variety. Finally, the purposes of in-school education are not the same for all countries, since every country has its own aspirations, values, belief system, national development goals, or problems. It is possible, however, for some countries to share common purposes of in-school education due to similarities in culture and national aspirations. General Purpose of Education Browsing through the Ghana Ministry of Education website, the first phrase that caught my attention was the following: “The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one” (Malcolm Forbes). I shook my head in disbelief and took a glance at my calendar to make sure that I was not reading this in the 1930s! What is an open-mind? What are the basic characteristics of an open-mind? Who has the authority to define an open mind? The British? The Americans? Who? That quote is similar to the British colonial purpose of education in all its intents and purposes that assumed, quite unrealistically, that Africans were ‘tabula rasa’ (empty minds), who lacked any form of knowledge and did not have any social or cultural institutions worthy of their respect. Consequently, the intent of the colonial education was to fill the “empty African minds” with knowledge so that they would have “open minds”. This supposed “empty mindedness” of Africans was enshrouded in code phrases such as eliminating ignorance and disease among Africans, Christianizing and civilizing them. Even after obtaining political independence, we still hold on tenaciously to this colonial purpose of education, that is why we proudly display it in the ministry’s website. However, at any level of the education enterprise, it is a gross mistake to assume that students have empty minds that need to be filled, just as the British colonial educators wrongly thought. The main reason is that students come to school with many forms of important knowledge, skills, and abilities gained through observation, communication, experience, and experimentation. These knowledge and skills must be valued and validated and students must be provided opportunities to develop or enhance. The failure to do this makes the in-school education in Ghana nothing but an instrument of indoctrination and propaganda. The celebrated Russian philosopher Lev Vygostsky once stated: “the purpose of education is to provide assistance to learners that enable them to achieve levels of development – and efficiency and networking- that they would not be able to achieve by themselves”. The levels of development that students are assisted to achieve are built upon the resources (skills, knowledge, attitudes, and abilities) that they bring with them to school. In order words, these resources provide the foundation upon which anything else is built. But because our in-school education system is still patterned after that of the British colonial master, we consciously or unconsciously destroy all the valuable resources that students bring with them to the school system. The results are self-alienation, frustration, disappointment, and impersonalization of the learning process. I have personally witnessed a good number of Ghanaians whose career aspirations have been distorted or sometimes stifled by in-school education in Ghana. The main reason is that a majority of teachers are incapable of identifying individual student talents, let alone to help the student to develop those talents. In reading comprehension that is designed to assess students’ competency in language processing and understanding, for example, learning activities in the form of questions are based solely on facts in the text. No questions are constructed that require an interpretation of facts and information based on the students’ lived experiences or realities and subjectivities. This is one area where students’ imagination and creativity could be cultivated or enhanced. Nor do teachers ask questions that require problem-solving, a skill that graduates from our education system badly need. Stripping students of the knowledge and skills that they bring with them to the schooling setting, as both colonial and post-colonial education has successfully done to our people, is culturally suicidal. It creates a big gap between school experiences and home experiences. That is, it brings about a discontinuity between what takes place in the culture and the school environment. Indeed, in Ghana it is not uncommon to hear people saying that there are differences between “home intelligence and that of school”. This saying implies that the skills and knowledge learned at school are not applicable in the Ghanaian cultures. Why should this be the case? How do we then improve our cultures if we continue to put a wedge between school knowledge and home knowledge? Moreover, stripping students of the knowledge and skills they bring to school leads to a “banking education”(to borrow Paulo Freire’s term, the Brazilian educator) in which teachers continuously deposit strands of knowledge into students’ heads and expect them to reproduce the same knowledge when called upon to do so. And students who successfully do this are generously rewarded with high grades, if not distinctions. What is wrong with banking education is that it promotes blind regurgitation of information without any critical thinking on the part of the learners. Indeed, learning becomes a mere retentive memorization or repetitive activity, much to the disadvantage of students who are critical thinkers or creative. In addition, it makes our youth reject the culture of which they are an integral part, and fills them with the desire to imitate the culture of the colonial master. The consequence of this is that the education system produces graduates who have no distinctive cultural identity and who are incapable of using their acquired knowledge and skills to develop the nation’s culture and resources. Therefore, the so-called post- colonial education system in Ghana contributes to our state of underdevelopment, just as the colonial education system enslaved us and made it easier for the colonial government to exploit our natural resources. Specific Purposes of Education According to the Ghana Ministry of Education’s website the national purposes or goals of education are: 1. Education and training for skill development with emphasis an on science, technology and creativity; 2. Higher education for the development of middle and top level manpower requirement; 3. To ensure that all citizens are functionally literate and self-reliant. Each of these objectives or goals must be critically evaluated. Shibboleths such as scientific and technological education always imply learning exclusively from “Western stock of scientific and technological knowledge” rather than a combination of ours and those of Western”. The fact is that we have never acknowledged that we have any scientific or technological knowledge and skills worthy of learning by our children through in-school education. Nevertheless, our society has rich scientific and technological knowledge that must be passed on to the youth. For instance, we