Passing the Basic Education Certificate Examination has been the passport for furthering one’s education to the senior high school after the basic school. Against this backdrop, it has become the only yardstick to assess our basic education program.Why should this be the case? But essentially, this is what is going on.
The only litmus test to the quality of the Ghanaian basic education is the Basic Education Certificate Examination (B.E.C.E.) with its attendant summative results .There must be internal and formative structures in place to examine closely the quality of the basic education in the country. Over reliance, solely on pupils’ performance in the B.E.C.E. to rate the quality of the basic education is not the very best.
Since the basic education in Ghana is made of distinct but continuous and progressive three levels, it will be unfair to run an external and summative examination at the end of only one level, that is the junior high school and when pupils do not perform well, the junior high school teachers suffer the blame and become objects of ridicule that accusing fingers will be pointed at. And when pupils put up brilliant performance, those in the primary and the kindergarten will be denied their fair share of the commendations and praises which will be showered on junior high school teachers.
There has been this blame game going on between junior high school and primary school teachers. Most junior high school teachers tend to be blaming the primary school teachers for not preparing the pupils well enough since no external examination is ran for primary school pupils entering the junior high school especially in the same school but the primary school teachers will be saying otherwise. They will feel they have picked the pupils from the bottom, given them strong foundation which the junior high school teachers were to build on and polish but they do not do that.
Then something must be done to fix the problem. Something must be done to test what the primary school teachers are doing since examination has been the only mechanism in Ghana to know who the best teacher is regardless of the kind of pupils and the environment one finds him or herself and what the teacher is doing to develop the pupils holistically.
No one can and must under-rate the effort of primary school teachers. They do the actual teaching of reading from the scratch, basic mathematical operations among others. They provide the foundation for the junior high school teachers to build on. It is therefore not surprising when junior high school teachers make statements that they are not the ones to teach pupils how to read, they only polish what the pupils brought from the primary. They see their responsibility as preparing pupils for exams. This is where the role of primary school teachers should be acknowledged and appreciated. What should be done then?
The district education directorate must organize an external and summative examination for primary six pupils (in the district who are about to go to the junior high school) at the end of the third term. Possibly, an evidence of the student passing the exams should be given, maybe in the form of a certificate. This will even ginger primary school teachers to effectively prepare junior high school bound pupils because it is not going to be only the pupil facing the test but the teacher’s work will also be at stake.
Sometimes, the concern raised by junior high school teachers tends to be the reality. Some teachers teaching at the primary do not put in much effort since the pupils are not going to write any form of external examination. So when there is the institution of such means of assessment, pupils will come to the junior high school fully prepared and teachers will have sufficient information on the pupil coming from the primary. In some schools, pupils are promoted to the junior high school without the junior high school handlers having much information about them.
Next, the district directorate should take inter-school academic competitions very serious. There should be regular quiz competitions which must cater for all subjects at all levels. This should be periodic and captured on the academic calendar. There must be regular essay writing competitions which must go with awards and prizes. With this in mind, teachers will always be active with their lessons and will not limit assessment of pupils to scribbling in exercise books.
Mention can also be made of a well institutionalized spelling competition for especially the lower primary. It is going to help build the spelling capacity of pupils at that level. For the junior high school, there can be debate competitions to help build the oratory skills of pupils. When these mechanisms are introduced, the learner will know how to make practical what he or she is learning in the classroom. There should also be competitive science fairs among schools.
It can be an annual program to help make the teaching of science more practical. Drama, singing, vocational arts like pottery must be encouraged. Also, since it is going to be inter school competitions, it will help bring the very best out of pupils . No teacher will be happy with his or her pupils performing poorly in an inter school academic competition. Such competitions as it must be organized by the district directorate should be given the needed attention and resources. It can start from the school level then to circuit base and finally that of the district.
There should also be deserving emphasis on the practical work in schools. The formative evaluation should not only be pencil and paper test. When circuit supervisors are on visit, they should not only request for number of exercises but also the project work in all subjects that the teacher has been able to guide the pupils to do. This will help with making practical what pupils learn in schools.
Suggestion can also be made for pupils in the junior high school who are learning the subject, Basic Design and Technology (B.D.T.) to have a form of internship with an artisan during vacation so that they will be freed from the shackles of just reading notes on carpentry among others. An example is that, after a term that pupil learns catering in the B.D.T., during that vacation, the pupil should be made to go and understudy a caterer. At least the pupil will not be only reading things about catering in the book but will have first-hand experience with real life catering.
Concrete measures must be taken to move away from using the B.E.C.E. as the only means to assess the quality of basic education being ran. Various means must be considered in doing that and such assessment should not be limited to only ‘sit, listen and write exams’ kind of assessment, but must be practical.