Ghana’s Educational System - Factional Elitism versus Functional Illiteracy, Fact or Fiction?

Feature Article Ghana’s Educational System - Factional Elitism versus Functional Illiteracy, Fact or Fiction?
JUN 29, 2015 LISTEN

Education is the process of exposure to superior and quality knowledge, as well as empowering educatees with valid knowledge so that they have critical thinking skills and faculties to make informed, better and quality decisions which will add value to the quality of their own lives, and lives of others, and in the end, help solve socio-techno-politico-economic (PEST), and national problems.

Can we vouch that in the light of the aforementioned definition and inferred objectives of education, these noble objectives of education are being attained by the current products of our pre-tertiary educational institutions in Ghana?

A.N. Whitehead, the renowned English philosopher and educationist, once wrote that, ‘Education is the purgation of the crudities of the mind.’ Thus, from this quote, we infer that education is a process of refinement socially, mentally, physically, and morally by imprinting on what John Locke referred to as the ‘tabula rasa’ or the analogical blank sheet or uninformed mind of the child. Is our current educational system in Ghana achieving those goals set by Whitehead in his definition, and are we imprinting the right things on the ‘tabula rasa’ of the children?

The Pestalozzi principle of education aims at training the head, heart, and hands of our tutees so that they can think rationally, become passionate about noble and national causes, and become creative with their heads and hands in adding value to the GDP. Can we say that our current educational system in Ghana is achieving those noble goals set by Pestalozzi more than 300 years ago? As a nation, what are the educational goals that we set for ourselves, as defined by the ruling party’s manifesto and policies, and by the public interest? It is, however, gratifying to note that the World Bank from 2014 to 2019 has set aside 156 million dollars towards the Secondary Education Improvement Programme in Ghana. It is targeted at 23 selected Senior Secondary Schools to improve quality delivery of educational services.

What kind of education are we giving our children in Ghana these days? Are we giving the right dose of education which will make our students and pupils self-reliant, tolerant, honest, patriotic, innovative, inquisitive, diligent, globally competitive, technologically-savvy and au-fait, and above all, selfless or altruistic, and patriotic? Is our educational system inspiring confidence in our students to appreciate their self-worth, become appreciate of beauty in nature, beauty in their surroundings, kindle in them high appreciation for aesthetic beauty in art works, music, sculpture, crafts, dance, poetry, folklore, scholarship, temperance and being conservatively futuristic and humane?

For purposes of this short write-up, I shall narrow education down to basic education received up to senior high school level. This write-up will also examine why we have mediocrity in Ghana today, explore the genesis of vices such as corruption, greed and avarice, examination leakages, political kerfuffle and disquiet, media obfuscation, and in general, national malaise and social atrophy in the Ghanaian body polity.

It seems that we have two types of parallel education in Ghana today, leading to education apartheid or separateness. On the one hand, we have some modicum of quality education found in the so-called (in Ghanaian terminology), elite private international schools at the primary and Junior Secondary school levels, where educational standards are relatively quite high, and fees are astronomical, beyond the reach of most average Ghanaians.

On the other hand are the mass ‘cyto’ or public primary and junior secondary schools where in most cases, school buildings are dilapidated, school furniture is hardly found, teachers are inadequate, overworked, and relatively poorly remunerated. Instructional materials are scarcely supplied, and teachers in some cases, for most times, are doing sinecure jobs. Some school pupils in rural areas learn under trees. Some of their dilapidated buildings have their roofs blown off during heavy tropical storms. This is the typical scenario for most poverty-stricken families in poor rural communities, and even in old towns which have experienced declining economic fortunes.

Pupils are mostly deployed to work on farms, or they do some communal labour such as weeding or construction work to help raise some funds for the school kitty. Academic learning is relegated into a secondary status as the aim is to be seen to be going through the motions of delivering some kind of education with no regard for quality. When we say education, it must be total, comprehensive, and holistic education which touches the head, heart, and hands of educatees and tutees.

Run-down school infrastructure is normally found in the remote areas of Ghana where school inspection and supervision is hardly existent. Educational institutions in the public primary and junior secondary categories in Ghana have become havens and incubators for sakawa or internet fraudsters, breeding grounds for loafers, rabble-rousers, armed robbers, a place to grow up, and in general, the sans cullotte repository. This is so because students and tutees are not academically engaged and challenged by their instructors, teachers, and tutors. Sometimes, students become disenchanted with bleak prospects facing them in the job market, ,and so they lose momentum for learning.

