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28.05.2019 Opinion

National Teachers Licensure Examination in Ghana: Is it the way forward?

By Eric Fredua-Kwarteng

For the first time in the education history of Ghana, teacher candidates who are graduating from teacher education programmes with diplomas, bachelor and post-graduate degrees from teacher colleges/universities are required to pass a professional licensure examination before Ghana Education Services will hire them by as teachers.

The licensure examination is designed and conducted by Ghana National Teaching Council (NTC). The first licensure examination took place on September 10-12, 2018 and it covered essential teaching skills, numeracy (basic calculation) and literacy (verbal aptitude and essay writing). The pass mark is 50 % and a total of 28757 candidates wrote the licensure examination. The released results in February 2019 indicate that 74%(or 21287) passed; 26% ( or 7432) failed while 26 candidates have their results withheld pending investigation into malpractices; and that of 12 candidates have been cancelled.

The NTC is mandated by Ghana. Education Act 2008 (article 778) for designing and executing professional development programmes and licensing pre-tertiary teachers; development and periodic review of teaching practices and ethical standards for teachers and teaching; advising the minister of education on matters relating to professional standing and status of teachers.

According to the National Teaching Council (NTC):
1. All in-service teachers could apply for a three-year provisional teaching license during which they are expected to acquire professional teaching license;

2. Only those who pass the final examinations of their teacher education programmes and the NTC teacher licensure examination will be issued full professional license;

3. A teaching license is renewable every year after satisfactory completion of specified professional development courses, along with teaching appraisal reports;

4. In-service teachers are not required to write the licensure examination. And will be fully issued license after successful completion of certain number of professional development courses; and

5. Full professional teaching license is required of all those who want employment with Ghana Education Services (GES).

The GES is a government agency responsible for implementation of Ghana Ministry of Education policies and regulations related to preschool, primary and secondary schools. As well, the GES oversees basic education, senior high education, technical and special education. It registers, supervises and inspects private schools. The GES is also charged with recruiting, hiring and managing other aspects of human resources employed in the public school system.

This paper endorses the licensure policy of the Ghana Education Services (GES). However, it questions the National Teaching Council's (NTC) articulation of the purposes of its licensure examination; draws attention to the plight of village schools, enforcement problems in private schools and the need for licensing of heads of public primary, junior and senior high schools as well as technical schools.

Purposes of Licensure Examination
The National Teaching Council(NTC) has stated that the purpose of the teacher licensure examination is to ensure:

(1)that schools across Ghana have quality
(2) Standardisation of teaching across
(3) Improvement in professionalism in
school teaching; and
(4) Preparation of teachers to be accepted globally.

The first purpose is premised on the assumption that licensure examination can improve teaching quality. The veracity of this assumption could be verified if the examination contains good measures of competencies needed for effective teaching. A critical review of the maiden licensure examination shows that it embodies partially a range of skills, knowledge and disposition that teachers need to be professionally competent. Accordingly, the licensure examination is the second level quality assurance instrument to ensure that public schools have quality teachers. The primary or first level quality instrument is teacher education programme.

However, research has demonstrated that to be competent, a teacher must possess three strands of professional knowledge and skills: subject matter knowledge; knowledge and skills in determining and implementing specific teaching and assessment strategies; and knowledge of students. Knowledge of students focuses on issues such as students' interests, strengths, weaknesses, cultural backgrounds, soft and executive functioning skills, age-group characteristics. Knowledge of this kind is needed for instructional planning, leaning activities design and, in particular, for motivating and engaging with students. Indeed, it is by this knowledge that teachers could develop emphatic understanding of their students and motivate them to achieve curriculum goals.

The maiden licensure examination was tilted heavily in favour of teacher subject matter knowledge of literacy and numeracy. Consequently, in the licensure examination less attention was given to knowledge of teaching and assessment strategies but none to knowledge of students.

In addition, there was nothing in the licensure examination to measure teachers' knowledge of science, let alone how it could be effectively taught.Ghana needs many different scientists and scientifically educated citizenry to achieve various development goals. Therefore, laying down a strong foundation in science in the primary school and junior high level is pivotal for achieving those goals.

Nonetheless, since that was a maiden examination there is an ample room for improvement in subsequent examinations.

It is difficult to decipher the exact meaning or interpretation of standardisation of teaching as one of the purposes of the licensure examination. Does it mean that teachers will apply the same methodologies or approaches to teaching, including assessment practices? Alternatively, could it mean that teachers would have knowledge of evidence-based teaching strategies and assessment practices? Whatever it means, this issue must be clarified to give the authenticity the licensure examination deserves.

The third purpose of the licensure examination deserves much analytical attention. For decades school teaching in Ghana is regarded a low-status profession; in fact, it is considered a profession of the last resort. Most people become public school teachers not because of a passion for contributing to youth development or making a difference in the lives of children. It is because they have no other alternative professions and finds school teaching profession the easiest one they can enter, enjoy employment longevity and earn relatively comfortable salaries for practically minimal performance!

Admittedly, teachers' salaries and allowances unindexed to the rate of inflation also contributes to the low-status of the school teaching profession. Therefore, realistic and sustainable plans are needed to make salaries and allowances in the school teaching profession more attractive to draw a variety of talents into the profession.

The licensure examination is one of the necessary measures in improving professionalisation of school teaching by giving it public respectability similar to the law, medical and accountancy professions. For instance, one does not become a professional accountant after completing a degree programme in accountancy. Indeed, one has to write and pass the qualifying examination of the accountancy professional bodies before one becomes a professional accountant. Why should it be different for the school teaching profession?

