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01.10.2005 Feature Article

Rejoinder: Computerized Confusion

Rejoinder: Computerized Confusion
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I have found many of the articles by 'J.A. Fukuor' in his 'Letter from the President' series interesting and relevant to the issues of the day. However, I definitely disagree with his take in a recent article on the computerized selection and placement system recently introduced by the Ghana Education Service.

To start with, his article revealed his weak understanding of the system or management information systems in general. The fact that there have been isolated incidences or flaws of the new system; where some few individuals have been placed in “farway” or expensive private schools as he claimed, does not justify a call for the change or ridicule of the system. The development of such a system or any other piece of software is an iterative process; otherwise all the bugs or programming errors in Windows OS would have driven the world biggest and most successful software giant (Microsoft) out of business. The challenge to any design and implementation of such system lies in its continuous improvement at a technical level (software) as well as the social/political context in which it is introduced.

I have no business interest and hence I do not intend to justify programming errors in the computerised selection and placement system in order to defend the GES and the company contracted to develop the system, but the judgement of the writer is quite misleading. The fact that the candidate he refers to, with an aggregate of 12 failed to secure admission in either her chosen school or any other school in her immediate vicinity does not make the system necessarily faulty or inefficient. It may have resulted in an event that some candidates failed to satisfy the admission requirement of the chosen schools (from first choice to third choice). Hence there would be a need, at least for the system to assign those candidates to school with vacancies in different part of Ghana if all school places in the immediate vicinity of the candidate are filled. This may be considered a better option than to have no school at all for those candidates.

From the point of view of a system developer and the absence of the programming code (syntax) of the GES system, it only seems logical to assume that after the admission places are filled in some schools, the system would have to assign the vacant places to candidates without admission places. If schools in the immediate vicinity of those candidates are filled, the next fairer option is to randomise the places available to the candidates without places. This means some candidate in the northern regions may be assign to schools in the south and vice versa. The sad and difficult reality is; if a candidate does not like the school that she is assigned to, then her parents would have to find a convenient school for her based on their budget.

The hard and sad fact is that; this always happens irrespective of the software issues or finance. This is because there would always be parents who prefer their wards to go to the most prestigious school even though their wards may fall out of the admission requirement. This usually results in chaos during admission session in secondary schools in Ghana. The process computerization is only manifesting these social issues associated with admission in general in a different way. This sometimes happen in the British secondary school placement and in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand. It is less of an issue because they are rich enough to build new schools almost every year. The surest means for candidates to secure admission in schools of their choice is for them to do very well beyond their peers in their exams. I am sure if the girl that 'Mr. Fukuor' referenced in his article had resoundingly passed with As in all subjects, she would not have suffer such an ordeal and as such there would be no need for this discussion.

I am quite disappointed that his article seems rather negative about the computerization process of a system that our countrymen have always described to be cumbersome and corruption laden. The least that we can do in the current situation is to encourage and challenge the system developers and the GES to continually improve the system and consequently aim at perfection rather than calling for unnecessary re-examination. As a nation and a group of people, we must be positive and serious about where we are heading toward and the tools needed to propel us there (information & data). We must not entertain any elements of cynicism and destructive criticism. At the same time neither should we toy ourselves that the process computerization is the solution to corruption. We should not forget we need individuals to mind the system. Corruption thrives on social networking of individual human but not computers. Once the individual who run the system is corrupt or at least susceptible to corruption, the computerized system, ironically, can even be exploited to improve their efforts and concealment of corruption.

Moreover, I suggest to the writer of that article not to attack the competence of institutions without reliable data or information, because it can sometimes lead to disastrous influence on national unity and corporate branding. The era for manual school selection process should be seen off and be replaced by a better, equitable and efficient system currently being implemented. I am convinced, based on evidence available to my fellow Ghanaians and personally to me on my visit to Ghana a few months ago, that the GES and the government have definitely made the right decision for the future.

On the issue of education of parents raised in his article, I total agree with him that GES and other associated stakeholders must intensify the education of parents for them to understand the system and get a fuller picture. The GES and its stakeholders must bring the parents on-board and spell out the immerse potential of system clearly to them- it is imperative to the success of the system for GES to have all end-users and other stakeholders including parents to achieve unity of purpose devoid of bias and unnecessary political pressure.

Our nation must wake up and accept that the over-mentioned, overused and sometimes misused acronym 'ICT' should not only decorate political speeches for cosmetic purposes, but rather, be used as a developmental tool as a vital piece of a jigsaw towards building a prosperous nation. Daniel Morkla The University of Manchester Information Communication Technology Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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