Boys and girls in these cyto public schools can hardly speak good English as some resort to the easy way out-pidgin English. They hardly can spell simple English words correctly. Many cannot construct and write simple grammatically-correct, plain words of good English. I always bow down my head in shame whenever some Ghanaians are interviewed in the international media on TV or on air, and they stutter and fumble a lot with the way they express themselves in the English language, creating a sorry sight for themselves and a poor image for our country.

We are not saying we want to train students for educational grammar or scholarship, but then for them to be functionally literate and employable or effective as entrepreneurs in the global village, they need to be well-rounded and well-grounded in basic literacy of numeracy, reading, writing, arithmetic, logic, rhetoric eloquence, interpersonal, and communication skills, among other areas of epistemological and pedagogical demands.

Ghana used to be a role model for other colonial African countries in terms of our high levels of education. But now we have lost it, and we are flung at the far bottom of the global ranking in education. Whether we like it or not, English has become the international or universal language and vehicle of communication and instruction in the world of commerce and industry, in the on-going process of globalisation.

Of course, it is cardinal and imperative for us to get our kids first to value and appreciate our rich heritage and lore in the local languages and culture, and then extend the knowledge gained therefrom in mastering the English Language. After all, it is often said that charity begins at home. Some Ghanaian critics parochially view mastering of the English Language as part of cultural imperialism. Need this be the case? What about the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others who have to learn English to drive their businesses in the global milieu?

The thesis of this write-up is that why do we crowd the timetables of our beginning students with so many subjects as to make them functionally illiterate in the basics of reading, writing, and basic arithmetic? Do we believe in more is better than less or is it a way of keeping the masses at the bottom so that the few monetised and ruling classes will continue dominating and keeping the status quo ante? These elite can afford to hire part-time teachers for their children, and also provide them with the conducive environment for their wards to excel academically. Even though there is a policy of Free Compulsory Universal Education in Ghana, outcomes of education is not what one will expect in a Middle Income country like Ghana.

Why are we toying with, and treating education in Ghana to Cinderella looks? Are we practising factional elitism in order to create a wedge between the well-educated minority elite on the one hand, and on the other hand, the functionally illiterate majority? Why do we rush to build many schools where trained teachers cannot be found, and where we do not have the wherewithal to procure instructional materials for use by pupils?

The statistics enclosed here below indicates that Ghana is among the global front-runners in terms of allocation of GDP to education. Denmark, Iceland, Finland and most Scandinavian countries are global leaders in education, healthcare and general welfare of their citizens. It is very commendable that the figures below show a trend of educational budget allocations above the UN recommended minimum of 4% of GDP to be allocated to education. However, it seems the problem lies in the utilisation of funds for planned and intended purposes, and other lapses in the system such as poor budget oversight. Arthur Okun refers to the fungibility of donor funds and likens it to a leaking bucket.

Expenditures on Education in Ghana as Per cent of GDP

YEAR 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
%GDP Exp 8.1 5.5 5.3 5.8 5.5 5.3 7.4

Source: World Development Indicators Sept 2014
Is quality not better than quantity? Is it not better to use the little resources to improve the quality of existing infrastructure than to dissipate the resources in providing more schools which become like empty shells? In some communities that I know of, new schools were built but no pupils could be found in the catchment areas which are populated by very old people, whose grown-up children and grandchildren have domestically migrated to the cocoa-growing forested areas, and they periodically come back home during Gomoa Two Weeks Festival or during other festivals.

Timetables of junior secondary school students are crowded and populated with fanciful subjects such as ICT, Basic Technology and Design, Religious and Moral Education, Social Studies, Integrated Science, Mathematics, among others. At the end of their programmes, some of them will not have physically seen a computer or a chisel in their lives or even a test tube, beaker or flat-bottomed flask, or electric cooker/oven, and yet they are supposed to take BECE and WASSCE examinations in ICT, Science, Basic Technology, among other subjects. In 1986, the current junior and senior secondary school systems came into being to replace the old 6-4/5-2-3 system which comprised 6 years primary education, 4 years middle school, 5 years secondary school, 2 years sixth form, and three years university. The author went through this system of 6-4/5-2-3. The current system is 2-6-3-3-4, comprising 2 years kindergarten, 6 years primary school, 3 years junior secondary, 3 years senior secondary, and 4 years university.