The last purpose is quite untenable as it merely represents hope rather than reality. It is based on the assumption that if Ghanaian trained teachers go through vigorous licensing process, their lincence would be greatly regarded in other countries. Nevertheless, teaching is essentially cultural and every jurisdiction has its own requirements for professional certification of their teachers. Regardless of the rigorousness of one's teacher education training and certification process, not every country will accept it as equal to its own.

Teachers in Private Schools
The executive-secretary of the National Teaching Council (NTC) is reported to have stated that the licensure examination requirements apply equally to teachers who teach in private schools. Private schools use a mix of professionally trained and untrained teachers to deliver instructions. And they have been very successful in attaining stellar students' outcomes in terms of literacy and numeracy compared to public basic schools. This could be well attributed to teacher persistent performance evaluation, strict supervision, in-service training and the ability to dismiss chronically non-performing teachers.

The Ghana Education Services (GES) would run into several enforcement problems such as protracted legal challenges if it tries to extend the requirements to teachers in private schools. Private schools employ their teachers not only based on academic or professional qualifications. Religious affiliation, special talents for working with children/youth, commitment to children well-being are also important qualifications.

In private schools whose job would it be to enforce those requirements? Would Ghana education Services (GES) inspect private schools regularly to ensure compliance? What would be the consequences for those private schools that flout the policy? In fact, enforcing the policy in the private school sector would be merely a recipe for bribery, corruption and legal challenges.

Most private school owners will not tolerate the government telling them who they should hire to teach in their schools.They may argue that ultimately parents are the sole judges of the quality of education they provide for their children, not some faceless government bureaucrats.The Ghana Education Services (GES) should rather concentrate on public schools. And three years later when the licensure process has taken roots and its benefits are demonstrable, it could use moral suasion to get private schools to implement the policy.

Plight of Rural Schools
Rural schools in Ghana consisting of primary and junior high schools are invariably short of professionally trained teachers. And they are compelled to hire non-trained teachers ranging from senior high school graduates, technical/vocational school graduates to other higher education graduates. Most professionally trained-teachers always lobby the Ghana Education Services (GES)for posting to towns and cities where they can get access to social amenities and to good road networks. Even those who accept rural school postings do so temporarily as they stay for a few years and get transferred to towns and cities. This leaves rural schools short of the teachers they need.

The critical question is this: what is the fate of rural schools in this era, where a pass in the licensure examination and completion of teacher education preparation programmes are requirements for teaching in public schools? In this case, the Ghana Education Services has three policy options:

(1) Waive teacher-education and licensure requirements for teachers in rural schools;

(2) Provide provisional teaching certification to non-professionally trained teachers who successfully complete certain number of professional development courses; and

(3) Offer financial incentives to trained teachers who accept rural postings.

The supply of teachers for rural schools should be carefully monitored to ensure that they are not short-changed as a result of the requirements for teaching. After all rural students deserve quality schooling as much as their counterparts in towns and cities.

What About Headteachers?
A mounting research evidence indicates that effective school leadership and management has a significantly positive effective on student achievement. If the licensure examination is the second quality benchmark on teacher professionalism besides teacher education, what about headteachers? Don't they also need effective formal preparation for the headship?

From a longitudinal observation of Ghana's school system, teacher effectiveness depends significantly on restrict supervision, periodic performance evaluation, sustained focus on students'learning outcomes and judicious management of the school. resources. Reforming public school teaching without reforming school headship is like cooking without using spices in African culture! That is, effective headteachers are critical sinews to make high teacher quality and professionalism a reality in Ghana.

More particularly, eliminating non-performing school teachers from the public school system and improving student achievement could not be attained exclusively through the licensing process. Effective and innovative headteachers are urgently needed on the frontline.

At present in Ghana, teachers are appointed to the headship based on long-term service without any formal training or preparation. Sometimes they are provided one or two days of induction. But one or two days induction programme for school heads is grossly inadequate for them to develop the required competencies for effective school management.Thus, the National Teaching Council (NTC) should design a headship preparation programme for teachers who have aspirations to become heads of public schools. A continuous professional development programme should supplement the headship training programme but not replace it.

Conclusion and Recommendations
The national teacher licensure examination as one of the requirements for acquiring school teaching licence in Ghana is a progressive reform strategy. It helps to restore public confidence in the school teaching profession and subjects teachers to a degree of professional accountability. It also gives the school teaching profession a visibly distinctive mark of professionalism.

It is also important that measures should be put in place to make the licensure examination syllabus and other related materials readily available to prospective candidates. As well, measures should be taken to safeguard the authenticity of teaching licence to avoid forgery, fraud and identify theft.

Additionally, the number of professional development courses that every teacher is mandatorily required to complete successfully for renewal of teaching licence must be clearly stated. Moreover, the results from the licensure examination should be critically analysed for the purpose of informing the construction of the professional development courses.

Further, specific grounds and process for revocation or suspension of teaching licence must be clearly stated and visibly communicated to teachers and other stakeholders. In line with the principles of natural justice, teachers whose licences are being revoked or suspended must be allowed the right of legal or other representations for their interests.

Furthermore, a process should also be developed for dealing with foreign trained and licensed teachers who want to teach in the Ghanaian public schools. A list of equivalencies to that of Ghana's teacher licensure requirements should be prepared after an intensive review and evaluation of teacher licensure requirements across the globe.

Finally, the successful reform of the school teaching profession in Ghana depends to a larger extent on the dynamism, commitment and resourcefulness of the National Teaching Council (NTC). The licensure examination is the first of its kind in Ghana as well as the introduction of professional development courses. These quality assurance tools must be used effectively and efficiently to bring about progressive changes to the school teaching profession in Ghana and enhance students' learning outcomes.

Dr. Eric Fredua-Kwarteng is a policy consultant.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."