This month, June, is the month of Ghana’s most prestigious academic programme, the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ). The 2017 CIMG Television Programme of the year is worth far more than what many of us perceive it to be. In fact, to the elite and academicians, it is worth more than gold because it is the only available platform for the intelligentsia to flex their muscles in a display of mock academic prowess. It has a high place in the realm of academics and means a lot to those who crave academic excellence; a sine qua non for the advancement of any nation. It is that single programme that needs to be replicated at all levels of our education system because of the kind of inspiration it exudes to the intellectual class of our society. It is the only high profile widely publicised programme that attracts the intelligentsia. Technically, this is a typical example of a calibre of programme that can redirect the attention of our general populace towards the relevant condition- an elite and enlightened society- that our ailing economy requires to get healed. And of course, a society that is better placed to know exactly where to focus their attention at every moment. NSMQ has the potential to singlehandedly spark a revival of academic enthusiasm that has for some time escaped us the same way the chicken has fruitlessly craved teeth. Obviously, this is the only period of the whole year that the most relevant aspect of the educational sector gets hyped up by a section of our society though it does not usually happen with the kind of buzz that we would usually find associated with the VGMAs and the CAN Tournaments. Indeed, the NSMQ could be the Moses of a sort to our educational sector if we had the vision to look beyond the bragging rights that go to the eventual victorious schools.
We have found ourselves in an era that seriously presents a huge challenge to third world countries in their quest to keep up to pace with the high educational standards set by their more advanced peers in the western world. Truth is that, a lot of these yet developing countries are struggling to meet required educational standards, and this is by no means an indication of a lack of commitment to it. It is just another version of the wealthier continually getting richer while the poor continue to grapple with emerging from the distasteful phenomenon of poverty. A lot of critical thinking and flawless strategy has to be employed by any dreaming third world country to finally break free from the shackles of poverty. And there is no denying the fact that education is the obvious means to achieving such dreams.
Currently, however, there are some worrying developments in our beloved motherland with regard to our attitude towards the education agenda. It is undeniably true that stakeholders have come to the realisation that formal education is the ideal saviour of any group of people from extreme poverty. However, the commitment shown by same stakeholders in this country has been far beyond cry. It seems to be totally nonexistent. I have been curiously searching for the causes of this phenomenon but with little success, like many that have tried before me. In any case, I observed a few worrying trends which I believe to be a challenge to the attainment of educational goals as well as the overall goal of poverty eradication. The key thing we need to plan towards discovering is an easy cultural link between our educational system and our culture. Until we discover a striking way of getting today’s society which generally consists of varying groups of people with varying attractions to identify largely with the vital academic aspect of our education, we will have no brighter future in our quest to advance education in the country. That missing marriage between those two (society and academic aspect of education) has negatively affected our success in formal educational advancement. Of late, Ghanaians have shown so much interest in football related activities and to some extent, entertainment! This has degenerated to unprecedented levels causing some ripples over effects of our educational system. Parents, teachers and especially the ordinary in our society who coincidentally are stakeholders in the sector, seem much more enthusiastic about sports- related activities and even entertainment programmes such as variety shows to the detriment of academic activities. They consequently feel much more comfortable promoting such activities rather than academic activities. Until recently when the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ) gained prominence due to the emergence of social media, it was least promoted compared to the sports ‘Intercos’ and the interzonals. God forbid that I ever try to underestimate the relevance of co-curricular activities but it is a fact that academia presents more realistic, broad and accessible opportunities to any child in this country than those co-curricular activities. So the best thing any serious country can do is to try to strategically promote and make academic achievement more attractive than the co-curricular activities we have promoted for a long time with little to show for it.