Under the current system, most students do not complete studying their secondary syllabi, and they are rushed to write final exams because the time duration is short, syllabus content is dense and bulky, some teachers are not committed, among other hurdles. Students are forced to learn and regurgitate stock answers because the BECE and WASSCE exams require specific stock answers and students are not allowed the freedom to think outside the box. Could this be one reason why there is an upsurge in exam malpractices in Ghana?

It seems to me that the whole aim of the current system is to first frustrate as many students as possible to drop out or fail the exams, or to produce programmed robotic students who can pass exams through producing stock answers. Is this quality learning? Are we producing critical thinkers who can be creative and problem-solvers? Are our students going to be successful when they meet their counterparts from other parts of the world? Will this type of stock learning of programmed answers produce quality national leaders?

What do you expect from such a flawed system? There is high incidence of functional illiteracy of most pupils, prevalence of rote-learning, institutionalisation of dichotomised education, rampant cheating, persistent corruption, among other vices and consequences. Prior to the exam period, students are gripped with panic, pandemonium, and there is bedlam preceding exams.

Head teachers and teachers become desperate to record high pass rates for their schools, parents want their children to have certificates at all cost, pupils become anxious and restless to obtain good credits so as to gain admission into tertiary institutions, school proprietors want to attract more custom and they may resort to buying question papers, among other motives.

Our current state of Ghana reflects this dysfunctional educational system, as shortcuts become the norm because of lack of proper moral foundations.

Politicians who emerge from such a system see nothing wrong bribing the electorate to gain power because power is the ultimate prize which must be gotten at any price. The contractor sees nothing wrong using inferior materials in construction. The building inspector who should know better is easily fobbed off by bribes in brown envelopes. The pastor will willy-nilly give false prophecy so as to scare the hell out of his congregation so that he can fleece and milk them. Goro boys and leeches emerge at passport and visa offices expecting their cuts from frustrated prospective applicants and candidates.

Judges swing the pendulum of justice in the direction where their bread is heavily buttered. Law enforcement officers play to the gallery and free culprits who can grease their palms. Male lecturers award high marks to beautiful but undeserving female students who will pander to their lust. Town planners turn a blind eye to bribes when prospective builders entice them to overrule professional advice for them to build in unpermitted areas.

The list of vices goes on ad infinitum. Perhaps, I am claiming moral high ground here. Yes, charity begins at home, so we need our educational system to inculcate high moral lessons to our tutees. There needs to be a tsunamic revolution in education to get out the dross and rot from the system, or else we are doomed as a nation.

The upshot of poor teaching methodologies and lack of commitment by teachers and pupils, the inadequacy of instructional materials, lack of support from PTAs and communities, late release of Government Capitation Grants to schools, inoperability, collapse, and lack of vision of most politicised District Assemblies/Local Government structures and their dereliction, means that our students and their teachers do resort to finding shortcuts such as examination question leakages, mass cheating in exams, influencing the issuance of exam results, forged exam results and certificates, among other vices. Do we have to blame the policy of Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education enacted in 1996, and the Educational Reforms of 2002?

Why cannot we simplify basic education to include just a few salient subjects, and incorporating the 3Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic as the building blocks and foundation for future advancement? Better still, to remain globally competitive; let us give our junior secondary students STEM education with emphasis on Sciences, Technology, English, and Mathematics as it is done in Scotland, Ireland and other countries which have quality education. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Netherlands are successful economically, socially, and politically stable because of their high quality educational standards.

To be globally competitive, we need to pay attention to quality teacher training and providing teachers with higher incentives. Our policy-makers in Government need to sit up and come up with better policies because our future prosperity as a nation lies in investment in human capital via quality education and quality health care delivery. These two sectors are a desideratum and sine qua non for rapid development.

Let us develop a new educational paradigm which will strategically position our educational system to meet our national needs as well as make our students and tutees be abreast with their counterparts in other parts of the world. It is a pity that whilst many countries are getting their best students into Ivy League and Russell universities in the USA and UK such as Oxford, Harvard, Yale, UCLA, MIT, Imperial College, Caltech, among others, our students are only struggling to compete at sub-regional level for WASSCE dominance. How are our future leaders going to have clout and influence in rubbing shoulders with the graduates of such advanced, powerful and elite global institutions?

