The Ghana Education Service has described portions of a Pastoral Letter issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference as “unfortunate”, adding that the GES would be unwilling to offer the concessions demanded in the letter.
Officials of the service also added that an appropriate response was being prepared to the strongly-worded letter which detailed the bishops' opposition to aspects of the new educational reform presently under implementation.
Ahead of that official response, however, the GES took exception to the specific portions of the letter which were critical of the educational reform, especially that which suggested the appointment of only Catholics as heads of Catholic schools, and suggested that it would be less willing to offer concessions to the Bishops as a result.
According to the pastoral letter, Religious and Moral Education, which is key to the moral upbringing of students, was being treated only as “an appendice” to other subjects.
It further noted that the church would no longer accept the situation where non-Catholics were appointed as heads or assistant heads of Catholic educational institutions, stressing, “We insist and now require that the head of a Catholic institution and his or her assistant should pass the test of approval by us.”
It stated that the church could no longer accept the situation where teachers were posted to its schools without being passed through its managers and, therefore, insisted that “our regional managers must be given the authority to post newly-trained teachers allocated to them”.
“We require that where a teacher, Catholic or non-Catholic, teaching in a Catholic school shows a behavioural pattern that is contrary to the Catholic religion and moral principles, he or she should be sanctioned appropriately,” it suggested.
During the conference, which was attended by all the Catholic Bishops in Ghana, the Bishops stated that they had instructed the heads of all Catholic institutions, from the basic to the senior level, to “make religious instruction a compulsory subject to be taught at the beginning of every school day”.
In a press statement, which was read at the conference by the Most Rev Lucas Abadamloora, the Bishop of Navrongo-Bolgatanga and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Bishops insisted that “the supervision of schools that are built by us or handed over to us as Catholic schools, whether they be assisted by the government or are purely private, should be and will be managed by the Church in accordance with its principles.
We, therefore, call upon the government to take steps to amend the Ghana Education Service Act, Act 506”. The letter from the conference, which was later released by the Bishops to the media, was equally strongly-worded, stating that "sidelining religion and morality from education is tantamount to condemning the human person to a lack of a means of developing himself or herself fully to be a human being in the society".
Suggesting that external influences were responsible for the exclusion of religious studies from the curriculum, the letter further alleged that “agents of political and financial institutions in the Western world require our policy makers to sacrifice some of our rights, values and traditions, such as the teaching of religion in schools, as a condition for granting financial assistance” and cautioned policy makers to be “circumspect in this regard”.
When the Daily Graphic contacted the GES for its reaction to those harsh criticisms, high-ranking officials denied any knowledge of the letter and were, in fact, forced to make copies of the one made avaliable to them by the paper.
One of the officials noted that although the GES was yet to respond to the issues raised, the letter was not only overly harsh in its criticism of the educational reform but that establishing dialogue would have been a more appropriate way for the Catholic Bishops to express their views on the new reform.
By releasing the letter without first discussing its contents with the GES, the official suggested, the Catholic Bishops had not allowed the GES to explain the reasons behind the educational reform or to offer compromises.
The official said the GES would now be forced to defend its position and hinted that it would be less open to negotiations as a result.
In answer to a question on the letter's criticisms, the official commented that as part of the reform, the subjects taught at the junior high school (JHS) level needed to be reduced to enable the pupils to study more effectively.
The official explained that religion and moral education had been duly captured in some of the remaining subjects and expressed the view that it was the primary responsibility of parents and the religious bodies to ensure the moral upbringing of children at all times.
Story by Eleanor Gurney
(With additional files from George Ernest Asare (K'si) & Charles Benoni Okine (Accra)