Adisadel College, before 2015, had never been in a NSMQ final. They eventually broke that jinx and made it there in 2015 but, unfortunately, succumbed to a better drilled side in Prempeh College. They went back, put their act together, and returned in 2016 and recorded a resounding victory in a second and consecutive final appearance. It may interest you to know that the feat may not have arrived if not for the motivation provided by their numerous successful past students when some of them actually promised the Adisco team heaven on earth as reward if they won the final with Legislator Kennedy Agyapong’s promised gift of two cars (one each) for the contestants being the most notable. It tells you how worthwhile it is to be associated with academic prowess. Why would successful and established people not focus much of their efforts and attention on making their Alma mater juggernauts in sports and entertainment but rather academics? That is food for thought! But my point is not limited to this, anyway. Adisco, a school that was not at all ranked in the top 20 schools in the NSMQ charts, before 2015, has sprung into the top ten NSMQ schools at the moment while setting a record of four consecutive final appearance, in the process. That is not a bad record at all. And for those of you claiming that appearing in the final and losing represents a failure, which senior high schools did you attend? Now, when your school makes four consecutive final appearances, come back and nail your point about Adisco’s failure at the NSMQ, until then you have no point. This reminds me of how unfortunate we are to find ourselves in a non-serious generation that will always focus their attention more on people’s failures rather than successes. And we do so not to learn from it to enable us make gains but rather for the fun of it. Can you imagine that Adisco, after losing the 2018 final, their 3rd loss in 4 consecutive attempts trended far more than the eventual winner, St. Peter’s School, did? Is it not disappointing to have a society that prefers to focus attention on teasing one’s failure instead of using the same time and opportunity to celebrate the other‘s success? We surely need God’s intervention now! Some of these shocking events further highlight the dying need for the NSMQ to be replicated at all levels and entrenched in our education system to whip up the commitment to academics which will surely result in our society becoming a more enlightened one.
You may struggle to get my point well but imagine that the NSMQ is adopted by the MoE and/or GES and strongly promoted as well as replicated at the Basic level too with brilliant pupils and students widely promoted, sponsored and offered some juicy opportunities via the competition. It would promote and project keen academic activities so much. I have worked for a long time at the grassroots of this country’s educational system and have observed that at that level, only sports is promoted with a lot of school versus school football competitions and cultural activities being the available platform for schools to rub shoulders for supremacy. Hardly do we find schools battling it out for dominance in the academic realms through inter-school quiz competitions, debate competitions, public speaking contests, etc. Parents and teachers now pay little attention to brilliant kids but resort to hyping skilful footballers and pace sprinters due to current public interests. The only available platform for schools to display their academic prowess now is the BECE which has now become a mockery of the highly sanitised exercise it used to be with many of the schools resorting to unhealthy ‘ways and means’ to produce misleading results that would otherwise reveal a different story but for the exam malpractices indulged in. The situation has presented a serious threat to the educational system for a long time. It is common knowledge that most of the products of Ghana’s educational system will always be found in jobs/professions/careers that are not directly linked to the many co-curricular activities that have taken over the heart of educational disciplines today. So why are we veering off the road by paying too much attention to pleasure? Why do immediate societies take keener interest in ephemeral pleasurable events but do not pay any attention to academic programmes? I do not want to assume low literacy rate of our society is the cause of the diversion of public interest from academics to co-curricular events. If it is, then, we need to consciously tackle and turn it around else we are finished!
Last year, during the NSMQ, some exceptionally brilliant students seen as academic beasts were discovered in the competition after they consistently put up mouth watering displays in the competition. In the aftermath of the competition, what opportunities did any of them gain by virtue of the improbable academic prowess they displayed? I guess nil or if at all there has been any such opportunities given them, there has been little hype about it and that is where our society’s approval departs from academic prowess attractiveness. Another prominent and widely publicised example of negligence or refusal to project academic excellence has to be the infamous incident that occurred in the KNUST in 2016 when the overall best student in that year’s WASSCE was conspicuously denied admission into the University’s Medical School with the reason that he failed an interview. I think it is good to maintain fairness and firmness as an academic institution but turning away the best WASSCE Student of the year, under such circumstances, is nothing beyond a curious case up for heated debate. I believe the development clearly undermined the efforts required to hype academic excellence and further make it attractive to the Ghanaian society. If, for nothing at all, we know that exceptional football players, and most recently, athletes, have been offered opportunities with the national teams to showcase their talents and make progress but same cannot be said about academic excellence. Why? We must think about it, critically!
