President J.A. Kufuor has noted that access to quality junior and senior secondary school education remains a major challenge to many sub-Saharan African countries.
He said expanding access to quality secondary education and training was, however, indispensable in creating a strong foundation for sustained economic and social development.
President Kufuor said this when he delivered the keynote address at the opening of the third Regional Conference on Secondary Education Training in Africa (SEIA) in Accra yesterday.
The three-day conference, which is being attended by 38 African Ministers of Education and more than 200 other stakeholders, will discuss the challenges facing secondary education in order to chart the way forward.
President Kufuor said without an efficient, credible and sustainable educational system which gave due cognisance to secondary education, the objective of human resource development to make sub-Saharan Africa competitive in today's globalised economy would remain an illusion.
Under Ghana's educational reforms, he said, the junior high school (JHS) system would lay emphasis on general education where students would be exposed to a wide range of subjects and skills to move into a diversified system of senior high school (SHS) system offering training options in vocational, technical, agriculture and general education.
President Kufuor said in spite of constraints, through the regular budgetary allocations, disbursement from the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) and other sources, it was the government's policy to relieve parents of the responsibility of fee payment for their children's education from age four or kindergarten through to age 15 when they were expected to complete JHS.
“Owing to constraints of the economy, the government is unable to extend the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) to SHS. But district assemblies are being encouraged to partner parental support by providing bursaries for deserving students,” the President said.
The Minister of Education, Science and Sports, Papa Owusu-Ankomah, said under the educational reforms, the teacher was central to the country's education.
Without the commitment, dedication and skills of teachers, he said, “no educational measure can succeed”, saying that the government was keenly aware of that and had taken measures in the reforms to address their concerns by making provisions to upgrade teachers' education.
He said there was no doubt that social and economic development in Africa depended mostly on the continent's ability to mobilise, educate and train the youth for the challenges of the 21st century, adding that technical and vocational education was critical to the reforms.
Papa Owusu-Ankomah said technical institutions would be built in all the regions and that school-based syllabi would be restructured to provide the proper foundation for entry into such institutions.
“Technical and Vocational Education Training will liaise with industry, both to design the curriculum and produce the skilled personnel needed to fuel our economy, as it has done for the Asian Tigers such as Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia,” he said.
A director at UNESCO, Ms Ann-Theresa Jetta, called on African governments not to focus on only the number of students who would access secondary education but also the curriculum and delivery of quality education which would lead to the total development of the continent.
That, she said, was to ensure that the continent's educational system did not produce students for other markets but those who would develop the African continent.
Ms Jetta noted that African countries continued to measure their achievements against models which did not necessarily solve their problems, adding that UNESCO was poised to help African countries to take a holistic approach to respond to the needs of the continent.
She said one of the greatest difficulties facing the African continent was to make students study in a language which was foreign.
“We are made to study in a language that is foreign, a language which seems to imprison our young kids and from there they begin to drop out, they begin to under-achieve and, therefore, drop out of a system which seems not to be so responsive,” she said.
According to her, the language policy was an issue, adding that it was not sufficient to import models without looking at the African context.
Ms Jetta urged African countries to deal with the language issue.
“By helping the children to study in their mother language, they begin to feel more comfortable in school. Once they can study and read in their own mother language, the transition to other languages will be very fast,” she said.
Story by Nehemia Owusu Achiaw
& Emmanuel Bonney