I just started following the emerging issue of the ban of caning in our schools by the Ghana Education Service (GES). So far, all the materials I have read points to the GES banning canning and suggesting alternative ways by which teachers could discipline their students. This is fantastic, considering the abusive nature of some teachers and the difficulty and high cost of regulating the use of the cane in schools.
The popular debate on this matter is whether a total ban is the best solution. Irrespective of whether a total ban or a mix of canning and the non-caning approaches are appropriate, there is an emerging view, which is missing in the current dialogues on social media. And it relates to whether teachers have the capacity to implement the GES prescribed alternatives for disciplining students.
So far, I have not read in any of the publications that the GES is training teachers and instructors in the alternative approaches they have prescribed and how to apply them. I want to believe that some training of teachers has taken place or is ongoing and there is a clear policy on the continuous development of these alternatives before or after this directive was issued.
I won’t, however, be surprised if the directive was issued without putting forth any plan for the training of teachers in the prescribed alternative disciplinary solutions. In my experience so far, I dare say that it is a common characteristic of institutions in Ghana! I am reminded of my days as a Teaching Assistant at the University in Ghana. My colleagues and I were not trained in the art and science of teaching. Therefore, we delivered tutorials based on our own experiences and observations of how our Teachers managed their mandates without knowledge of the best practices. There was and still is an implicit assumption in our higher education institutions that the good academic performance of Teaching Assistants was and is enough for them to teach or tutor others – their juniors!
Despite the lack of training, many Teaching Assistants do well in their mandate. Many are those who however turn the position into an opportunity to abuse their students and elicit personal gains through subtle blackmails beside others. Sex for grades is, for instance, common not just among Teachers and Lecturers but also among Teaching Assistants and Demonstrators! One Demonstrator in Statistics during my undergraduate studies blackmailed us (my class) to buy his pamphlet, else we risked getting low marks.
While searching for evidence of efforts by the GES and stakeholders including owners of school to build the capacity of teachers in these alternatives, I think it is rife to point out our great skill in issuing directives and making laws but lacking the capacity to enforce as reiterated by many legal luminaries like Ace Ankomah on many occasions.
It appears to me that the Authorities believe (assume) that once a directive is issued, the targeted stakeholders - in this case, teachers - have the capacity and resources to develop the REQUIRED skills. However, that is not the case in reality! Assuming that teachers have the capacity to unlearn and relearn, they may not have the resources, cash to the specific, to facilitate both initial and further training in these new prescribed alternative disciplinary methods. Thus, posing a sustainability risk to the use of the GES prescribed alternative disciplinary methods.
There appears to be a lack of understanding of how institutions develop and work. Like habits, institutions are 'sticky' and difficult to undo or change effectively without conscious and continuous capacity development (of stakeholders in the new ways of doing things). The GES cannot just wake up one day and ban caning in schools (which is a solution to some problems) without equipping the teachers with superior solutions. For many a Teacher, caning is a culture and perhaps, the ONLY disciplinary technique they know and have the capacity in delivering. Academics and practitioners like me can sit on the fence and criticize these Teachers and call them names in the manner of Professor Stephen Adei’s constant attack on them or get our hands dirty in finding effective and less abusive solutions to disciplinary issues even before they arise. Many of our Teachers are likely to revert to the easy and so-called inferior solution (i.e. caning) they are used to if we do not resolve the capacity challenges.
Learning to develop institutions is a quality we need to develop as Ghanaians and as a nation. We need to prioritize and devote resources to researching how other countries have done it. Before I could set foot into the lecture room to deliver a tutorial during my doctoral studies at the Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK, I had to undergo training in the art and science of teaching, for both large and small groups; feedbacking, and how to provide research support to students.
I must say, I have become a better teacher today because someone deliberately developed a mechanism to ensure that I have the minimum skills to be effective in the classroom. My first class in my undergraduate studies and Cambridge education was good preparatory grounds for a Teaching Assistantship role but offered less opportunities to be a master in the art and science of teaching and learning. This is the situation of many teachers in Ghana! In a more open society such as England, the need for the teacher to develop skills in how to discipline and deal with recalcitrant students could not be over-emphasized. As Ghana liberalises the educational landscape and strives towards becoming a more open society, training and development of our teachers is s sine qua non!
The crux of citing these examples is that it is high time Teacher training and development in totality and in the prescribed alternative disciplinary methods in particular received more attention from stakeholders including the regulator - GES. Making directives is a low hanging fruit for any regulator. However, ensuring the effectiveness of the directive requires many and continuous dialogue to change the ‘archaic’ mindsets of stakeholders, resource development, proper design, and a deliberate attempt to operationalise, monitor and evaluate.
The Authorities must understand that regulation is costly and directives to adopt alternative disciplinary methods are not costless. Rather, such directives create and impose at least a financial cost on teachers and investors in schools if they are to be implemented. Professional development of teachers, therefore, has financial implications. And someone must pay for the cost of capacity development sustainably. We need to effectively incorporate these new disciplinary solutions into the training of teachers. My current readings of GES publications on the ban on caning and research does not suggest that these issues have been well addressed. A national dialogue on how to finance the professional and capacity development of teachers in general and in these alternative disciplinary methods won't be a bad idea!
Dr. Kenneth A. Donkor-Hyiaman
Lecturer, Department of Land Economy, KNUST
Fellow, Think Oxbridge Foundation