Surprisingly, there is a huge platform, in this country, for entertainers such as dancers, rappers, singers etc with a lot of television stations running programmes that project talent in such areas. Again, there are so many programmes, events and activities at the grassroots (local communities) via funerals, weddings, durbars, etc where entertainment related talents have an unlimited platform to showcase and promote their talents. Though, such developments are quite welcome, it is now time to ponder over how we are also promoting and projecting academic excellence at the grassroots. So, of all the basic educational goals that most educational systems aim to achieve, our cultural orientation at the moment, does not commensurate enough to project academic excellence. It is rather the co-curricular aspects that have the perfect platforms for projection which is alarmingly repercussive for the academic aspects. And this reminds me of the Speech and Prize-Giving Day event a certain private school organised somewhere in the Ashanti Region and invited me as the Guest Speaker at the event. I was sad to discover, in the end, that dancers received more hype than Academic Excellence Award Winners on the day while the same crowd (parents of the school children) cheered dramatists much more than the fluent and dexterous poets on the show. They were more thrilled to have music play rather than listen to any speech aimed at enlightening them on good education practices. Heart-breaking, huh! Where are we headed?
Unfortunately, the chunk of those who are so committed to ensuring that their wards get the best possible shot at formal education are busily hiring private teachers and going to all lengths just to ensure that their wards gel academically and embrace formal education. However, some of their efforts are rigorously challenged or derailed by weak fundamentals. Sadly, our attention may rather be turned away from some of these more technical drawbacks while we continue to labour in vain for favourable results. Therefore, all of us need to realise that if all we do is cheer our kids on when they display the best dance moves yet hardly have them watch a quiz programme or even news broadcast, daily, we are letting ourselves down. Much as we try and invest in them, we may not be promoting our children’s interests and talent development in academic work. Rather, the focus is being technically narrowed down to talent development which has limited realistic opportunities for only very exceptional individuals to grab. It is even worth noting that a career informed by academic abilities rather than talent alone is also more long lasting. A talent-based career such as dancing and football will always end earlier and may require adjustments, at the latter stages, based on our inherent dynamism without which such adjustments may be impossible. In some cases, advancing a career in entertainment and sports may even require solid academic backgrounds to make them a possibility. For instance, there is no way any coach in any serious club, in this era, would be an illiterate because the training and certification is highly elitist.
As an experienced education professional myself, a little piece of advice for all education stakeholders in my beloved motherland is that the surest way we can gain fulfilment of educational goals is to consciously revert to the era where academicians gained more regards than any other crop of talents because it is the surest way, plus the most dynamic area, where every child can easily make progress in life. With just a little effort, children’s interests in academics will soar to salvage the crumbling standards that have got all tongues wagging. Again, there is a wide range of opportunities guaranteed by academic achievements in a more extensive manner than co-curricular talents provide. Many a time, we have hyped familiar co-curricular talents only to realize that their exceptionality is only limited to the smaller communities where they are coming from. They are nowhere near those they meet in higher institutions and on bigger platforms hence may fail to get the necessary hype, opportunity, attention and motivation to continue to develop fro m there. In the academic dispensation, things don’t usually work that way. There is enough wide platform for all of us, including struggling learners, to develop and make progress. At the end of the day, an average performing student in academics may get a better opportunity to a more rewarding career than their more brilliant peers. It is simply an open market where all that is required to excel is the determination to succeed plus a little strategy. Not too much is expected. Therefore, as parents, teachers, business organizations and other education actors, we have the absolute discretion to make a choice between academics on one hand and other aspects of the curriculum on the other hand when it comes to educating our children, and it is solely our prerogative to choose capriciously or judiciously. Always remember that your child’s future hangs precariously in the balance and cannot be toyed or gambled with. Every single act involving the child counts very much! May God lead us all, all the time!
David Angangmwin Baganiah