Am I surprised Ghana’s educational system is increasingly inching closer and closer to a failed one? Any close watcher of the way our educational system has evolved over the last decade or two would tell you NOT AT ALL. This is because, the attitude of those who matter, in the successful formulation and implementation of our educational policies have either approached their “calling” with nonchalance, sheer arrogance, and even in some cases absolute wickedness. Some of them know very well that their approaches are bound to fail right from ab initio, but go on to pursue their measures, even if it comes at a huge cost to the nation. Recent “bottom ranking” of Ghana’s educational system (with respect to Science and Mathematics) did not come as a surprise to some of us for the following reasons:
Education as a political football
While other countries are increasingly trying to insulate everyday political wrangling from their educational systems, ours is bedeviled by the mischief (and sometimes outright disrespect) that has characterised the political sphere. Our political culture has remained so “infantile” and so full of “small-godedness” to the extent that, politicians can barely build consensus around matters such as education; which is very critical to the human resource development of our nation. When we should be thinking about how to reconfigure/restructure our educational system and make it “fit for purpose”, our politicians are consumed by the politics of “four and three year’s Secondary education”.
If we cannot develop an effective framework for our Secondary schools, how do we expect such structures to “churn out” the best students? After all, some of these people do not care what happens to our educational system, since they can afford to send their kids to the best and brightest schools anywhere in the world. My worry is the village girl and boy whose futures are compromised and stagnated. Because of the afterthought of some privileged few who think they are beyond and above every Ghanaian child and parent.
Recruitment of student-teachers
Growing up, I was made to understand that teaching was a calling. Teachers were revered and held in high esteem. The decision to attend a Teacher Training College in those days was one done with pride and a sense of national duty. Most of the students who opted for teaching knew exactly what they were going into. They had the passion and the enthusiasm to get their fulfillment in creating better futures for their students. A teacher’s best moment is to see his or her student become the best.
There is joy and fulfillment in seeing your student become a responsible person in the society. Their passion motivated them to give detailed attention to all manner of pupils and students in their class. Both slow and fast learners were given the necessary attention to develop at their own pace. There was some sense of discipline and respect in schools.
Can we say same about those who choose to go to Teacher Training Colleges these days? I am however not dismissive of the fact that, there are still genuine and committed people out there who find happiness and joy in teaching. While teaching was conceived as a calling in the past, it has now become a stepping stone for people who are looking out for opportunities elsewhere. Teaching is not their primary calling. Also, while some use it as a platform for nurturing a Faculty Level teaching ambition at the tertiary level, most veer into other areas that have hardly any connection to the teaching profession. Do we blame such people entirely for seeing teaching as a stepping stone? Absolutely not!
Conditions of service for teachers
It is also important to acknowledge that, while we continually blame teachers for the blip in our educational system; have we asked how motivating their conditions of services have improved over the years? Ghanaian teachers are among some of the least paid professionals in the world. How do we attract the best and brightest into the teaching field when they can barely irk out a living from such a profession? With mounting economic instabilities and high cost of living in the country, a teacher can hardly survive on his or her salary.
How do you expect an employee to give off their best, when the incentives to motivate them are missing? That is the quagmire in which the Ghanaian teacher finds himself. To survive as a teacher, you need to find other novel ways of raking in more revenue at the end of the month. Ironically, while teachers and other professionals are complaining about poor conditions of service, our politicians are “living large” with the perception of corruption becoming the talk of the day.
Lack of regular curriculum review
Another obstacle to the success of our educational system is the persistent “colonial mentality” on our educational curriculum. While other countries are continuously reviewing their educational curriculum to meet 21st century development considerations, we are still caught in a system that can barely deliver us from 21st century development challenges.
Contemporary Ghanaian development challenges require novel approaches. A slight shift from what we “usually do”, to more nuanced and specialised spheres such as Science, Technical, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. These are areas that have the potential to fast-track our development process. I am however not a subscriber to those who say we should get rid of liberal education in our system entirely. Even Physical Scientists need some understanding of our society, in order to function properly. Can you imagine the prospects of physicians or engineers who have no knowledge about the social implications of their work? That is why we need a curriculum that complements all the endeavours that make our society a holistic one.
Procedures for recruitment at the tertiary level
Can you imagine a situation where a trainer’s trainer is recruited not on merit, but on patronage or other considerations? That is the situation most tertiary institutions in Ghana are confronted with. Faculty Members in most of our Teacher Training Colleges, Polytechnics and Universities are either there because of their closeness to the “Oga at the top” in those institutions or some other connections. Sometimes students with potential to impact on students at the tertiary levels are denied the opportunity to do so because of ethnic, political or other factors that would have nothing to do with their potential to succeed in academia. I understand there are even cases where lecturers have intentionally frustrated some students because they cannot stand the thought of seeing such students share the same table with them. If you cannot recruit the best people to train the trainers, how do our students get the desired and fit for purpose training? While we are quick at blaming politicians for everything, we must also take responsibility for the “minor insincerities” that are happening under our noses. What is the difference between a corrupt politician and an academic who uses his position to recruit “his own” at the expense of merit? What is the difference between a corrupt politician and a lecturer who denies his student a grade for personal reasons? What is the difference between a corrupt politician and a lecturer who intentionally fails his student for being ambitious? So long as we will continue to make our hate for other people, and personal issues the focus of our educational choices, our educational standards would remain where it is for the next decades.
“Small-goded” and beyond reproach attitude of some lecturers
Beyond the recruitment problem, is the issue of “small-godedness” in our universities: where lecturers and faculty members think they have to be worshipped by students. Instead of focusing their energies on teaching and researching, some have decided to become thin-gods who barely give students the breathing space to nurture their potential. They have become obstacles to students who are genuinely on campus to improve their lots. I recall a conversation I had with a younger friend of mine. He was so angry about happenings in his school to the extent that, he described some of his lecturers as: “one full of vicious and insecure scholars and supervisors who hide their low self-esteem and lack of basic knowledge about scholarly writing to frustrate their students; when some of them can barely communicate their thoughts effectively on paper to an audiences’ understanding”. They become the informants and snitchers for their superiors, just to look good before them. If you have an educational system that is riddled with such insincerities, what futures are we carving out for ourselves?
The Ways Forward
Ghana’s educational system is indeed falling, but we should not be deceived into thinking that, there is a one-shot panacea to the whole problem. While we look up to political leaders to come out with novel solutions to the problem, it is important to recognise that, it is a national crisis that requires the attention of all including civil society. The civil society has a moral obligation to challenge politicians from using our educational system as a political football. We need frameworks and structures that are realistic and forward-looking enough to respond to our development challenges.
Government and actors in the educational sector must coordinate their efforts in making the teaching profession “respectable” enough to attract the best and the brightest. We can no longer afford to leave the profession to people whose primary calling is not teaching. But a stepping stone to other areas they think are more rewarding and fulfilling. As long as we do not make the welfare of teachers and educational workers a priority, our educational system would continue to fall.
While we incentivise our teachers and educational workers, it is important we regularly review our curriculum to make what pupils and students learn relevant to 21st century development issues. It is the only way they can adequately appreciate 21st century problems.
Also, we need to bring sanity into our tertiary institutions; right from the way faculties are recruited to change of attitude amongst lecturers who think the world revolves around them. Even if it means making procedures for the recruitment of faculties more open, in order to purge our universities of cronyism, arrogance and sheer wickedness that is currently ongoing in our institutions. If we cannot get the best people to train our teachers and future leaders, then we are only “toying” with the futures of our unborn generations. We can do better if we take responsibility for the failings in our educational system by doing the right thing.