It is a sad scenario to witness many of our school dropouts from our current dysfunctional educational system in Ghana becoming street vendors, foot soldiers and political party cadres or zombies, taxi drivers, Sakawas and internet fraudsters, prostitutes and pimps, Mediterranean boat migrants, among others. This is sheer waste and needless attrition of human capital, and also a waste of scarce resources. The factionalisation and dichotomisation of Ghana right now along political party lines, tribal affiliations, interest groups, and religious groupings, does not augur well for the future.

We are currently producing students who seemingly have breadth to their education, but there is no depth. We are having mass quantitative education rather than laying emphasis on quality. Our current students have become very aggressive in articulating issues but they lack substance, and I bet many cannot make it far on the knowledge ladder whereby they can produce books or contribute to academic discourses or become quality leaders in future.

The very fabric of our educational foundation has been eroded by political chicanery and poor policy articulation. We have, like the ostrich, buried our heads in the sand and become oblivious to the stupendous advancements taking place in the global village. We are busy building fanciful estates and infrastructure but paying little attention to the quality of education. In fact, for purposes of political expediency, our current politicians are obsessed and infatuated with the massification and scatterisation of education, so much so that resources allocated to education become very thinly spread on the ground.

We pay lip service to making education accessible to all and with no child left behind. Do we put the money where our mouth is? Have we set our priorities right? If our students come out tops in regional WASSCE exams, is it any worthwhile achievement to celebrate? In other countries elsewhere, they are coming out tops in globally competitive exams such as IGCSE , SAT, GMAT, IELTS, and International Baccalaureate (IB), and yet they are not trumpeting their successes or politicising them.

In Ghana today with high rates of poverty and unemployment, many are the people whose children have no dream of accessing quality education due to poverty. Many are the people who cannot access quality health care due to the same reason. Is access to quality education a right or a privilege? Why do we have a parallel situation of one type of education for the minority rich and another type for the majority?

Is it selective social marginalisation engineering or political malfeasance? What future does this scenario hold for our dear country Ghana? Where are the patriots? Where do we stand as a nation where every Tom, Dick, and Harry now believes that being dishonest, mischievous and Machiavellian is the norm because the end justifies the means, and not the other way round?

What values are our students acquiring from schools, and from the national psyche? What sort of education are our students receiving these days? What moral or immoral lessons are they taking from our leaders? What kind of leaders will they be when their time comes? Why is everybody in a mad rush for power, material wealth and glory? Can we start teaching moral philosophy, psychology, mythology, literature, civic education, and religious tenets in our schools to halt the greedy and mad avaricious trends?

Can we start taking measures to stop the rot and functional illiteracy in our schools? Can we stop dichotomisation and factionalism creeping their way imperceptibly into education which needs to be unitary and functional? These are the worries and thinking aloud, and thinking allowed of all concerned patriots.

Some Proffered Solutions

  • Minimise Junior High School subjects to a core of six subjects namely English, Mathematics, Integrated Science, Technology, Social Studies, and Ghanaian Language
  • Provide optional or elective subjects according to locality, and aptitudes of children in areas such as Fine Art, Music, Design, Metalwork, Carpentry and Joinery, Home Economics, Agriculture, Tourism, Bricklaying, Auto-Mechanics, Horticulture, Fishing, Commerce, Entrepreneurship
  • Design local internship programmes to emphasise practical slant to the vocational subjects
  • Improve conditions of teachers and train more teachers in Sciences, Technology, Maths, and English
  • Put more emphasis on quality and not quantity
  • Encourage industries to partner with schools to provide educational needs
  • Allow private schools and institutions to run international exams and provide tuition towards international curricula such as IGCSE, IB, SAT, ABE, among others.
  • Ensure that early primary years devote more time to drill children in mastering the 3Rs of reading (elocution, phonetics, rhetoric, grammar, literature, comprehension), writing (dictation and composition, poetry appreciation and creativity), and arithmetic
  • Assign soldiers and counsellors to all schools to instil discipline

By Dr Kwesi Atta Sakyi
Senior Lecturer
Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies
Lusaka, Zambia
Email: [email protected]

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