have knowledge of beer-making in the form of pito. Any one familiar with the science and technology of beer-making and pito brewing in Northern Ghana knows that the two are fundamentally the same. The something can be said of cloth weaving, iron smelting, farming, and herbal medicine. Unfortunately, over the years, we have regarded such knowledge as “home or traditional knowledge,” not valuable knowledge to be learned in our school system. This is one of the causes of our underdevelopment, in that science and technology education cannot be meaningful students unless it is based on the cultural referents in our society. After all historically education has always been the process through which a society transmits its culture to its children. With goal number 2, apart from the sexist word manpower it is misleading to assume that higher education would necessarily lead to the development of middle and top level human resources that would fit the national requirement for innovation, progress and critical thinking. In fact, much depends on the types of higher education, its pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment practices. History is riddled with evidence that shows that our institutions of higher education are unable to produce human resources capable of innovative and critical thinking, effective and efficient decision-making. On the contrary, our higher institutions are good at producing graduates who are experts in maintaining the status-quo; who have no vision for practical management (not merely passing examinations) of a macro or micro economy; and who lack the work ethic of our wealth-producers, cocoa and other farmers. Ironically, such graduates label themselves as the elites of our society and feel that society owes them an obligation to give them private cars with chauffeurs, flamboyant bungalows, garden boys, cooks, and watchmen. Simply put, these crops of graduates want to occupy the vacuum that the colonial masters have left behind. The last goal of education on the list, functional literacy, is invariably taken to mean functionality in written, reading and oral English communication. We treasure English proficiency so much that we regard it as the only measure of intelligence, while other equally valuable forms of intelligences such as artistic, naturalistic, intra and interpersonal are discounted and cast to the dogs! It is no surprising that the government language policy prohibits the speaking of our indigenous languages in secondary schools and requires all students and teachers/administrators to use English for all their communication needs. The rationale for this policy is that would help students to become proficient in the English language. Aside from the fact that the government language policy has no research support, it sends a strong message to students that their own languages have no place in our school. So is their culture, because language is an integral part of culture. Education for self-reliance, which is part of the third goal of our national in-school education, is not a new concept in our society. As a matter of fact, it is one of the goals of our indigenous education system to trains our youth to assume adult roles and to be self-sufficient. Our traditional education system perceives education as a means of survival, not for acquiring foreign language skills. Nonetheless, both the colonial and post-colonial education in Ghana operates in direct opposite to this important goal of traditional education. The colonial education system produced dependent subjects, whereas the post-colonial education system has dependent and inert citizens as its output. Most graduates of both systems have been a huge liability to our society. They are partly to blame for our present economic predicament and social decadence, for it is time we apportion the roots of our problems between both external and internal factors.

Concluding Remarks Education takes places in different settings in our society, including the family, the community, the workplace, the church, and the school. That is why I have used the term “in-school education” to refer to the kind of education that takes place within the school environment rather than the generic term “education”. Needless to say, the schools have no monopoly on education in our society so we have to make distinctions about which kind of education are we talking about. Having analyzed our national goals of in-school education, my conclusion is that they are short-sighted and poorly articulated. Consequently, we need national in-school education goals that recognize our cultures and aim at changing attitudes detrimental to our economic, social, and political well-being. Specifically, such goals could be itemized as follows: 1. To help students to develop scientific and technological skills, both indigenous and foreign, that can be applied to our social, political and economic development; 2. To help students to reconcile the expectations, attitudes and values of communities to which they belong and to help them acquire the skills, knowledge and attitudes expected by those communities in which they will satisfy their vocational and avocational needs; 3. To assist citizens to become functionally literate in both English and other local languages; 4. To educate students to become critical and innovative thinkers, problem-solvers, productive, and to develop appropriate work ethic and self-management skills (such as commitment, responsibility, initiative, perseverance, co-operation.). The above suggested in-school educational goals should be incorporated in curriculum, assessment practices, pedagogy and instruction delivery as well as learning activities in all levels of the in-school education system, including primary schools. The goals also imply a fundamental alteration in the ways teachers are trained in Ghana. The teacher colleges that were setup in the 1950s to train teachers for our schools need an immediate restructuring. In particular, the transmission model of instruction has outlived its absolute usefulness and has been replaced with more progressive models of teaching and learning such as transaction, interaction, investigation/research, and co-operation. Similarly, testing as a means of assessment must be combined with other innovative assessment methods. Performance-based assessment, for example, looks at the level of understanding students have been able to achieve for each concept taught. Among other things, the role of the teacher/instructor must include identifying, monitoring, and developing students’ talents. This paper starts a debate on the purposes of in-school education in Ghana. The answer to the question what are the purposes of in-school education in Ghana? Is crucial to any reforms of Ghana’s school system. We cannot, for example construct an appropriate curriculum if we are uncertain about the purposes we want in-school education to serve in our society. In the same way, we cannot restructure teacher-training colleges in Ghana until we are able to find a satisfactory answer to that question.