09.12.2008 Feature Article

Empty classrooms and desperate parents

Empty classrooms and desperate parents
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The beginning of every academic year is a period of mental torture and physical agony to many parents and school authorities. On the one side are desperate parents moving up and down looking for suitable schol1ls for their children.

Suitable schools here are the well-established ones with long records of good academic performance. Suitable here also means schools that are not only good in terms of academic performance but are also not too far away from concerned and doting parents.

On the other side are headmasters/headmistresses of the so-called well-endowed schools who are at their wits' end trying to fend off demands from desperate and aggressive parents who will not take 'NO' for an answer-if told the school had filled all its admission vacancies. These demands come from old students who cannot be easily ignored because of their contributions to the development of the school, friends, relatives, church members, traditional rulers and
the 'almighty' political heavyweights.

Sometimes the pressure becomes so great and insurmountable that school heads simply place 'No vacancy' notices in front of their administration blocks and vanish into thin air. In the past, when the decision to admit or not to admit lay entirely in the hands of the school authorities, that period was described as the cocoa season of the educational authorities and you either played by the rules or suffered the consequences.

The introduction of the Computerised Schools Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) over the last three academic years or so was made with good intentions to, among other things, ease the pressure on school authorities, reduce the burden of school search on parents, close avenues for shady deals and ensure that students are placed in the right schools as per their performance in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).

Unfortunately, like many new things, the computerised placement system ran into difficulties, some of which could not necessarily be placed at the doorstep of the managers. In the process, the relief the CSSPS sought to bring to both candidates and school authorities was virtually blurred.

Parents continued to move from one school to another, seeking admission for their children at the beginning of the academic year. School heads, on the other hand, continued to suffer the pain of explaining to frustrated parents why they could not offer admissions to their children.

Despite the assurances that the CSSPS will improve with time, it appears for now the problems associated with fresh admissions will not go away because they go beyond the computerised placement system.

The tragedy of the situation is that while parents are still struggling to place their children in schools, the Ghana Education Service has also made claims that a lot of schools are yet to have their full complement of admissions.

According to a report in the Junior Graphic (Wednesday, December 3-9, 2008), with only a few weeks to the end of the first term of the 2008/09 academic year, most schools in the Volta, Eastern, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions are still struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified candidates.

The breakdown shows that in the Volta Region, out of the 72 senior high schools, as many as 64 have vacancies for qualified BECE candidates. In the Eastern Region, the schools with vacancies are 43, out of the existing 78 schools.

In the Ashanti Region, 39 schools have declared vacancies, while in Brong Ahafo 38 schools have vacancies for fresh students.
There are 27 schools in the Northern Region with vacancies, while Western Region has 25 schools with similar problems.

In the other regions, Central has 19 schools that could not fill their vacancies; Upper East has nine; Upper West 11, and Greater Accra seven.

By the close of this year's CSSPS, 16,000 candidates are still searching, notwithstanding the long-list of schools still thirsting for new students. The question, then, is, Why this puzzle of floating candidates in the midst of vacant schools?

A close study of the schools still waiting for the arrival of new students while the first term draws to a close will show a common denominator. All these schools are in the rural areas which share common problems; with a few others in the big towns and cities. They simply do not have the facilities to qualify them as senior high schools.

Most of these schools do not have the requisite infrastructure such as classroom blocks, laboratories, libraries, workshops and dormitories to make academic work exciting and challenging.

Apart from the physical infrastructure and learning materials which these schools are tacking, getting qualified teachers for them has always been a problem. Under the circumstances, most parents will do anything to' avoid these schools, if even that means waiting for another academic year.

The decision to build more senior high schools in the rural communities was laudable and well-intentioned, to primarily stem the exodus to the urban centres and cities to seek higher educational laurels. It was also to give more opportunities to the youth in the rural communities to have access to higher education without the drudgery of travelling long distances to other parts of the country.

Unfortunately, these laudable objectives could not be attained because the exercise fell short of expectation.

Most of the schools could not mature enough into what they were expected to be - well-equipped and staffed schools to offer quality education to children in the rural communities.

Consequently, students from these schools could hardly make it to the tertiary level, given the competitive environment prevailing in the country, for obvious reasons, hence the reluctance of parents to risk the future of their children by enrolling them in those schools.

Some of the older schools in the urban centres and cities are not insulated from these deprivations. They, therefore, become the last choice for parents who are determined to give their children quality education.

It will, therefore, be wrong for anyone to think that parents are being too demanding when they insist on getting admission for their children in certain particular schools.

The Catholic Church for instance, has been able to put up very good schools in even the rural areas and products from those schools do not find it difficult to rub shoulders with the so-called first-class schools. Other religious institutions are doing same.

To make the ground level to make it possible for candidates to accept admission to these community schools means adequately resourcing these schools with everything which makes a school a school and not just any confined area for teaching and learning.

Apart from expanding facilities in the well established schools so that they can take more students, the communities should be given proper facelift so that they can be attractive not only to students but also the teaching staff who get frustrated by the poor and inadequate facilities.

As they are now, most of these rural community senior high schools at best only prolong the time, these children spend in school without adding any qualitative improvement to their academic career. The result is what we are seeing now - vacant schools and students without schools.

Credit: Daily Graphic

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